Janet Furlong-Oscar is using 250 individually crafted newspaper figures to deliver a powerful acknowledgement of the refugee crisis.
University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) student Janet Furlong-Oscar is using 250 individually crafted newspaper figures to deliver a powerful acknowledgement of the refugee crisis.
The mother of three from Preston, 54, will graduate with a degree in fine art at the end of the month, and wanted her final year project to highlight the struggles of migrants from Syria, the Middle East and Africa.
Before crafting the four metre sculpture, Janet asked members of the local community how they would feel if they were forced to flee Preston and found the overwhelming majority of people dismissed the possibility as “something that would never happen here.”
She wanted to use the project to open dialogues, encourage discussion and improve understanding, tolerance and acceptance.
It’s very easy to live a nice life in Preston but if I can use my art to change just a few people’s perceptions or make them think differently, I’ll be very proud.
Janet said: “Preston is a multicultural city with a good record of tolerance and inclusion but recently, especially post-Brexit, I’ve noticed that as a society we’ve become more judgemental and mistrusting of people from other cultures. However, the only difference between myself and a refugee is our place of birth and it could so easily be any one of us having to flee the horrors of war or environmental poverty. I want to remind people of that.
“It’s very easy to live a nice life in Preston but if I can use my art to change just a few people’s perceptions or make them think differently, I’ll be very proud.”
Although Janet’s work has a strong focus on social and environmental issues, her original motivation to study a Fine Art degree at UCLan was to “prove she still could” following a stroke in 2005 which affected her memory.
Before University, Janet worked in childcare education and child protection before becoming a full time carer for her mother-in-law, who was suffering from dementia. After her mother-in-law passed away, Janet felt the time was right to pursue a life-long dream.
She explains: “When I left school in the seventies, girls didn’t go to college to study art. They often became teachers, nurses or office workers, but I’ve always wanted to be an artist.
“It wasn’t until my daughter completed a foundation degree in art at UCLan that I started to think about it seriously. I was eager to see and complete projects alongside her, but I was worried I was too old to do a degree myself, or that I wouldn’t be capable after my stroke."
Coming to UCLan was the best decision I’ve made. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem and I forgot I was older than the other students – they accepted me as one of them!
“When my mother-in-law sadly passed away it was now or never, as I’d been caring for her until that point.
“Coming to UCLan was the best decision I’ve made. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem and I forgot I was older than the other students – they accepted me as one of them! My family are very proud of me, although they aren’t surprised. They know it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Art is my sanctuary and escape – it’s my voice.”
After graduation, Janet hopes to use art to contribute to community projects, such as providing art therapy in nursing and care homes, and her sculpture of the Syrian migrant crisis is due to be put on display to the public at a Preston Venue.
The piece is being showcased at UCLan’s Preston Campus from 9-16 June as part of the Lancashire Arts Festival Degree Show.