Culture, Globe, United Kingdom, Visual Arts

Shattering stereotypes about refugees

Photographers from five countries captured the images of 21 refugee women who have fled persecution in their home countries and shared their unique stories of resilience, joy and courage. Their photographs are on display in London from 7 to 10 March.


Laura Rios behind the scenes. Women by Women Colombia BTS. Credit: Lida Yurian Diaz Amado.

The Women by Women photography exhibition returns this International Women’s Day, aiming to challenge refugee stereotypes.

The photographs celebrate inspiring women refugees from across the world who make important contributions to their host communities, and the trailblazing women-led organisations supporting them to flourish.

For this project, five photographers collaborated with ActionAid: Photograhers: Esther Mbabazi (Uganda), Fabeha Monir (Bangladesh), F Dilek Yurdakul (Turkey), Laura Rios Diaz (Colombia) and Magda Klimczak, (Poland). One of them, Laura Rios, is an Afro-Colombian social communicator, photographer and audiovisual producer, considers this project very significant and important for her “because it is closely related to my artistic and political commitment that is interwoven with an anti-racist and decolonial perspective”. “The collective (ubuntu) and Afrodiasporic -she explains – is a space of resistance and resilience that contribute to the memory and symbolic reparation from the visual arts of the black, Afro-descendant people in Colombia.”

Yosmary. Credit: Laura Rios

Laura felt a strong bond with the women she photographed for the exhibition and says she “was connected to their stories of resistance and resilience, taking what has happened to them and seeing it as a new opportunity in life to move forward and fight for a better quality of life for them and their families.

I saw my mom reflected in several of them, a woman who has also gone through many difficulties. I was a victim of the armed conflict, but despite everything, she provided us with well-being, education, a roof over our heads, food and support for my brothers and me.” One woman Laura photographed was Diana, who, along with her husband and her three children, is walking from Santo Domingo, Ecuador, to Bogota in Colombia in search of work. In Santo Domingo, their rights were not respected, and Diana and her husband were forced to work long hours without pay, so they decided to leave.

Laura Rios behind the scenes taking photographs of Yosmary for the Women by Women exhibition. Credit: Lida Yurian Diaz Amad.

The family are originally from Venezuela, where one in four people have fled their homes due to multiple overlapping crises affecting the country including economic collapse, food shortages, the breakdown of healthcare and education systems, as well as gross human rights violations. The route Diana and her family are currently walking is not safe, and she worries about her children’s health.

She says she and her husband always walk in front of the children. “We don’t like the children to see bad things, especially our son as he is the youngest.” When they get to Bogota, Diana hopes to start a business in Bogota selling authentic Venezuelan food while her husband gets a job.

Laura speaks about the bravery of women like Diana who appear in the Women by Women exhibition, “A few words that resonated with me a lot that I had the opportunity to share with them was Resilience and Hope.”

Diana, her husband and her three children are walking from Santo Domingo, Ecuador to Bogota in Colombia in search of work. Credit: Laura Rios

And she adds that “it is very admirable how they practice it in their lives, to see them always with the motivation to get ahead, to work and to ensure the well-being of their families and friends, to see the solidarity in their relationships and affections that desire to provide support to other people who, like them at the time, need it amid difficulties.”

Date and Venue: 7 to 10 March. Opening hours: 11am to 6pm. Free admission. gallery@oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank, London.

(Information and photos: ActionAid UK)

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