WHEN emerging documentary maker, Jerome Jefferson Kiyemba’s parents died, he was put into the Ugandan army as a child soldier. He says he was forced to become “a killing machine, basically.” Jerome says he also suffered sexual abuse during his time in the army. He finds it hard to talk about the trauma he experienced.
Now, Jerome, from the border region between Tanzania and Uganda, is Waterford-based and is a recipient of the Radical Institute at Studios of Sanctuary residencies and Sample Studios in Cork.
This transnational initiative employs the arts and cultural practice to promote social and ecological change. The programme was set up to support arts practitioners from asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant backgrounds. It is supported by the Cork Arts Fund at the Community Foundation of Ireland.
Jerome believes he was born in 1983.
“There is no record of me. I am one of the kids that was born around that era when there was massive conflict in East Africa. I’m only now discovering who I am.”
After “legging it” from the war situation, he crossed the Sahara Desert.
“It took me a long time to get to Europe. I am very lucky. Out of everyone who was crossing the desert with me, I survived. The others perished.
"If you ask me how I got to Ireland, I don’t know. I was on a boat. There were about 20 of us crossing into Europe.
“All I know is that this really nice man put me on a fishing boat and dropped me in Ireland. I arrived in Dublin and got processed. I had to seek asylum. I got moved to Kerry. That didn’t work out for me. I got into a little bit of trouble. Then I got moved to Limerick but I got in trouble there as well. Then I got to Waterford. At that time, I was more settled in myself.”
Jerome, who is married to a Northern Irish woman and has a two-year-old son and another child on the way, has been in Ireland now for 15 years, about half of which was spent in direct provision.
“Through my direct provision experience, I taught myself how to produce music and movies. I think I got good at it. Movie-making kind of allows me to release my sorrows and pain.
“I am working on a documentary that centres around folk stories. Every culture has folk stories. My idea is to connect all the different cultures through their folk stories. People don’t realise how connected we are on so many fronts.”
Jerome was “put straight” when he spoke to a woman with Arabic heritage while doing research.
“She was saying to me that I didn’t understand the difference between Arabic culture and Muslim culture. The religion, as it is, is perfect. It has respect for women. But the Arabic culture has been so manipulated that you think that is what the religion is about.”
The Radical Institute at Studios of Sanctuary residencies are open to marginalised artists in Munster.
Jerome started his artistic career as a rapper.
“But I realised I didn’t have enough time on a rap record to say what I needed to say. That’s why I went into documentary-making. My first documentary was around direct provision. I’m exploring going deeper into that but you don’t want to rub people up the wrong way. A lot of people don’t understand direct provision.”
Jerome says his wife, Michelle, is his rock.
“We talk about the gender pay gap. I’m all about equality.”
Asked if he experiences racism in this country, Jerome says: “It’s more institutional. But every now and again, someone will open the window of a car passing me and say something really stupid. I don’t take it to heart. But when it comes to the institutional side of things, I think there’s work that needs to be done.”
Cork-based Portuguese artist, Catarina Araújo, is also a recipient of a Radical Institute at Studios of Sanctuary residency. She decided to come to Cork four years ago as her sister, Rita, lives here.
“It’s kind of my second home. I like the people and the culture,” she says.
Catarina, who finds art therapeutic for her mental health issues, likes to combine film with sculpture. Her abstract sculptures are mainly made out of paper and some have an architectural element to them.
“I combine everything together to express what I’m looking for. Lately, I’ve been working around mental health conditions.
"I’m trying to understand the relationship between body and mind and how our past experience informs who we are in the present.
“Through film and paper, I have found the right medium with paper being a fragile material. I use my own body also. But it’s a bit disembodied because I just show some parts of it.”
Catarina has a Masters degree in art and process from the Crawford College of Art and Design.
“My thesis was relating trauma through art. I chose four women artists. I dipped into their work so see how they used art to process their own traumas. It wasn’t art therapy or anything like that. The art was like these women’s escape. I guess it’s like how some people will go for a run if they’ve had a bad day. In this case, the women turned to performance or photography or sculpture.”
Catarina has been looking at how mental health practitioners have coped with the pandemic.
“Mental health staff are getting very burnt out. They need to be looked after and listened to. They are amazing. They have given a lot without expecting anything in return.”
Always interested in mental health for personal and family reasons, Catarina considered studying psychology for her undergraduate degree in Portugal but in the end opted for art. She is confident that art can allow her to explore mental health.
“When I was very young, I started doing drawings and paintings to deal with day to day anxiety. When I was a child, my mother had depression. It was very tough. I struggle as well with mental health. I’ve had anxiety since I can remember. It can get quite bad. Sometimes, I get to a point where my body shuts down and I can’t communicate or move or do anything. I just cry. It can happen for a couple of hours. Sometimes, if it’s really bad, it might take one or two days to come out of it.”
Catarina has been in therapy for three years. “Therapy really helps. I tried medication but it didn’t work. It just made everything worse so I stopped taking it. I try to be aware also of my body’s needs. Our bodies are always communicating with us. We just don’t listen. I find yoga helpful.”
While art is therapeutic for Catarina, she admits to having a “love/hate relationship” with art.
“I really like it but because it’s my work as well, having to do it means I get blocked sometimes. But it always comes around and I’m really happy doing it.”
Catarina and Jerome are two of four recipients of the Radical Institute at Studios of Sanctuary residencies. This new mentorship-led programme is based at Sample Studios. It supports each of the four artists with their own studio space, access to expert mentors as well as access to a summer school programme, bursaries and an opportunity to have an exhibition at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion in Fitzgerald’s Park. It’s all about socially engaged art practice. The support would not have been possible without the anonymous donor who made the Cork Arts Fund at Community Foundation of Ireland possible.
For more see www.sample-studios.com