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Art as resistance: A story from immigration detention


This public engagement project aims to foster public awareness of the lived experiences of people who are separated from their families and made vulnerable and marginalised by the state in indefinite detention in the UK. Through storytelling and illustration of ethnographic data from research conducted in British immigration detention centres, it also aims to innovate in how research is disseminated and shared both within and beyond the academy.


Sarah Turnbull, University of Waterloo (Principal Investigator, formerly Birkbeck, University of London, School of Law)

Joanne Vincett, The Open University


This project is funded by Birkbeck, University of London’s Research Innovation Fund, supported by the generosity of Birkbeck alumni and friends.


There is a lack of public awareness that the Home Office regularly detains foreign nationals and those seeking asylum ‘on the spot’, without notifying them how long they will remain detained or if they will be released or removed/deported from the country. Mental health issues developed from confinement and uncertainty are further compounded by the Home Office’s policy to detain people without a maximum time limit.  

The narrative and illustration crafted in this project draw on a visual-tactile aspect of how people cope with immigration detention and resist its damage to their mental health that both Sarah and Jo observed in their separate ethnographic research projects. The practice of origami art (paper folding) in immigration detention was found to be particularly prevalent amongst female detainees in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. ‘Art as resistance’ is a story of how detained women practice origami art, and transfer this knowledge to new arrivers, to counter the harmful effects of immigration detention on detained people and their families.

This project was designed in collaboration with illustrator Gabi Froden.


Joanne Vincett

Contact us

To find out more about our work, or to discuss a potential project, please contact:

International Development Research Office
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

T: +44 (0)1908 858502