Post-graduate study is always a huge journey of discovery and personal growth, but one student on the MA Visual Arts programme, has overcome immense hardship to be able to take this opportunity. Yadgar Ali Bagzada achieved first class honours in his BA (Hons) Art & Design degree in 2010 (you can see images from his final show here) and is currently in the final year of the MA Visual Arts programme.
Yadgar said, “I grew up in Sulaimanya in Iraq. I studied Fine Art for five years and specialised in sculpture. But being an artist became impossible in a country like Iraq as there was no freedom of expression. The situation became worse and I had to leave. I spent several years trying to get to the UK. I travelled by a mixture of transport and walking to reach Greece many times only to be sent back. I swam through freezing rivers at night to try to escape. I was so desperate I once walked through landmines with a group of twenty-five others. We risked our lives but we knew we had no choice. I lost a lot of friends. I remember someone drowned one night.”
Yadgar finally arrived in the UK in September 2000 and was kept in a detention centre in Southend on Sea before being transferred to Bradford. After six months he was allowed to apply for a work permit and found work at a tailor’s shop in Westgate. Yadgar explained, “I learnt from my dad and granddad who were both tailors and had a shop. I was able to fall back on these skills to support myself.”
Yadgar returned to his art by studying at Bradford School of Arts & Media, initially on a part-time basis, as he gradually recovered his confidence. He began with life drawing classes with Helen Birch in 2001 and then did the BA (Hons) Art & Design Year Zero course over two years, before enrolling on the degree. He attributes this to the support he received from Lecturers Kate Rawnsley and Helen Birch. Yadgar said, “I really appreciate the help they gave me. They saw things differently and gave me so much encouragement. I may never have resumed my artistic career without them.”
Throughout this period Yadgar faced constant turmoil as he battled to stay in the UK. Although he was supporting himself by working as well as studying and had settled in Bradford, he was refused permission to stay. He recalled, “I was in limbo. I couldn’t plan anything. The life I was rebuilding could have been snatched from me at any time. The only positive thing was coming to Bradford College. In 2004 I lost my third appeal against the Home Office decision to send me back to Iraq. I felt I had lost everything. I consulted my MP, solicitors, sent a petition but the Home Office mislaid my evidence. I met my wife, who is English, at a voluntary organisation where I had been helping out. My life was here. I was living through agony. Every month since 2004 I had to register at the police station in Leeds and feared I would be sent back to Iraq. The worry hung over me all the time I was doing my degree. Finally in 2010 my application was accepted and we married in October 2010. We are now expecting a baby.
With my artistic side and tailoring background I was always keen to interlink these and metaphorical language to pass on the things I am trying to say to the audience. In previous years I was working on the theme of the journey. Now I am trying to highlight the impact of the journey and that issue of migration; how things like cultural identity are shifting. It is about two different identities – who you are before the journey and who after. While building one up you are losing the other. The people I met at Bradford College helped me not to give up. The friendliness, help from tutors, technicians, support staff, cleaners and students kept me going. Their open hands made me welcome and I have always been very comfortable in College.”
Lecturer Helen Birch considers Yadgar remarkable, both as an artist and as a person. She said, “Yadgar is a joy to work with and an absolute gentleman. Having studied art in his own country and being a fully trained tailor, he has a different appreciation of art and design in three dimensions to what we find in British art schools. He has brought a different sensibility to proceedings.”