Research on Wellington’s former refugees wins national award

Amber kaleAmber Kale is just halfway through her Master’s degree, but her research on bridging the gap between Wellington locals and former refugees is already gaining attention.

The Victoria University of Wellington student has received the Kate Sheppard Memorial Award, which acknowledges a woman studying at a New Zealand university and undertaking research valuable to the community.

The award’s announcement today by the Kate Sheppard Memorial Trust coincides with Women’s Suffrage Day, in honour of Kate Sheppard, a leading figure in New Zealand’s suffragette movement.

Amber’s thesis centres on a collaborative painting project that will bring together former refugees who lived in Wellington and long-term Wellingtonians to create a mural representing their stories and understandings of ‘home’.

“I’ll be holding workshops for the participants where they’ll share their ideas around what is ‘home’, ‘belonging’ and ‘visibility’. They’ll use these ideas to paint a mural on a large canvas that can be displayed in a public space.

“The idea is to make former refugees more visible in the community and to challenge some of the negative stereotypes,” Amber says.

Throughout the project, Amber will interview the participants, and the interviews will form the basis of her thesis on the capacity of art to share former refugees’ stories with the host communities and break down cultural barriers.

Amber, who is a refugee rights advocate, regular volunteer and a professional portrait artist, says her Master’s project is the ideal avenue to channel her passions into her academic life.

“I wanted to turn the theoretical into practical. I wanted to make sure the research I do benefits the community.”

Associate Professor Sara Kindon, one of Amber’s supervisors, says those in Victoria’s Human Geography programme are “delighted” that her work has been recognised with such a competitive and prestigious award.

“The Kate Sheppard Memorial Trust award is a fitting tribute to Amber’s intellectual abilities, creative talents and commitment to engaged research. Her research contributes to building a more equitable and inclusive society.”

Fellow supervisor and lecturer Dr Polly Stupples says Amber’s innovative research focuses on an important and under-researched area.

“A lot of research, very legitimately, has focused on the needs of resettled refugees. But Amber’s research examines the relationships between former refugees and host communities, and explores strategies to break down social barriers and create shared understanding. It’s also innovative in terms of critically examining the potential for creative arts to build bridges between the communities.”