Spaces of Sanctuary at the Hull International Photography Festival 18-26 November


A free photography exhibition, previously on display at Glastonbury Festival, opens in Hull this Saturday 18 November.

Spaces of Sanctuary depicts the extraordinary experiences of migrant mothers in the UK.

Young, fleeing violence and oppression, far from home, pregnant and alone, the photographs, by Joanna Vestey, focus on the ordinary spaces which represent the extraordinary lives of these women, and the stories they tell of very real experiences in the UK today.

The exhibition, curated by the White Ribbon Alliance, is brought to Hull with The Refugee Council, City of Sanctuary, City Healthcare Partnership and Creative and Cultural for the Hull international photography festival.

The photos and captions tell the personal stories of 10 women who have fled trafficking, rape, child marriage and other attacks on their rights as women. It presents stories about their experiences of being pregnant and becoming mothers in the UK, and how their rights continue to be breached while they are seeking sanctuary here.

The exhibition was first displayed at Glastonbury Festival where many of the women whose stories feature in the exhibition got to experience the Glastonbury festival.

The women not only talked about their own experiences with festival-goers, celebrity visitors and the media, but joined Michael Eavis to sing together on the Festival’s Park stage.

Emily Eavis said: “We are delighted that Hull is taking on the baton from Pilton and hosting this amazing exhibition during Hull’s City of Culture year. ‘Spaces of Sanctuary’ has a very important story to tell about the how we are treating the most vulnerable women, especially those who are pregnant and giving birth in our country.

“Much of Glastonbury Festival is run by women and many of us (me included) are mums with young children. So of course we are strong supporters of women’s rights, and it’s brilliant when activists at the Festival show solidarity with all the pregnant women and new mums who have been caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis, as well as those as migrant women already in the UK seeking safety and a better life.

‘This country has a long and proud tradition of welcoming others in need of sanctuary, and it’s really positive that so many individuals involved in the Festival have found numerous creative and practical ways to help. But it’s become painfully obvious that pregnant women and their young children are especially vulnerable.”

Brigid McConville, Director, White Ribbon Alliance, UK said: “Even before the refugee crisis, girls and women were fleeing their homes and coming to the UK to escape trafficking, slavery, forced marriage, FGM, rape and other forms of violence.

While many organisations and individuals have shown them great hospitality, the same cannot be said of our government. Government policy now imposes upfront charges for maternity care on pregnant women who are undocumented (which could be because they are appealing against refusal of asylum, or because their application has not yet been processed, or a host of other reasons).

‘This is creating fear in women who feel they can’t go to hospital in case officials report them to the Home Office, while putting midwives in an extremely difficult position. Groups working with undocumented pregnant women are saying that some are even opting for the dangerous option of birth alone at home. (Ironically, our government actively supports free maternity care in many of the countries these women have fled from.)The bottom line is that all women, wherever they live, wherever they are from, have the right to decent, respectful health care when they are pregnant.”

The exhibition launch on Saturday 18 November, 12:00-14:00, will be opened with a debate on the Universal Rights of all Women to Maternity Care including on the panel: Hull North MP Diana Johnson, Diane Flores from the City of Sanctuary & Rose McCarthy from Refugee Council and moderated by Brigid McConville from White Ribbon Alliance.

Spaces of Sanctuary is on display from this Saturday 18 November to 26th November as part of the Hull international photography festival, creative and cultural space one, Princes Quay shopping centre. Open daily from 12 midday to 17:00 Monday to Saturday and 12 midday to 16:00 on Sunday.

As part of this exhibition we are also showing the powerful film Birth with Sanctuary, together with a collection of testimonies from women about being pregnant and giving birth in the UK.

Workshops during the exhibition

Giving Women a Voice— Sunday 19th November 12:00—15:00

This workshop is designed for women to find the confidence to share their birth with sanctuary stories and so add to the evidence for change.

The Way Forward—Sunday 26th November 14:00—16:00

This workshop is for all in the Hull community who would like to continue finding ways forward together.

For more information about these events or to book tickets to attend and participate please email: