Delfina Foundation

Project: The Silent University

26/11/12 — 11/01/13

The Silent University is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform initiated by artist Ahmet Ögüt in collaboration with Tate working with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants who, although from a professional background, cannot gainfully practice their profession due to the limitations of the asylum process. These limitations also apply to access to education, access to currency, and volunteering. The project stemmed from Ögüt’s year-long residency with Tate in partnership with Delfina Foundation.

The Silent University’s goal is to challenge the idea of silence as a passive state, and explore its powerful potential through performance, writing, and group reflection. These explorations attempt to make apparent the systemic failure and the loss of skills and knowledge experienced through the silencing process of people seeking asylum. The University aims to address and reactivate the knowledge of the participants, making the exchange process mutually beneficial by inventing alternative currencies, in place of money or free voluntary service.

Tate Modern and Delfina Foundation provided initial support to The Silent University, including the creation of a publication, temporary resource area, website and public events, while also encouraging collaborations with other institutions.

The Silent University was inaugurated at Tate Modern with a series of events in November and December 2012. It was curated by Nora Razian (Curator Adult Programmes, Tate Modern) and Synthia Griffin (Curator Regeneration and Community Partnerships, Tate Modern).


26 November / 28 November / 3 December 2012
Performance and Discussion
18:30 – 20:00 at Tate Modern

Silent University lecturers presented a series of courses ‘in silence’ based on expertise and knowledge drawn from a wide international context.  Each evening of courses, on a range of topics from health to Arabic calligraphy, also included a panel discussion and Q&A with Silent University faculty and visiting scholars including Dr. Ali Kaviani, Carlos Cruz, Francesco Ponzo unpicking a range of issues relevant to understanding contemporary forms of migration, including silence, power, access to knowledge, and citizenship.

Course content can still be publicly accessed via the Silent University website. After registering and completing a Time and Skills Loan form, users will be given a password that will provide access to Silent University courses.

1 December 2012
Roundtable: Alternative to What?
11:00 – 16:00 at Tate Modern

The roundtable was an opportunity for participants and the public to share practice and experience around organising and running so called ‘alternative platforms’, with participants representing both established and emerging initiatives. These included artist-led initiatives, community-led initiatives, and institutionally driven platforms. Discussions throughout the day focused around two panels.  

Speakers included Emily Pringle (Head of Learning Practice, Research and Policy at Tate), Sam Thorne (Associate Editor, Frieze), Janna Graham and Amal Khalaf (Centre for Possible Studies, Serpentine), Caleb Waldorf (The Public School Berlin), Penny Evans (Creative Director, University of Local Knowledge), Carlos Cruz (Learning Organizer, United Migrant Education Project), Pelin Tan (Assistant Professor, Kadir Has University, Istanbul) and Ahmet Ögüt.

7 November – 30 November 2012
Silent University Resource Room, Welcome Room, Level 0
Tate Modern

1 December - 26 January 2013
Silent University Resource Room 
Delfina Foundation

The resource room includes contributions in the form of essays, books, films & catalogues from a mixture of different international artists, practitioners, institutions and collectives that resonate with themes of the project. These include: alternative currencies, knowledge exchange platforms, artist led and institution led models of learning, migration & associated policy, silence and performance. These diverse resources will help consolidate and showcase the Silent University to a wider public.  The resource room was available at Tate and Delfina Foundation.  It is currently at The Showroom in London.

At Tate Modern, a screening room also featured artists’ film and audio works that engage with the key themes of the project.  The films and audio works presented were by Katarina Zdjelar, Antonio Vega Macotela, Nicoline van Harskamp, Berat Isik and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.


The publication includes essays by Silent University consultants as well as specially commissioned essays by Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty, Laura Marziale from The Migrant Resource Centre, and Marco Sachy among others. This is available in the resource room.