Darwin: Refugees exhibit their artwork

August 20, 2011

Curator Vikki Riley opened Footprints of my Heart ― an exhibition of artwork by 20 refugees in the Darwin region ― on August 11.

The exhibition ran at the Darwin Supreme Court from August 11 to 19.

Many of the artists were still in detention, at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre, the Airport Lodge or the Asti Hotel under guard.

Some of the artists were regarded as “high risk” by immigration authorities and were accompanied to the opening by three security guards each.

The guards stood at the walls of the exhibition, adding a small sense of the realities of immigration detention to the event.

The exhibition included sculptures, paintings, photography and poetry.

One artist had constructed works using found objects in the detention centre in which he was jailed.

Washcloths and paddle-pop sticks built a soccer field. Styrofoam and dried peanut shells made a tree in a landscape.

“Birds in a cage” was a repeated theme in many works, as was the boredom and sorrow of exile.

Many of the artists were Hazaras from Afghanistan. Images of the oppression of women under the Taliban came up regularly.

One artist, Joya, was a photographer from Afghanistan. His family fled to Pakistan when he was young.

He tried to exhibit photography from Afghanistan in 2009, but his family received death threats from the Taliban and they had to flee again. He was granted asylum after 17 months in detention and hopes to develop further as an artist.

Joya’s works are visually striking. He uses colour to contrast the emotions of people against more muted landscapes of Afghanistan.

Traditional dress are common as is the popular events of everyday life, such as horse racing.

Joya told ABC’s 7.30 NT: “This is like dream ― this is not freedom of detention, this is freedom of everything, I can do everything. Those things I didn't do in Afghanistan, here I will do.”

Artists were also present from Iraq and Malaysia.

Ninety-six percent of the artists taking part in the exhibition had their applications for refugee status approved and had already moved into accomodation in other cities. But some where still waiting for security clearances from ASIO ― and have been waiting for over a year.

At the end of the opening, the guards took some of the artists back to their prisons. But for the moment, their art is free.

[The exhibition website is www.footprintsofmyheart.wordpress.com .]

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