Daniel Nelson


The incognito man

The incognito man

Image by Leonegraph


The shoes and stories in A Mile In My Shoes are from a range of migrants in London, men and women, a child to a 90-year-old, people who have come in search of work and those who fled for their lives.


Created by the Empathy Museum (“a museum without walls”), versions of the exhibit have been staged in various cities in Britain and in Brazil and Siberia. Now 50 shoes and 25 stories are at the Museum of Migration in Lambeth, South London.

“It is a chance to spend time with someone we might not otherwise meet in our day-to-day life and see the world from that person’s perspective,” says Clare Patey, director of the Empathy Museum.

I took two walks. In the first a 30-year-old Syrian refugee from Homs told me about the pain of leaving his family; his regrets at losing “the seven best years of my life”; his response on being asked if he missed his friends: “It’s different for me. I don’t have any friends surviving”; and his observations on life here – the peculiarity, for example, of having to make appointments to see friends.

Listening is an intimate experience, heightened by visual stimuli on your short walk. A blinking wall sign proclaimed, “Your heaven looks like my hell”. And as the audio commentary finished I looked up and found I was in Old Paradise Street.

My second walk was with a boxer – I can’t say he was Nigerian or British, because both refuse to accept him, though he has represented England six times in boxing championships and was chosen to represent Team GB in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Kelvin Bilal  Fawaz’s situation is absurd. He is not allowed to work or provide for himself: “It doesn’t make sense.”

The giant shoebox has visitor comments on its wall. The responses are positive. “It’s really amazing listening to Chetna’s story. Walking in her shoes while getting to know more about her is a really good and touching experience. This changes my perspective of ‘immigrant’.”

Another visitor wrote about a story “full of fear and pain, but also of love and hope. What an extraordinary way to hear someone else’s story – such a generous and transformative idea.”

The exhibit is open only until 25 February. It’s free, as is No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain, which is at the museum until 29 April.

* A Mile in My Shoes is at the Migration Museum, 26 Lambeth High Street, SE1, free, until 25 February. Info: http://www.migrationmuseum.org

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