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"You Need To Cut Your Hair, You Look Like A Girl"

“You need to cut your hair, you look like a girl” 

80, 130 cm

Cotton canvas, acrylic paint, beeswax coated flowers, cotton fabric

This piece exists as an expanded painting, made for UCL’s SELMA Project who have commissioned the artist, Ghafar, to respond to two workshops around Gender, Health and Migration. In having verbally explored the subject of discourse with other migrant/refugees, Ghafar had picked out particular elements of the discussion which resonated the most through his own personal lived experience as a displaced Afghan migrant growing up in London.


The process of making this piece began by drawing inspiration from 13th Century Afghan (Herat) Illuminations found in the British Library Archives, that depicted carpets ornamented with arabesque designs. In referring to these designs through the core composition of the painting, Ghafar breaks the overwhelming curved shapes with unwoven cotton fabric. This textile drapery acts as a symbolic representation of domestic carpets, on top of which pink flowers are placed preserved by a coat of beeswax to play with stereotypical notions of femininity.

Gender norms, expectations and attitudes within migrants’ lives can be a complex subject that can also hold a significant impact on immigrant children's upbringing. Children, whose family may retain traditional beliefs that contrast societal values in their relocated homes. Children who are left in the crossfire of these conflicting opinions. Children who have no choice nor awareness of what they’re going through. You need to cut your hair, you look like a girl - is titled in a playful manner. Yet despite the joke, this piece attempts a sincere approach to a larger conversation around conflicting opinions between private and public life. Focusing specifically on migrants' relationship with gender, the impact it has on their mental health and the cultural influences it holds on child rearing.

Borderings: Displacement, Gender and Health 

A virtual exhibition 


Continuously created and recreated, policed and enforced, borders demarcate boundaries of belonging. But borders are not only lines on the map, they are also drawn between people in the form of identity constructs; refugee-migrant-citizen, male-female-non-binary, healthy-ill. These borderings are never neutral nor contained but are rather diffracted through each other and laden with associations and meanings. 


Borderings: Displacement, Gender and Health is a virtual exhibition produced by the UCL Centre for Gender and Global Health as part of a public engagement program on migration and health. Here, we are proud to present eight original artworks created by migrant and refugee artists that explore the diverse ways we are bordered by nations, by bodies, by cultures, by identity constructs, and by systems and structures in ways that are at times smooth and protective and other violent and exclusionary. 


From reductive medical encounters to transformative social relationships, restrictive gender norms to empowering moments of defiance, each work in the collection interrogates borderings as a practice, as a process and as a limit enforced both externally and internally. Taken together, their works are a testament to the complex, nuanced and oftentimes messy nexus of displacement, gender and health. 


In Borderings we invite you to delve deeper into these borderings, guided by the voice and work of those most impacted by their limitations and their potential opportunities, and to learn from their experiences, their fears, and their hopes for a better future. 

Participating artists 


Sabrina Richmond

Edin Suljic

Anan Tello

Bumi Thomas

Rana Ibrahim

Selam Mengistu

Ghafar Tajmohammad

Yasmeen Audisho Ghrawi 


Borderings was produced with the support of Counterpoint Arts and Imagist London. 


About the project 


Borderings: Displacement, Gender and Health forms part of the public engagement arm of the SELMA project, a cross-institutional, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary collaborative migration health project between University College London, UK, Aga Khan University, Pakistan, the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland and Weill Cornelln Medicine, Qatar.  


Central to SELMA’s methodology was a broad systemic response that reached beyond the parameters of our academic institutions and engaged with multiple stakeholders. In this, engagement with migrants and refugees was essential. Indeed, although migration is regularly the topic of political rhetoric, media coverage, cultural discourse, and academic study, rarely are refugees and migrants themselves afforded the space or platform to discuss their concerns or experiences. In turn, migrants and refugees are routinely stripped of their political voice and agency; their opinions and experiences excluded from the symbolic space of representation and occluded from decision-making processes. 


Our public engagement project sought to shift the communicative order and mobilise the voices of migrants and refugees in the UK to speak to power. Through a series of creative workshops and dialogues, we hoped to amplify their voices and bring them to the foreground of the migration and health policy debate. 


The UK workshops were curated around two central questions: 


  1. How does gender shape the migration/displacement experience at each stage of the route from pre-departure, in transit, upon arrival and in life in a new country? 

  2. To what extent does gender and citizenship status shape the ability to live a healthy and happy life? 


We were inspired by the lively conversations, generosity and openness of the participating artists. The resulting work defies reductive representation and passionately demands a fairer, more equitable, more inclusive future. A future that sees beyond the borders of self and society and recognises the full humanity of others.


Lead researcher and point of contact  

Imogen Bakelmun 

Gender, racialisation and migration researcher

UCL Centre for Gender and Global Health 

Exhibition details

Borderings: Displacement, Gender and Health

December 2021

Virtual exhibition by University of College London

Exhibition partnership

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