Exhibition by Studio Lenca and young people supported by Kent Refugee Action Network to open in Margate

Work by Jose Campos and young people from KRAN will be on show at the Carl Freedman Gallery

Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) has collaborated with an artist from El Salvador on his debut solo exhibition at the Carl Freedman Gallery in Margate.

Jose Campos (working name Studio Lenca), like many of the young people at KRAN, left his country of origin as a child. With his mother, he travelled illegally overland to the USA, growing up “without papers” in San Francisco. As a young adult, he moved to the UK, settling in Margate where he is now based.

KRAN was established in 2003 to support separated refugees and asylum seekers aged from 16 to 24 who have arrived alone in Kent.

Jose experienced the obstacles that came with being an asylum seeker in a new country; very similar obstacles to those KRAN’s young people face, including adjusting to different weather, food and societal norms.

The name of his Margate exhibition is Leave to Remain, which refers to the official Home Office term for someone allowed to stay in the UK, but with restrictions and without permanent legal status.

KRAN young people are often subject to these restrictions and have to strive for many years to gain Indefinite Leave to Remain status – allowing them to stay in the UK with no time limit and with permanent legal status. Having shared similar experiences with the young people, Jose invited them to collaborate with him.

There were a series of workshops at KRAN’s Canterbury and Folkestone hubs, as well as at the Margate gallery. Starting by exploring “roots to routes”, the young refugees and asylum seekers went on to build large sculptural works based on the volcanoes of El Salvador.

Jose said: “I hope this artwork shines a light on these young people’s lives in Kent. I was also a refugee and I know that care, dialogue and the chance to be creative can really make a difference.”

KRAN Activities and Wellbeing Coordinator Osama Sharkia says that through collaborating with Studio Lenca, the young people were able to express complex emotions about their journeys to the UK in a way they might not be able to in words, overcoming any language barriers.

Osama added: “We recognise the profound significance of art in the lives of young people. Thanks to Studio Lenca, there were workshops that empowered our youths to explore their creativity, express themselves and build confidence. Through art, we nurtured their voices and inspired them to shape their futures with resilience and imagination.”

One participant said: “I really liked doing something new and it was fun. It was cool using paper and glue to build the volcanoes and then to paint them.”

Another added: “I loved being a part of it and can’t wait to see the exhibition.”

Leave to Remain is at the Carl Freedman Gallery, Union Crescent, Margate, from Sunday 14 April to Sunday 16 June. Entry is free; no tickets required.