How did the “Our True Colours” project start?

Our True Colours started as a conversation between a community development worker, a researcher and small group of women from refugee backgrounds living in Brisbane, Australia. As a group, our common interest was to explore creative ways to bring to life the stories these women wanted to share about their past experiences and their dreams for the future.

Over the course of many conversations in 2013, we moved through a process of listening and problem solving. We enlisted the help of others in our community with a similar vision to design a storytelling project. Our plan was to create a workshop space to explore women’s life narratives using visual arts and participatory video, and to look for ways to share the results with Brisbane audiences.

Who are the people involved?

The Our True Colours storytelling project is supported by Mercy Community Services – Romero Centre, an organisation providing refugee and asylum seeker support in Brisbane, and Queensland University of Technology. It is an outcome of a collaboration between Madeleine Belfrage, a Community Development Worker at the Romero Centre; Nina Woodrow, a PhD Student in Creative Industries at QUT; and a small group of young women from refugee backgrounds who have resettled in Brisbane.

The Edge at The State Library of Queensland generously provided a venue and practical support during the workshop phase, and we also enlisted the help of two lovely visual designers, Kirsten Sillitoe and Monica Jimenez.

What did the workshops involve?

In October 2013 we began a series of workshops that brought together a group of women from refugee backgrounds to explore artistic and linguistic tools to talk about past experiences and to imagine future selves.

We experimented with creating visual maps of life journeys using a collage technique. These maps took on rich colours and textures as images and words in paper, fabric and beads were arranged and glued to the panels. As the artwork developed we shared stories. The women told stories about childhood and school, the outbreak of war, and being separated from loved ones. They talked about anxious, uncertain periods of time spent waiting in temporary places, filled with worry about their present and future safety. They shared what it is like living long term with loss and grief, and the struggle to adjust, reinvent themselves, and thrive in a new environment. Through stories and collage the women also shared their dreams and hopes for the future. Their resolve to make the most of the opportunities they now have, to take on the challenge of studying in a language they are still mastering, and to gain educational qualifications, shone through. Ultimately, we learnt about what they feel to be true and important in life, and about their determination to make a difference in the lives of other women.

The next stage of the project involved working with a professional visual designer/filmmaker to create a video story that comprised of a montage of these images and stories. Our plan was to capture some of these colourful true stories in a digital form. The video Our True Colours: A Collage of Four Women’s Stories is the outcome of these storytelling and art-making activities.