21ST JULY – 16TH SEPTEMBER
EXISTING BETWEEN TWO PLACES AND CULTURAL IDENTITIES, FIVE NSW-BASED ARTISTS EXAMINE THEIR MIGRANT EXPERIENCES THROUGH MODES OF HEALING AND REFLECTION.
When artist and academic Safdar Ahmed visited the Villawood detention centre for the first time in 2011 he wanted to do more than just drop by. “I thought wouldn’t it be nice to do something there rather than simply go in, gawk at people and walk out again,” he says. “Because I have a background in fine arts, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to see if anyone wants to draw with me.”
He took along sketchbooks and materials to share (pencil sharpeners were a problem due to the blades and the turpentine used in oil painting was not allowed due to its flammability) and so began the Refugee Art Project, co-founded by Ahmed, a non-profit community group that provides art workshops to asylum seekers in detention. “It’s about amplifying their voices through art,” he says.
Paddington gallery Cement Fondu has this weekend opened an exhibition (until September 16) of the powerful drawings and paintings created by participants since the program’s beginning. “The work is very diverse,” says Ahmed. “Refugees are more than just their experience of persecution and I think the art is good because it gives a holistic picture.”
While the project has now been running for seven years, Ahmed wishes for a day that it no longer exists at all. “Our organisation plays a strong advocacy role to educate the Australian public about the horrifying conditions faced by people who go through detention with the ultimate aim of ending the system entirely.”
The Refugee Art Project Exhibition, 11am-5pm, Cement Fondu, 36 Gosbell Street, Paddington, free, cementfondu.org