From a distance, one might have thought a circus had come to the disused Porte de La Chapelle rail yard in northern Paris. The largest building in the yard–a bulbous orange and white structure the size of a gymnasium–could have passed for a big top if not for its bleakly industrial surroundings. But La Bulle (the bubble) was not a circus tent.
La Bulle, which operated from November 2016 to April 2018, was France’s first “welcome center” for people seeking asylum in the country. It opened amidst increased raids on migrant and refugee encampments, welcoming its first occupants just a week after the government evicted a camp of 3,800 migrants in northeast Paris and a month after it shut down the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais.
Like most temporary shelters, La Bulle was a place of transitional survival. It provided meals, a bed, and limited support for up to 450 asylum-seekers at a time.
During the latter half of its existence, La Bulle was home to a couple smaller bulles: two conjoined geodesic domes that were referred to singularly as “The Dome.” They belonged to Good Chance Theatre, a British organization that sets up temporary theaters in places such as this in the name of “promoting freedom of expression, creativity and dignity for everyone.”
The Dome was a community unto itself. It brought together refugees, artists, volunteers, and the public with art that crossed cultures and genres. To some it was an outlet, to others an escape, and for most, a place to feel less alone.
(March 7, 2018) Arifullah "Arif" Fana—a 27 year-old Afghani man who stayed at La Bulle—poses for a portrait wearing a mask he made in a workshop at the Dome. Arif, who speaks six languages, came to Good Chance's workshops nearly every day. “I was a Thai boxing teacher back in Afghanistan," he said. "In the dome, I have been able to give some Thai boxing lessons and it felt great."