Art as resistance: A story from immigration detention

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by Sarah Turnbull (University of Waterloo, formerly Birkbeck, University of London) and Joanne Vincett (The Open University) and illustrated by Gabi Froden.

Funded by the Research Innovation Fund and the support from alumni and friends of Birkbeck, University of London.


This public engagement project aims to foster public awareness of the lived experiences of people who are separated from their families and made vulnerable and marginalised by the state in indefinite detention in the UK. Through storytelling and illustration of ethnographic data from research conducted in British immigration detention centres, it also aims to innovate in how research can be widely disseminated and shared.


There is a lack of public awareness that the Home Office regularly detains foreign nationals and those seeking asylum ‘on the spot’, not on criminal grounds, without notifying them how long they will remain detained or if they will be released or removed/deported from the UK. Mental health issues developed from confinement and uncertainty are further compounded by the Home Office’s policy to detain people without a maximum time limit.

The narrative and illustration crafted in this project draw on a visual-tactile aspect of how people cope with immigration detention and resist its damage to their mental health that both Sarah and Jo found in common in their separate ethnographic research projects. The practice of origami art (paper folding) in immigration detention was found to be particularly prevalent amongst female detainees in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. ‘Art as resistance’ is a story of how detained women practice origami art, and transfer this knowledge to new arrivers, to counter the harmful effects of immigration detention on detained people and their families.


Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The story (PDF)

Art as resistance‘ is an open and accessible project that is meant to be shared widely. Please feel free to use the PDF in your teaching, writing, research, presentations and non-commercial purposes.

Suggested citation:
Turnbull, S, Vincett, J and Froden, G (2019) Art as Resistance: A Story From Immigration Detention. Available at: (Accessed [date]).

Animated images (GIF)

Project GIF – ‘Bird’
Project GIF – ‘Sad’

Conference poster

Visualising origami art as resistance in immigration detention‘, 14th Annual Ethnography Symposium, 28-30 August 2019, University of Portsmouth, UK.