U are here
U Island CIC and arts organisation Juneau Projects, have been working with families from Russian speaking countries as well as, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and the UK to create imaginative sculptural birdhouses that tell their stories of migration to the Black Country and their sense of home.
The touring exhibition features five amazing exhibits that all have a unique story to share, enjoy, discover and celebrate with others.
The project has been made possible by Arts Council England, SCVO Vision 2030 Fund, Creative Black Country and Discover Sandwell.
Design by Russian speaking families U island CIC
SAMOVAR - TEA TRADITIONS
Description of the U Island CIC Birdbox
Through our common love of drinking tea, we decided to create our work of art to celebrate this and other things which unite us. This exemplifies the ethos of U Island CIC in bringing our peoples closer together.
The two major elements combined in this work of art are the Samovar and the Tree of Life. The Samovar representing the Russian and the Tree of Life the British and Celtic traditions. The elements have been combined in a 3D sculpture that also performs as a bird box/table, representing the movement of the Russian speaking people to the UK, like migrating birds.
The most popular daytime drink amongst both Russia speaking people and the British is tea! It is more than a drink to both our peoples. It is an opportunity for friends and family to sit together, to renew their bonds of friendship and familial love, and to talk.
Tea is an enjoyable, healthy drink that quenches our thirst. It relieves fatigue, it makes us happy and lifts our mood. For many people it is just as necessary and irreplaceable as bread. Our grandparents could not live without a samovar - when guests came, it was the first thing they put on and then treated them with tea and pies. It was a good and homely tradition: necessary, sincere, and warm.
The samovar has served as a Russian teapot since the mid 1700’s. It is 3 or 4 times larger than the standard British teapot and is a much more ornate and beautiful object. It is also of symbolic importance to Russian speaking peoples. Old samovars are passed down through generations and become family heirlooms and are the centrepiece of social gatherings.
The meaning of the word "samovar", translates as "he cooks".
The Tree of Life origins in British and Celtic tradition go back over 2000 years.
The Tree of Life commonly represents the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. It symbolizes togetherness and serves as a reminder that you are never alone or isolated, but rather that you are connected to the world.
The Tree of Life symbol also represents the connection to one’s family and ancestors. The Tree of Life has an intricate network of branches that represents how a family grows and expands throughout many generations.
The knotwork of the roots symbolises that together we are united and stronger. By binding together we are connected to one another, we have a place of security and safety in the heart of our community.
The four figures of women are dressed in the colourful national costumes of Belarus, Estonia, Russia and Ukraine.
We chose the Hoopoe bird to represent the movement of the Russian speaking people to the shores of the UK. This beautiful and exotic looking bird graces the UK every Spring and Autumn.
Design by DOR - Romanian Diaspora
FLYING THE NEST - ZBOR DE DOR
Regions of Romania: Moldova, Dobruja, Wallachia, Transylvania
Architecture styles through times: from Roman Empire to today
Links between Romania and the UK
Cradle to grave: life in time and space (UK & Romania)
3 Bridges to link the 4 regions of Romania: Traian’s bridge, Oravita-Anina Rail Bridge, The Bridge of Lies
4 houses: one for each region
For DOR - Romanian Diaspora, it is important to showcase the multiculturalism and complexity of the space we come from and into, focusing primarily on history and cultural anthropology. The title comes from an idiomatic combination between English and Romanian illustrating a fact of life: children, like birds, grow up and move out or move on; and an inherent need: that of (re)connecting with one's heritage.
From the 19th Century, Romanian history is closely intertwined with UK history. The British influence is more visible in some parts of Romania such as Dobruja and Wallachia. The link is currently enhanced by Prince Charles’ residence and activity in Transylvania.
The birds we chose to be part of the regional landscape are either unique to Romania or shared with the UK. We are all constantly moving between cultural spaces, choosing to nest here and there, hopping between languages and navigating between family and friendships in both countries.
Life is ephemeral but heritage lasts for generations and should be cherished always. As you discover our bird boxes we hope you feel inspired and let your imagination take flight.
Design by Czech and Slovak club
ROOTS AND WINGS
There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Our bird boxes represent the unity and enduring friendship of two countries in the heart of Europe, which once formed Czechoslovakia. With childlike playfulness, they tell a story of emigree parents who feed the engines that power the wings of our imagination and unique creativity. They also speak of intricate roots that reach all the way back to the Motherland and nurture our beautifully complex identities with shared culture, memories and love.
We hope to create a safe haven for many birds, one where borders are replaced with bridges in the shape of rožek or rohlík, a crusty crescent shaped roll beloved by Czechs and Slovaks alike. When designing the boxes, children drew on their knowledge and experiences of places of historical and cultural significance, from the proud medieval Castle of Vyšehrad in Prague to exquisitely hand decorated wooden cottages of Čičmany in Northern Slovakia. The Golden Eagle, national bird of Slovakia, soars in pursuit of freedom while the white dove symbolises a peaceful farewell when in 1992 the two nations parted as friends.
Design by SmartЯ kids club
CHICKEN FEET HUT
Theme: Folk tales
We are delighted to present to you our magical sculptural bird box, designed by children from the Russian speaking community.
The story of the ‘Chicken Feet Hut’ comes from a series of Russian folk tales about one of the most renowned evil characters from around the world… Baba Yaga the Witch. Most Russian folk tales are based on defeating evil through completing various challenges, making wise decisions and fighting numerous villains, including Baba Yaga, Koshchei the Deathless and a three-headed dragon Zmey Gorynych. Warriors need to defeat all three of them to be able to free the most beautiful or the wisest girl on earth. Baba Yaga like every witch can fly, but not on a broom. Russian witches fly in a bucket with a broom as a steering wheel! One of the most interactive and funny moments in the tales is when the main character meets the Chicken Feet Hut in the woods. The hut responds to the words “Hut, hut, turn with your front to me and with your back to the forest.” Baba Yaga doesn’t like to have visitors unless it’s naughty children that can be eaten! She always commands the hut to turn back, but the visitors continue to ask the hut to turn to the front. Usually, this argument causes the hut to go spinning crazily!
The children that took part in designing the bird box decided to feature two birds - the Short-Eared Owl and the Bewick Swan. Both birds migrate to the UK from Russia and other Eastern European countries for winter, as it’s warmer here and they can have better access to food (no deep snow or ice). Why owl and swan? Well, every witch owns an owl, but also Baba Yaga in Russian tales has a team of bad guys - swans, who help to kidnap naughty children and take them to the Chicken Feet Hut.
We hope that this overview of our unique bird box will encourage you to read one of the Baba Yaga tales (English version can be found here Folk Tales From the Russian: Baba Yaga (sacred-texts.com)).
Design by Sakta - Latvian Community
Latvian Dowry Chest of the Sun
Cranes by an unknown author
Cranes call so painfully over our heads,
Are they sorry to leave their home?
Do they feel somewhat like a Latvian?
Who must reluctantly leave their native farm?
But the cranes fly in such a beautiful formation
If only we could do that,
So direct and straight,
And most importantly, all together.
The dowry chest used in our installation has a symbolic meaning. We put our feelings about Latvia into it - our traditions, values, dances, songs, smells, feelings, sounds.…
Everything starts with the sun. The sun accompanies us all year round. We get a lot of sun in the summer, but almost never notice it in the winter, or we see it rarely.
It is the sun which defines the change of day into night. The big star dictates the changes of the seasons too. In the olden days, each particular year was marked by counting the number of sunsets. Latvians used the solar year as a unit of measurement and within this is the ancient system of measuring time.
"The calendar is a rhythm that aims to combine outer space with a person’s inner space into a single harmonious whole. It is not only a rhythm but also a memory. That is why the calendar can be called the rhythmic memory of humanity." By unknown researcher.
The long winter nights were the perfect time to fold the dowry by the light of the fire. The heavier the dowry, the more diligent and wealthier the daughter.
People decorated the dowry chest with wooden engravings, painted or forged family crests and symbols for protection and love. The contents of the chest were revealed only by lifting the chest lid. Most of the dowry chest contained clothes, towels, blankets, tablecloths, as well as books, but a hidden part inside the chest contained jewellery, a wreath, belts, ribbons and other smaller but important items. Sometimes wild rosemary was put into the dowry chest, to give a pleasant aroma when the lid was opened.
The dowry chest was a symbol of hopes and dreams for a young girl and provided the opportunity for her to create her own personal space, because on a day-to-day basis she used to live in the same room with several other family members.
Latvian symbols were embedded in jewellery and furniture, as well as embroidered and sewn into clothing, both for success and protection.
The crane is one of the most common Latvian birds found on marshes. It is a frequent migrant and a common nesting bird. We can observe flocks or sedges of cranes in the fields and flying over the ground in the spring and the autumn during migration seasons. Sometimes we can encounter non-nesting cranes by the big marshes in the summer. These are mostly young birds in the spring.