People on the move

Artist and University of Hertfordshire researcher Sam Jury’s award-winning film project shines a light on one of the world’s oldest refugee crises.

“The need for migration and resulting refugee crises are among the most pressing and enduring issues of our time. I hope [my] film will raise awareness of the Sahrawi situation and by extension the ever-growing threat of homelessness in the 21st century.”

The Boujdour Sahrawi refugee camp in the Western Algerian desert is home to Sahrawi people who fled their Western Sahara homeland after the 1975 war with Morocco.

It is the setting for To Be Here, a film project by Sam Jury, research group leader in contemporary arts practice at the University’s School of Creative Arts, which highlights the growing threat of homelessness in the 21st century.

Winner of an Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research in Film Award, the film is now reaching audiences at film festivals and exhibitions around the world.

The film focuses on the prolonged displacement endured by Sahrawi refugees, told through the words of a young female Sahrawi translator. It describes the flight of the women, many of whom were forced to leave behind their own children, and traces their journey from the early days of building the camps to their search for self-determination some 40 years on.

At least half of those living in the camp have lived in temporary homes all their lives. The film details the daily rituals of people as they endure the harsh living conditions, while the voice of the female translator, born in the camp, is heard intermittently as she reveals her growing frustration with the static nature of life there.

Exploring the issues of individual and collective identity, forced migration and exile, and the female experience of conflict, the project was driven by Jury’s conversations with local people who later took part in the film.

Research and filming took place over two weeks residency in the camp, while the film was produced with the support of Rob Godman, Reader in the School of Creative Arts, who re-mastered the sound and created the soundscape when the film was later presented as a multi-screen installation at the Broad/MSU Art Museum in the US.

The power of To Be Here in illuminating a critical aspect of the global refugee crisis has been recognised by a People on the Move Award: Stories of New Beginnings, a new category in the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s prestigious annual Research in Film Awards. The awards celebrate the creativity of artists who are telling stories on camera in ways that capture the importance of arts and humanities research to all our lives.

For Jury, who combines teaching with her professional practice, To Be Here is her latest piece of practice-led research investigating the psychological impact of the moving image and societal narratives of trauma.

Her work, including Climart, a five-year research project investigating the efficacy of arts and science collaborations and the effect of visual arts in communicating climate change, has been given many solo exhibitions, and has been featured in major touring exhibitions in the USA and China, reaching audiences worldwide. To Be Here continues to be screened internationally, including back in the camp in the Western Sahara.

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Sam Jury

Samantha Jury is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores the psychological impact of film-based imagery and how its ubiquity shapes our understanding of society and self. She works across the medias of photography, video, sound and installation, whilst navigating the gaps and fissures between moving and still imagery.

In her most recent works, Sam has been examining depictions of trauma and event within the framework of ‘suspended traumas’ - the idea that dramatic/traumatic incidents from the past are continually replayed in the media in detachment from specific moment or place.