When Birmingham’s £189 million library – a flagship project for the city’s redevelopment and the largest public cultural space in Europe – opened in 2013, a group of seven migrant and Refugee Women was among the organisations taking part in the celebratory events. They were members of Shelanu, Hebrew for ‘Belonging to us', who met once a week to design and make jewellery inspired by the city they lived in. Members ranged in ages from 30 to 72. They invited visitors to contribute to an artwork, which over the span of a week, reflected diverse experiences of migration to Birmingham.
The ties between the Women’s countries of origin and Britain were underscored when the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry commissioned them to create a jewellery line inspired by the museum’s collection. Its displays included a 'Peace and Reconciliation' gallery focused on the experiences of the Blitz in the Second World War and an explanation of how the city developed global links as a result of reconciliation work. Nicola Gauld, curator of the 'Caught in the Crossfire' exhibition in which the Women’s work was displayed, said, “I was really excited about the range of jewellery” produced by Shelanu Collective for the exhibit. “I was particularly interested to see that the makers had taken inspiration from John Piper’s painting of Coventry Cathedral, which he began the day after it was bombed during the Second World War. The fact that Shelanu works with Refugee Women, many of whom may have direct experience of conflict, makes this commission even more poignant.”
Another success was the development of a jewellery line, Migrating Birds, inspired by the Women’s experiences of migrating to Birmingham. It was created with the support of Rita Patel, a British Asian jeweller based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. “We also show our work at craft fairs and people love it and are very interested in our story – the migration from different countries and our effort to build something new together,” said Kinneret, who had never made jewellery before she came to the UK from Israel in 2010.
Ruth, a migrant who lived in the UK since 1980, said, “The involvement with the different exhibitions I love so much because you meet people from everywhere. It makes me feel good and relaxed.” Members’ work is sold collectively and all profits go back into the social enterprise. “We work together as a team, and we have many activities outside and inside... I am able to help others and share my knowledge,” explained Alice Nzeyimana from Burundi, who also had never previously made jewellery.