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ART = SPACES FOR GREAT EXPERIENCES How can the encounter with art enhance the quality of life of refugee children and young people? DRAW YOUR FACE! Since 2006 Louisiana has offered free learning programmes for refugee children and young people from Red Cross schools. The idea arose during a workshop at the museum, where a group of refugee children had interpreted our instructions on how to make a self-portrait — “Draw your face” — very literally. Instead of drawing what they saw in the mirror, the children drew on their own faces. The result was a lot of charcoal-black but happy children. This was where the idea started of exploring how encounters with art can strengthen the refugee children socially and verbally. This happens a.o. when the children experience and talk about art or work creatively themselves. The aim of this learning programme is to create spaces for good experiences that both open up the world of art and as far as possible involve the refugee children’s own experiences. And – not least – let them encounter through art the different, the surprising and other things that can help them to create an inner space and perhaps give them new tools with which to appropriate the world and strengthen their ability to deal with their own life situations.

“When I’m sad, I’ve discovered that it helps to look at art and to try to understand it. Then I enter a different world and feel better myself.” Milan, 14, asylum-seeker from Azerbaijan

FINDING A HAVEN Refugee children often live their lives in transit, so we hope that their experiences at Louisiana will help to create moments of meaning and depth in the life of the individual child. The depth comes e.g. when the children experience and talk about art at the museum, or when the creative work in the workshop gives them the opportunity to strengthen their self-expression, while drawing exercises based on shared exploration create a space for structured play. In other words, the creative work at the museum offers the children the chance to engage in a kind of organized play where the framework is provided and defined by adults, and for that very reason it gives them peace to experiment and immerse themselves in their own expression. At the museum we are interested in creating meaning in what we see, but also in reflecting on how we all experience things differently. Meaning can arise when the children feel at home at Louisiana and maybe learn how through art they can connect to their own sensations, thoughts and dreams; which perhaps in this way strengthens the development of their views of themselves and their world. Creating opportunities for the children to re-learn play, to enter into fruitful social relations and perhaps to forge new friendships – these are some of the things that research has emphasized as important not only for refugee children but for vulnerable children in general.

FROM ‘ART INJECTIONS’ TO EXTENDED VISITS The programme has changed over time as the collaboration between museum and school has been strengthened. At first every single visit was conceived as a rounded-off ‘art injection’. Because there was a strong through-flow in the children’s group, we emphasized that each museum visit could stand alone. But gradually the wish arose to strengthen the grounding of Louisiana’s learning programme at the school, so the children were given more opportunities to experience the connections between everyday life at school and the activities at the museum. This is why the children today participate in a five-week learning course where they alternate between visiting the museum and working at the school with tasks inspired by the experiences of art at Louisiana. In their personal logbooks the pupils document the process, draw sketches and keep diaries of their experiences, thoughts and reflections. Each course ends with an exhibition of the children’s works at the Red Cross school so that their schoolmates and parents have a chance to admire the results.

PLAYING WITH LINES The work with the refugee children has inspired us to develop new teaching methods where drawing plays a central role. Appropriating the world through drawing has always been central to the educational work at Louisiana, but the emphasis has been on observational drawing in front of the works. Now the refugee children work with introductory drawing exercises in the workshop, where the children “play with lines” and create drawings together, often on long rolls of paper on the floor. Precisely because the children speak different languages, and some may have just arrived in Denmark, we use a non-verbal method for expression which is drawing. As a tool, drawing strengthens the children’s self-confidence so they will embark on reproducing and interpreting what they see. Also it gives them the courage to think abstractly and create something new. The fact that they sometimes work together on the tasks enhances the solidarity of the group.


Experiments with music and sounds to tell stories add to our focus on drawing as a non-verbal mode of expression. From a workshop with the Danish group Überlyd

The Refugee Children Project has triggered our curiosity to investigate in more depth what it means for this particular group of children to gain experience of a different language – one that is based on images rather than words – and to have the chance to express themselves through images. This also explores how drawing and thinking are connected – a question that will be further explored in the years to come thanks to support from the Ole Kirk Foundation and the Knud Højgaard Foundation.

WALKING THE LINE: A MEMORY DRAWING Think of a lovely place where you’ve been! What good things happened there? Imagine that you can draw the best things you have experienced in this place all in one long line. You mustn’t lift the pencil from the paper, but you can turn it to get everything in the picture. Often the long, unbroken line plays the main role in our drawing experiments. The uninterrupted pencil line functions as an obstacle that distracts them from fear of failure, because the children understand that their drawing does not need to be pretty or look like the subject as in a photograph. This is also the case with the exercise “Take a walk with the line” inspired by Paul Klee. In this exercise the children have to draw the most important things they have experienced on their visit all together in one line. They can turn the paper to get everything in. The exercise works well after a walk in the Louisiana Sculpture Park, where the children can now draw the walk from sculpture to sculpture, and the result often comes to look like a treasure map that reminds them of the most important stops.

Line Ali Chayder, mag. art. and art educator in Louisiana Learning, is the initiator and project manager of the Refugee Children Project at Louisiana. The children in the photos are from Skolen på Bakken, a Danish Red Cross school for asylum seekers. Photo at p. 2 by Maiken Riisholt.

The basic idea of Louisiana’s project is to help to enhance the quality of life of the children and give them good experiences that can help them to cope with their own life situation.