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‘If I had put my story in a paper, nobody would have read it'

During a closing exhibition, participants of the Master Honours Class 'Leiden: City of Refugees?' present their invitation to an imaginary group of 'others'. By combining science with art, students learn to look at society in a different manner.

Prior to the final assignment, the students followed a combination of lectures on scientific concepts and interactive workshops. Various themes were addressed, such as migration, integration, social inclusion, prejudice and empathy. After this, the participants went on their own research by talking to residents of various neighbourhoods in Leiden.

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From science to art

During their own research, the role of students as researchers was emphasised. They were challenged to look critically at their own position and prejudices. Once enough information had been collected, the students went to work on a theme of their own choosing. The scientific research was transformed into art.

The exhibition took place in the 'Stadsbauhaus', the headquarters of 'European City of Science: Leiden2022'.

The students' freedom of choice led to a variety of artworks at the exhibition. They used film, music, posters, fabrics and digital means, among other things. Some of the artworks are interactive, inviting visitors to get to work on a theme themselves. ‘In this way, we also hope to reach people outside of academia,’ says participant Saira Wahid.


For some participants, the theme of the exhibition is very personal. ‘I often experience what it is like to be the other person myself’, Aynur Hasanzadeh explains. To show how much it matters where you come from, she made an exhibition of passports. Each passport shows how many countries require a visa. She wants to show that borders are not only physically but also mentally different for people.

On top of personal impact, the course also made societal impact. Madeleine Christiaanse set up a dining table on the street in the De Kooi district of Leiden. Residents were invited to think about what they would like to eat with their neighbours, in order to start social initiatives. ‘Many people want to get to know their neighbours better, but don't know how to do so,’ Madeleine explains. ‘Food brings people together.’ Her idea was such a success that a neighbourhood festival will soon be organised.

Telling a story

According to accompanying artist Anne Schaarschmidt, it is not only about the works of art. ‘It's about the development of the students,’ she explains. Aynur agrees. According to her, it is important for scientists to learn to look at society in a different way. ‘The combination with art helps in this respect. If I had put my story in a paper, nobody would have read it.’

Text: Robin Buijs

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