Professor David Kinloch
University of Strathclyde, UK

This is the second part of a joint project that brings together the Bangladeshi journalist and activist, Shammi Haque and Scottish artist, Elaine Jeffrey. Stimulated by a series of conversations focusing on Haque’s experience of political exile, Jeffrey’s luminous and compelling photographs respond to Haque’s feelings of anger, guilt and confusion as well as her more positive desire to make a difference in her newfound home.

Jeffrey’s approach is not straightforwardly documentary. Indeed, initially, there may seem something paradoxical about applying abstract aesthetic techniques to material so deeply embedded in social experiences of exile, migration and the trauma that ensues. What is gained by blurring outlines, by eschewing the direct, documentary gaze? The answer lies, perhaps, in the term ‘trauma’. It’s a word that has become banal by overuse. Etymologically, it comes from the Greek for ‘wound’. And wounds can only really be fully experienced by the recipient. For the public to approach an experience of ‘wounding’ they must come at it from an angle. Light must be shed. Literally, in the case of photography. Rather than ‘abstract’, perhaps the term that best captures Jeffrey’s take on this subject matter might be ‘hybrid’. The great challenge this kind of work faces, then, is how to balance representation and abstraction. Or perhaps not to ‘balance’ but to use one to provoke and sometimes contextualise the other. The presence of portraiture, the reminder of what portraiture conventionally does, undercuts any tendency the viewer may experience to drift off on a wave of personal introspection or fantasy that might be induced by focusing too exclusively on the abstract components. And the abstract dissolution of clear representational images in turn allows the unknowability of the subject to be present, critiques and undermines any unconscious colonising impulse in the spectator while inciting a troublesome malaise that speaks to the subject’s own trauma.

Among the most powerful images here are a pair that work in apparent opposition to each other. A large image of a face hovering beneath or faintly superimposed on a surface of rippling dark waves —and which relates to the theme of ‘disconnection’— finds an inverse echo in a similar image in which the waves have taken on a brilliant silver sheen and where the theme is noted as that of ‘freedom’. There is no naive binary at play here, however. The experience of viewing these images in proximity to each other suggests how thin the line may sometimes be between experiences of social disconnection and freedom. Perhaps how one person’s freedom may be experienced as another’s disconnection or vice versa. In this way the images reach beyond the immediate story of the collaboration between this photographer and her subject / interlocutor asking the viewer to try to think beyond the clichés that banalise current discussions of migrant experience and trauma.



Katy Hundertmark, Assistant Editor Foam Magazine

The exhibition Abstract Works - Living in Exile presents the results of an ongoing collaboration between the Bangladeshi journalist and activist Shammi Haque and the Scottish artist Elaine Jeffrey. Over the course of 3 months the two established a close exchange about Haque’s flight story and her current status as a political refugee living in Berlin.

Jeffrey’s vibrant and evocative photographs are directed by Haque’s words and navigate themes such as belonging, memory and grief through visual abstractions of her family and hometown. While some works refer to Haque’s much missed mother and a father, who left the family early in her childhood; others point at the patriarchal influence in Bangladesh, or memories of a secret boat ride from her village Patkathi to the capital Dhaka. These representations do not aim to deviate from the political activism or traumatic experiences that drove Ms Haque to leave Bangladesh, but rather to represent the life she was forced to leave behind in order to find freedom and safety.

The blurred colour compositions that Jeffrey creates through long exposure of archival Youtube video footage, exude a ghostly, even ephemeral aesthetic and remind the viewer that memories remain in constant flux, and can disappear or resurface arbitrarily. The monochrome portraits accompanying the large-scale abstract works on the other hand are put together by daily selfies that Haque shared with Jeffrey. They anchor the works with the intention of keeping the viewer mindful of who and what the exhibition is about.




Laura Hynd

Visual Artist
Associate Lecturer - Falmouth University of the Arts

Creatively using what is best at their disposal, self portraits, or the selfie, juxtaposed with Bollywood films of haunting quality, Elaine Jeffrey and Shammi Haque create a moving body of work. We are invited to dive in to a culture and family missed by a refugee. And share intimate moments in Haque’s self portraits. The abstracts of Bollywood films unveil the hint of a figure, the aura of a culture, while the portraits reveal a strength and history beyond our understanding and a vulnerability exposed and hidden within the layered compositions.

This is not work about victim, this is work about passion, strength, vulnerability, and longevity. Artists working with refugees often expose a white saviour perspective, a temporary fix, a western gaze, and orientalism. There is no such evidence within this collaboration. Haque and Jeffrey’s conversation is clear throughout, both voices heard with equal measures. This narrative considers Haque’s perspective and voice, a clear contrast to the ego driven populist art and journalism past and present, prolonging tropes detrimental to refugees.

This is a refreshing and moving work, that demands deep consideration.



The photographs of Elaine Jeffrey contain the power of paintings. They manage to catch the sublime moment of any particular story served by the diversity of life. The time in her art flows slowly like those long moments when life passes before your eyes. Each of her images is like a heart felt story.

Red Dot Gallery, Sofia, 2015


Social impressionism is the genre in which Elaine Jeffrey places her project “The Times We Live In”. She touches everyday life themes, moving through and overcoming space as a key element of human perception by using unusual points of view. Socially significant events are the focus of the otherwise soft-focus visual tales. Bright and colourful spots paint the portraits of people in the news broadcasts, but avoid imposing the suggested and single view of their stories.

Nadezhda Pavlova - photographer, curator SYNTHESIS Gallery of Photography, Sofia, 2016


Elaine Jeffrey’s photography is wonderful in that it takes you: to a place; to a feeling. It is personal to her but accessible to you if you let yourself be drawn into the work. The images also have a wonderful painterly quality but remain masterfully photographic. These images are what photography has reached.

Colin Jarvie, former Senior Lecturer London College of Art, 2012


Remaining loyal to her documentary beginnings Elaine’s style has evolved over the years into a form of poetic imagery. Through her work she discloses the spirit of a location and renders the great and the small as equal. The resulting images reflect Jeffrey’s individual perception of public spaces.

Lambert Design, Stuttgart, Germany, 2012

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