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'In this small paper, I am going to express my feeling'

Two old handwritten letters, one in English and the other in Greek, both mostly illegible, in front of an old map of Europe.

The quote in the title comes from a letter by a young man from north Africa to his sister, written at Art Refuge’s ‘The Community Table’ in Folkestone in 2022. The letter forms part of a new exhibition, Letters of Refuge, that gives voice to those who have experienced persecution and displacement at two points in history: during the Roman Empire and today. 

The free exhibition, now open in the Arcade at Bush House, features fragments of ancient letters preserving the voices of people who lived under the Roman empire. These are exhibited alongside contemporary letters written by people who are displaced and seeking safety on either side of the English Channel.  

The exhibition finds its origins in the research of Dr James Corke-Webster (Departments of Classics and Liberal Arts) who approached the charity Art Refuge in 2019 with the idea of exploring how these historical texts might resonate in the modern context of persecution and displacement.

This resulted in two artist workshops in Folkestone and Calais where extracts from the ancient documents were used as prompts for participants to write their own letters. The sessions also built on the charity’s ongoing use of manual typewriters as a creative tool for communication and play with language.

With the permission of the participants, the resulting personal letters are what you see in the exhibition. Originating from countries such as Eritrea, Libya, Sudan and Afghanistan, some are addressed to family members, others are written to a future self, some are directed to political leaders, and some even envisage a wider audience.

You can read more about the exhibition in this article.

Letters of Refuge is a collaboration between the Department of Classics and the Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies at King’s, King’s Culture, the charity Art Refuge and people with lived experience of displacement.

I want to visit the exhibition

Open from Monday 13 – Friday 24 March 2023

Opening times: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00

The Arcade, Bush House South Entrance, Strand Campus, King’s College London

Entry is free.