V&A family trail: Refugee stories

Go on a journey around the museum and explore six objects that tell a story about people who became refugees. This trail is aimed at families with children.

The United Nations Refugee Agency states that refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

Refugees often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones.

Walk this trail with your family or friends to celebrate the contribution of refugees to the United Kingdom and encourage better understanding between communities.

Orange flag with a black line through it
Refugee flag, designed by Tara Said, commissioned by the Refugee Nation with the support of Amnesty International, Film Aid, Makers Unite and U-able, 2016. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Look up to find the first object on the trail. Can you see an orange flag? This Refugee Nation flag was created by designer Yara Said, who had to leave her home in Syria because of war. The flag was designed to represent a group of refugee athletes at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Looking at the colours and design, can you guess what inspired her? Yara decided to base her flag design on the orange and black life vests that many refugees wear when they cross the sea.

The Refugee Nation also has an anthem – a powerful song for refugees around the world, which was written by Syrian refugee, Moutaz Arian. Moutaz chose to create an anthem without words so everyone could understand it. You can listen to the anthem here. How does it make you feel?

Honey coloured carved stone Kangaroo with diamonds for eyes
Kangaroo and case, by Peter Carl Fabergé, 1910, Russia. Museum no. M.7:1,2-2017. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This carved stone figure of a kangaroo with diamond eyes was made by the workshop of Russian jewellery designer Peter Carl Fabergé. The Fabergé family had to leave France hundreds of years before Carl was born because their religion was not accepted there. They eventually found a new home in Russia where Carl's workshop became known for its beautiful creations. Later in life, Carl and his family had to flee Russia as refugees too – this time for political reasons.

When leaving their home to seek safety, people usually can only take a small number of things with them. They may not be able to take clothes, shoes, bedding, kitchen items or toys. If you could only take one thing that would be useful, or make you happy and remind you of your home, what would you choose?

Left: Plaster cast of an arch from the interior of Santa Maria Blanca synagogue. The plaster cast also has ceramic tiles applied at the base of the column. Right: black and white photo showing the detailed patterns on the arch
Copy of an Arch, by José de Trilles y Badenes, 1871, Spain. Museum no. REPRO.1871:1-60 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Look down into the Cast Courts. Can you see this object located in the gallery below to your right? It is a copy of an arch from a synagogue called Santa Maria del Blanca in Spain.

This synagogue is very special. It was built more than 800 years ago during the reign of a Christian king, and was designed by Muslim architects for Jewish people to pray in. It shows how communities can connect across their differences, live alongside each other, learn from each other and create something beautiful.

Can you think of a moment when you needed help from others to achieve something you could not do on your own? Or when you offered your help to somebody who needed it?

Brown wooden cabinet displaying animals entering into Noah's Arc
Cabinet and stand, by unknown maker, 1560 – 1600, Spain. Museum no. 294-1870. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the Bible story of Noah's Ark, God decided to send a flood to the Earth as punishment. He asked Noah to build a large ship to save himself, his family and two of every animal living on land. The big flood lasted 40 days and after the ground dried, Noah, his family and all the animals found a new place to live in safety. Which part of the story can you see depicted on this cabinet?

Natural disasters can be the reason people become refugees. People might lose their homes to fire or flood, or can no longer get enough food from their land because of a long drought. When people need to find a new home for these reasons, they become climate refugees. What simple things can we do to protect the health of our planet and help people from becoming climate refugees?

Wheel composed of wood and metal components with electric motor attached as a later addition and protective cloth pinned on with drawing pins.
Potting Wheel, by unknown maker, about 1920 – 37, Austria. Museum no. C.32-2009. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When refugees arrive in a new country, they bring their skills, creativity and experience with them. Many refugees have become well known for their contributions to art, science and medicine.

This room is a reconstruction of Lucie Rie's London ceramics studio. In 1938 she had to escape her home in Austria because of the increasing persecution of people of Jewish faith. She brought these two potting wheels with her so she could keep making ceramics in her new home in London. When making her ceramic pieces, which you can see displayed on the shelves on the left, she took inspiration from different cultures around the world. What skills would you bring with you if you had to move to another country? What are you really good at?

A circular dish with an openwork rim, made of glazed earthenware. 'Welcome' is written in underglaze slip in Persian/Urdu. The dish is glazed in green, brown and orange.
Dish, by unknown maker, about 1880, Mumbai, India. Museum no. IS.185-1965. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This dish is decorated with painted flowers and leaves, and the word 'welcome' is written in the centre in Persian. What do you think this dish was used for? Perhaps it was made as a present for somebody to feel welcome after arriving in a new place?

Can you think of a way to make someone who is new to your school or community feel welcome? It could be that they do not speak the language of the country they have just arrived in. Even a small act can make a huge difference. It might be as simple as saying 'hello', sharing a smile or playing together. What kind act would make you feel welcome if you had to go to a new school and find new friends?

Well done for completing this trail. Share your ideas with us using #VamFamilies.

With thanks to Counterpoints Arts, a leading national organisation in the field of arts, migration and cultural change.

Header image:

Dish, by unknown maker, about 1880, Mumbai, India. Museum no. IS.185-1965. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London