A colourful pair of new banners are flying the flag for cultural diversity in Swansea. One is headed in English and one in Welsh, celebrating ten years of Swansea as a City of Sanctuary (or Dinas Noddfa Abertawe). They are the collective work of over 100 participants from across the city. They include asylum seekers, refugees and members and community volunteers from supporter organisations and cultural groups such as the Chinese community and Iberian Society.
The banners were the brainchild of Mary Hayman, who was employed as an Associate Artist at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. ‘Part of my role was to bring people together and celebrate the diverse cultures that make up our city,’ explained Mary. ‘Prior to lockdown I’d worked with Turkish mosaic artists and with various different communities to create self-portraits. The lockdown happened, and everything ground to a halt. I knew we had to find a way of bringing people together, even if we couldn’t meet physically.’
Mary came up with the idea of creating banners made of patchwork hexagons which individuals or families could contribute. She set up a WhatsApp group and Zoom meetings, and put together an information sheet showing how to create something to the correct format and size, with a stamped addressed envelope to return their contributions.
‘It was really exciting! On the Zoom calls I could see people getting excited and planning out what they could do. It was lovely to see whole families involved – men, women and even the children joining in.’
Local sewing expert Arwen Roberts also joined the online gathering, teaching different stitches and sewing techniques.
‘One of the wonderful things about the banners is how different groups have each brought something unique,’ said Mary. ‘Some of the South American contributors incorporated recycled materials, while others used very intricate embroidery.’
Refugee Naila Amjad designed the top part of each banner incorporating the City of Sanctuary words alongside a Swansea skyline. The banner was stitched together by Hanam Beko, a refugee from Syria, who is a tailor by trade.
‘He did an amazing job, assisted by his daughter, aged two, who is our youngest contributor. The oldest contributor was a lady from my church who’s 91!’ said Mary.
The banners are now on display side by side at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, where they will remain, with a launch exhibition planned as soon as it is safe to do so. A short video has been made of how they were created, including close-ups of lots of the individual hexagons and a commentary by Mary.
‘The banners will also be available for use at events, where we hope as many people as possible can see it,’ said Mary. ‘They are a beautiful addition to our city’s cultural heritage and will provide a lasting testimony to Swansea as a thriving and diverse city and a place to welcome to people from all over the world.’
At the age of 91, the oldest contributor to the banner was also called Mary. She commented: ‘I was delighted to make a contribution to the banner celebrating 10 years of Swansea City of Sanctuary. The refugee situation concerns me greatly. Having survived the bombing in London I really feel for those leaving their war-torn countries. However, their situation is worse than mine ever was, as they are forced into leaving their homes and their country and need all the help and support we can give them.’
Contributor Janet Nielsen said: ‘Swansea has been a place of sanctuary for generations. I wouldn’t be living in Swansea if one of my great grandfathers hadn’t settled here from Norway. He soon learned to speak, read and write English. He married a Pembrokeshire girl, whose family had come to Swansea to seek better opportunities.
My other great grandparents came from Carmarthenshire, Devon and Scotland. So over the generations Swansea has been a place of welcome and opportunity for my family and I am proud to live in the city which was proclaimed the second city of sanctuary in the UK.’
Becky Lowe, February 2021
Prof Marie Gillespie at Open University produced this amazing video to to pay tribute to Mary Hayman’s community arts work on #IWD2021 as she continues to #ChooseToChallenge racism and forges solidarity through art. Special Thanks to Marie Gillespie
Link to the video>>