In Dissent and Displacement Monica Petzal takes on the oldest of journeys; people leaving their homeland because of persecution and war, and turns it into a story that never ends.
Using her own family’s experience, Petzal forces us to see what gets missed, where longing lies, and how the search for home, and the comfort of home, never really ends. And yet, more refugees arrive, Syrians, East African Asians from Uganda, Congolese, Eritreans, and more and more. And each group, each wave, has both a separate story to tell, and the same story to tell. In this exhibition, we begin to share in the emotions of the displaced as well as understanding how a host community can
reach out and provide comfort. In this exhibition we see people of conscience asking us all to help, to stretch out a hand to the oppressed and to identify with Leicester in particular, home to so many refugees and migrants, and home too to dissent from prevailing orthodoxies, and a place of welcome. Leicester was the birthplace of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers), famous for their work with refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. And it is also the birthplace of Alice Hawkins, a famous suffragette, looking at freedom and freedom of conscience in a different way. Leicester has stretched out its arms time and again to wave after
wave of migrants. And they have, eventually, called it home.
This exhibition challenges conventional thinking about refugees. They never forget their original home. They long for it and often behave as they would have done in their countries of birth. But they do it in a new way, and their habits morph, their patterns of behaviour morph, until gradually they are absorbed into a new society, welcomed or tolerated, newly at home, though perhaps never wholly secure. Admission to a new country and a welcome, rejection and toleration, experience overlaid with experience, the morphing of ideas of home; all these are shown in Petzal’s exhibition and all her
prints challenge us, the viewers, to think again what displacement means to those who experience it and to those who come after them.
Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE 2020