ACT News

Home truths about artists seeking asylum aim to counter negative perceptions

An exhibition of art by eight asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq will be hosted by the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in February.

Home: Between Here and There provides insight into the state of mind of those caught between places, even as it offers them a means of expression and a chance to hone their skills.

Planning an exhibition of artworks by asylum seekers are Reverend Susanna Pain, right foreground and Professor Stephen ...
Planning an exhibition of artworks by asylum seekers are Reverend Susanna Pain, right foreground and Professor Stephen Pickard. In support are members of A Chorus of Women Shirley Campbell, Janet Salisbury, Meg Rigby and Johanna McBride at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton.  Photo: Graham Tidy

The visual display, which is presented by Settlement Services International, grew out of a 10-week skills development workshop program.

SSI's arts and culture co-ordinator, Carolina Triana​, explained how the initiative had helped participants overcome some of the limitations they faced.

"They are trying to establish themselves and to establish a new life," she said.

"Art gives a voice to people who are often spoken for by others."

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Ms Triana said the program fostered their "increased social wellbeing" as the asylum seekers formed networks and established connections with artists from both the refugee and general communities.

"The main benefit is that they continue to practise their art," she said.

Ms Triana suggested the exhibition countered negative perceptions by illustrating "the talent and creativity they bring to Australia".

Abbas Makrab, a Sydney-based artist who was born in Baghdad, served as the group's artistic mentor and also guided participants in areas of cultural awareness.

"He understood very well what the artists were going through and the challenges they faced," Ms Triana said.

She described the works on show as representations of "displacement and exile, the homeland left behind, and the unfinished journey to a new place to call home".

Art gives a voice to people who are often spoken for by others.

Carolina Triana

For one of the asylum seekers, an accomplished graphic designer and musician called Babak, the notion of "home" evoked a complicated pull between loss and hope.

He said he started painting when he was "very young" and it brought "the best feeling in the world", irrespective of what he had or where he lived.

Babak was grateful for the "good experience" and was optimistic his art would convey his feelings in a way language could not.

The ACC&C's executive director, Stephen Pickard​, said art, the human condition and religion formed "a really powerful nexus for giving expression to the deepest things".

He applauded the "energy, compassion and concern" of Canberra's refugee support groups and related communities.

The centre's associate director of liturgy, the arts and spiritual care, Susanna Pain, said Companion House representatives and singers from A Chorus of Women would be among the contributors to the opening night.