Leeds artist's refugee-inspired work shows Ukrainian crisis 'could happen to anyone'

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An award-winning Leeds-based artist has spoken out on the horrors faced by many refugees, adding that now was the time to come together to help.

Opening up about her own family's experiences of fleeing Nazi Germany, Rachel Mars believes the Russia/Ukraine war has made many rethink their attitudes to conflicts, adding that the closeness of the conflict has made people realise such a thing could happen to them.

Ms Mars is currently spending three days based in Testbed in Leeds, welding a replica of the Dachau concentration camp gate, after the original was stolen in 2015. The piece, named Forge, sees 60kg of mild steel welded into form of the gate in front of the public.

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Rachel will be welding for three days to create the gate.Rachel will be welding for three days to create the gate.
Rachel will be welding for three days to create the gate.

"People are coming here because the alternative is really awful. The decision to leave their homes is not one people take lightly."

She was inspired to do something on the theme by events in the news over the past few years, but has also drawn from her family's own traumatic events of war.

"There are lots of reasons for me doing the project," she said. "I had family that were killed in concentration camps all across Germany and Poland.

"My mum's father and mother ended up in Nottinghamshire, having fled from Germany in 1939 as refugees, but about 24 of my relatives did not get out and were killed in Auschwitz, Riga and Dubrinka. So one of the reasons I am doing it is thinking about refugee experiences to this country, and who is allowed in and who isn't.

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"Unfortunately this is particularly relevant now in the past few months. When I was first thinking about this project it was Syrian refugees that were being contested over whether they would be let in or not.

"It's a quiet comment on refugees, because if my grandparents hadn't be allowed in I would not be here."

Speaking about Britain's response to the crisis in Ukraine, she added that it was important to acknowledge the generosity of individuals wishing to offer up their homes, but not to forget some inconvenient truths.

"We have seen the British public respond very positively and to try and get people in," she said. "If you look at individual people, they do want to help, and there has been a great outpouring of trying to get people in.

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"We forget Britain let people in at intervals in the past, and they let people in in the 1930s, but there was an awful lot of people [our governments] didn't want in.

"We risk telling ourselves that it is a surprise that we are not letting people in, when there has always been a level of resistance to allowing people into the country."

Rachel will be perfoming at Testbed throughout the day until Saturday evening.

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