SCOTTISH society has been enriched and enhanced by inward migration over decades and centuries (to say nothing of the significant changes wrought by the considerable outward migration, through choice and compulsion, of Scots around the globe). Our First Minister, Humza Yousaf, is the son of migrants from Pakistan, as is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar.

The director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Nicola Benedetti, is descended from Italian migrants. Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first Black professor, came to Scotland from Jamaica, while esteemed educationalist Professor Henry Maitles is the descendant of Jewish refugees seeking to escape antisemitic persecution in the Czarist Russian Empire.

One could add to that list the leading broadcaster Halla Mohieddeen (who is Scots-Lebanese), legendary comedian Billy Connolly (one of a host of famous Scots of Irish ancestry), celebrated author Jackie Kay (who is Scots-Nigerian) and great singer-songwriter Carlos Arredondo (a refugee from the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973).

Even then, one would only be scraping the surface of the immense contribution that inward migration has made to Scotland, from the role played by migrants in our NHS to those working in essential services across Scottish society.

There are those, from the migrant-baiting Conservative government at Westminster to the gaggle of fascists and racists who routinely attempt to intimidate the asylum seekers housed in a declining hotel in Erskine, who seek to promote disharmony in our multicultural society. Yet many, perhaps most, Scots continue to believe in the diversity, solidarity and common humanity of the idea of “one Scotland, many cultures.”

The National: A photograph by Michael Lausch which features in the Migrant Voices exhibitionA photograph by Michael Lausch which features in the Migrant Voices exhibition (Image: Michael Lausch)

That vision lies at the heart of a new exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Titled Putting Ourselves in the Picture, the show, which has been created by the charity Migrant Voice in collaboration with Glasgow Museums, comprises 60 photographs of and by migrants to Scotland.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition on September 15, Palmer (a portrait photograph of whom, by Karen Gordon, is part of the show) reminded us of the often complex and difficult links between migration from and into Scotland. “In 1707 there were hardly any Scots in Jamaica, by 1800 there were about 300,000 slaves in Jamaica, and about 10,000 Scots, mainly men,” he said.

“Three-quarters of the surnames in the Jamaican telephone book are Scottish, so many Jamaicans have some Scottish blood or history in them, whether they like it or not,” the professor continued. “So, as I tell many Scots, your ancestors were not in Jamaica doing missionary service alone!

“Many Scottish people are fascinated by this history, because their historians never told them.

Why should historians hide the truth? It is the truth that sets people free to be fair to all.”

Alongside the photograph of Palmer are a number of other portraits by Gordon, including a picture of Twimukye Macline Mushaka, who arrived in the UK as a refugee from Uganda in 2001. Refused the right to work by the UK Home Office for seven years, she undertook voluntary work before, finally, being able to take up employment as a fieldwork development officer for The Poverty Alliance.

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GORDON’s striking colour portraits also depict Mahdi, a Glasgow-based football coach and youth support worker who, prior to his migration to Scotland, played for the national youth football sides in his native Iran. Another vivid shot shows Hing Fung Teh, a Glasgow-based Tai Chi instructor who is originally from Malaysia.

An especially vibrant photograph from Gordon’s substantial contribution to the exhibition portrays Ivan Petrov, a home support worker who migrated to Scotland from Bulgaria. In the picture, Petrov stands perfectly still on a busy Scottish street, while the life of the city is a blur behind him.

Gordon’s lovely 2013 picture of Sergey Jakovsky, the Russian lighting designer and production manager, is a brilliant reminder of the immeasurable contribution migrants have made to Scotland’s cultural life. A graduate in technical and production arts at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Jakovsky is now artistic director of the superb Sharmanka museum of Russian kinetic sculptures in Glasgow.

Elsewhere in the show there are pictures depicting the complex and diverse impacts of migration on Scotland’s culinary life. Other photographs reflect migrants’ experience of living in Scotland.

For instance, the beautiful, black and white photograph titled Snowy Day, 12th February 2018, Bellahouston, Paisley Road, by Niloofar is reminiscent of the work of another migrant artist, the great Glaswegian photographer Oscar Marzaroli. (Un) Familiar, 2018, by Vasileios Sempsis also uses black and white to create a striking, defamiliarising image of a person walking their dog under a bridge, the supporting wall of which is sliced diagonally by a sharp, sun-cast shadow.

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Aside from its crucial humanism, the exhibition’s strongest suit is, perhaps, its extraordinary diversity. Elias Tekle’s untitled image from 2018, which captures reflections on a rainy day, is a thing of abstract beauty, redolent of the early-20th century experiments in photography of artists like Paul Strand.

And one simply cannot review this exhibition without mentioning Michal Lausch’s excellent untitled picture from 2018 which depicts, in black and white, an unnamed, Glaswegian car mechanic. Sitting on a chair in the garage where he works, surrounded by piles of vehicle tyres, the man looks into the lens with an expression that combines stoicism and dignity.

As the Migrant Voice organisation says, this show comes “amid the rampant hostility and dehumanising language and policies aimed at migrants”. This hostility comes from UK government ministers – some of them, such as Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman, who are people of colour themselves – who seek to secure lurid headlines in right-wing newspapers by trying to force asylum seekers onto a prison-style barge with infected water.

It also comes from the irresponsible editors and writers on those self-same papers, for whom migrants are mere pawns in a dangerous game of racist populism. In such a social context, this exhibition is most certainly a good deed in an increasingly nasty world.

The Putting Ourselves in the Picture exhibition is at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Find Migrant Voice online at: