Synergy community exhibition event celebrates the power of collaboration, diversity and unity through art

A community exhibition event at the University of Leeds will showcase work created by Women’s and Men’s Wellbeing Groups at Leeds Refugee Forum.

Synergy has been organised by undergraduate fine art student Caitlín O’Doherty alongside Ranya Abdulateef, a textiles artist and Leeds Refugee Forum Wellbeing Group Coordinator. 

Taking place on Friday 19 March in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, the community exhibition event aims to celebrate the power of collaboration, diversity and unity through art. ‘Synergy’ refers to the combined power or effectiveness that occurs when individuals or elements work together in a cooperative and harmonious way.

The exhibition will feature a wide range of artistic expressions, including paintings, textiles, film work and mixed media pieces. Each artwork is a reflection of the unique experiences, perspectives and talents of the participants.

In addition to the collaborative artwork, the exhibition will feature a mini art market. This will provide an opportunity for attendees to support local artists and take home unique pieces that resonate with them.

People standing next to an art market stall

The Women’s Wellbeing Group art market stalls at Leeds Refugee Forum's International Women’s Day celebration. Photo by Ernesto Rogata.

Caitlín O’Doherty and Ranya Abdulateef have worked together throughout this year to facilitate a range of creative workshops at Leeds Refugee Forum.

Ranya Abdulateef said:

“Leeds Refugee Forum is a charity organisation that helps and supports local people, asylum seekers and refugees. The Forum runs plenty of supportive classes, from English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to wellbeing and community, all easy access and free of charge.

“We run classes for both both Women’s and Men’s Wellbeing Groups. The wellbeing groups work towards welcoming new people to the community. Alongside making them feel they are welcomed and not isolated, classes help them develop their language, create their contacts, build confidence and gain new skills (and share their own skills with each other).

“This been happening well by having an artistic professional team that runs different creative and therapeutic workshops, such us photography, textiles, painting and printing, with many more coming up.

“We always welcome students to take part with us to volunteer with us and help them gain the skills that they need. We also have a wide range of students who like to do their placements with other groups within Leeds Refugee Forum.”

Four people

Volunteers and members of Leeds Refugee Forum's Women’s Wellbeing Groups helping out and empowering each other at the International Women’s Day celebration. From left: Sol, Ranya, Fatima and Caitlín. Photo by Ernesto Rogata.

Caitlín O’Doherty is a second year BA Fine Art with Contemporary Cultural Theory student at the University of Leeds. Caitlín has been volunteering with the wellbeing groups at Leeds Refugee Forum for seven months but first discovered the forum last year when she gave English conversation classes with the STAR Society (Student Action for Refugees).

Caitlín came up with the idea of holding a community exhibition to facilitate connection between people from different backgrounds and to encourage others to volunteer at Leeds Refugee Forum.

She chose to host it in the school’s Project Space as she said it was a free resource she had access to as a student, and believes that if you have access to something good, then it should be shared. By hosting it at the University of Leeds, the exhibition serves as a bridge between the wellbeing groups and the wider Leeds community. Caitlín said:

“Throughout this year I have been volunteering as an art wellbeing workshop coordinator at Leeds Refugee Forum alongside Ranya. I now facilitate the creative sessions with the Men’s group and am an active part of the Women’s group.

“So far this year we have all worked together to enjoy therapeutic and social sessions, and to prepare various art stalls at different markets and events. We’ve celebrated different cultural days and special days like our members’ birthdays and International Women’s Day. 

A hand reaching into a box full of balls of thread

Embroidery thread bracelet making workshop with the Men’s Well-being group. Photo courtesy of Caitlín O’Doherty.

“An example of one of the sessions I have led is embroidery thread bracelet making. This activity can promote independence, liberation and facilitate conversations through choosing favourite colours or country flag colours to express identity. Also, the repetitive nature of the braiding technique can be very therapeutic and relaxing whilst giving the brain something to focus on.

“Another example is our 'free flow painting' workshop where we responded to prompts, listened to our intuition and explored expressive mark making. We used watercolours and watered down thin acrylic paints to allow the colours to bleed into each other in a liberating way we can't control. The challenge was to fill the whole page and leave no white spaces! 

“Our wellbeing groups are the perfect place to connect with others, share stories, de-stress, practice language skills, have a laugh, get creative and learn new artistic skills.

“We provide tea, coffee and refreshments at every session and for lots of our attendees the Forum is a safe space where they can rely on good heating, free wifi and warm drinks. Even though these are the basics, they are also key to wellbeing and a break/distraction from life at the refugee hotels.

People sitting round a table and painting

Landscape painting workshop with the Men’s Wellbeing group, Leeds Refugee Forum. Photo courtesy of Caitlín O’Doherty.

“I cannot stress enough how rewarding and magical my experience volunteering at Leeds Refugee Forum has been, especially as a student in Leeds. I was able to feel so welcomed and immersed into a new community outside of the student bubble and can now call the community there my second family.

“I have been given so many amazing opportunities like painting the new mural in the Forum, facilitating my own art workshop sessions, managing the well-being social media accounts and gaining experience in translation. These have all which have offered me an abundance of skills to take away and apply to the working world.

“I cannot recommend volunteering at Leeds Refugee Forum enough for anyone, but especially for creative students like me.”

Person painting a mural

Student volunteer artist, Caitlín O’Doherty, painting the new mural in Leeds Refugee Forum. Photo courtesy of Caitlín O’Doherty.

In addition to the exhibition and mini art market, there will be live music performances throughout the event. These performances will create a vibrant and engaging ambiance, adding another layer of artistic expression to the exhibition.

Caitlín said:

“The exhibition serves as a bridge between the wellbeing groups and the wider Leeds community. It's a chance for the participants to share their creations, engage in conversations and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures and experiences. It's a celebration of diversity and an opportunity for integration and connection.

“The Synergy community exhibition event promises to be a truly inspiring and uplifting experience for all who join us.”

More information

The Synergy community exhibition and event takes place from 11am to 2pm on Friday 19 March in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies (University Road, University of Leeds). It is free to attend and all are welcome. Find out more about Synergy.

Further details about the Wellbeing Groups can be found on the Leeds Refugee Forum website.

Find out about studying in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

Feature image

Freeflow painting workshop at Leeds Refugee Forum. Photo courtesy of Caitlín O’Doherty.