From hungers strikes to cooking radiator food, the 11 photos provide a glimpse into the reality of life inside an immigration removal centre (IRC) for women.

Fifteen participants now living in Leeds, all of whom are ex-detainees with ages ranging from 22 to 63, shared their stories which have now been turned into an art exhibition that launched on October 13.

At its heart, the physical interactive 'Asylum in Art' photo-voice exhibition is about raising awareness, breaking down stigmas, and calling for social change.

The exhibition visualises three key narratives across asylum experience through photographs and composite audio; dehumanisation inside the IRC, creative resistance inside detention; and community inclusion post release.

It also captures the tension between the institutional IRC, tasked with detaining and deporting those without papers, and the gendered, cultural, human face of detainees hidden away inside it.

Dr Maria De Angelis, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University, said:

“Women do feel dehumanisation in detention, they also feel there are things they can do to make themselves heard and not just that they are a deportable body.

“We have quite a few photos of how women resist these unjust practices, how they creatively maintain a gendered or a cultural identity while in detention.

“The women cook radiator food and share it with their friends because the menu doesn’t cater for them and others end up going on hunger strike.

It tries to give a qualitative understanding of an asylum seeker reporting being taken into detention, as something is not quite right in terms of paperwork or legal status, and what it’s like living inside. Then how they come out and how they rebuild their lives.

“This started as research that collected narratives from women. A call went out to women who had an experience of detention within an immigration removal centre.

“Everybody thinks they know about asylum; you have an opinion on it, but the problem is IRC themselves are closed institutions.

“One of the key findings is an IRC isn’t just a centre to hold people for deportation, actually what goes on in there is almost like a small community in itself.”

‘Asylum in Art’ launched at the Leeds Church Institute on 13 October for three days and booking is essential for the socially distanced event.

Maria De Angelis is Project Director & author of ‘Female Asylum Seekers: A Critical Attitude on UK Immigration Removal Centres’, where you can read women’s stories of dehumanisation, resistance, and community engagement in full.

Four women in a small room talking together. Image copy: "This way we could cook our own food, eat it when we wanted, together with friends."
Three women raising a right fist to the sky. Image copy: "You are not allowed to keep your phone if it has a camera"
Empty single bed in a small, dark room. Image copy: "They had no reason to keep me."