Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
13 Jun 2013
For the first time, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)'s annual art exhibition to mark World Refugee Day will go on public exhibition at the Waverley Library in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. For two and a half weeks, paintings and pen and ink or charcoal drawings by 30 men, women, children and in a few cases, entire families will be on display and will give new and often heartrending insights into their individual stories.
Each of the artists whose work is on display in the JRS The View from Here Exhibition, is either a newly arrived refugee or an asylum seeker currently waiting assessment of their status as refugees and either living within the community on a bridging visa, or in community detention.
The artworks displayed have been created by men and women and children from such diverse countries as Nigeria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Rwanda, Colombia, India and Fiji. While each has a different story about what brought them to Australia, each one has plumbed their deepest emotions to create artworks that reveal their displacement, courage and above all hope for the future.
Many have fled persecution, brutal beatings and even torture. Others have fled homelands torn apart by conflict and many at risk to their own lives and those of their children, have boarded flimsy boats and made the perilous journey to Australia.
But instead of dwelling on the terror and desperation they have experienced, and the physical as well as emotional torment they have endured, their paintings are filled with hope.
In one painting a gilded bird soars above the clouds into a brilliant star-filled sky. In another the refugee meticulously paints an Australian passport and lays this above the Australian flag.
"The View from Here provided an opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to tell their own stories in their own unique way," says Fr Aloysious Mowe, Director of JRS Australia.
How the refugees and asylum seeker artists chose to interpret The View from Here was left entirely up to each artists to interpret the title of the exhibition in whichever way they chose.
"It is not up to us to say what the viewpoint of the refugee is. Refugees are quite capable of speaking for themselves and telling their own stories," Fr Mowe says.
"Each year on World Refugee Day we have had similar exhibitions but this year we decided to hold the exhibition in a public space to help Australians better understand what asylum seekers go through not just to reach Australia, but beforehand," says Oliver White, JRS Head of Policy and Advocacy.
It is also a chance for ordinary Australians to gain an insight into why refugees flee their homelands, why it is important Australia welcomes them, and the rich contribution they make to Australian life and society as a whole, JRS believes.
Refugee Week which begins this weekend runs until 22 June with World Refugee Day commemorated on Thursday, 20 June.
"Refugee Week is an opportunity for increased public awareness and understanding of the issues affecting asylum seekers and refugees," Oliver White says.
This year, however, Refugee Week begins just over a week after the tragic discovery of 13 bodies off Christmas Island, with more than 50 men, women and children still unaccounted for.
"This is a harsh reminder that the Government's current attempt to deter asylum seekers from taking the dangerous boat journey to Australia is failing," Oliver White says.
"Since 13 August last year the reintroduction of off-shore processing and detention for those fleeing violence and persecution, almost 20,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by boat. The Expert Panel's recommendations to prevent boat arrivals were supposed to end the tragic loss of life at sea. But since the Government adopted these recommendations, more than 400 men women and children have lost their lives in an attempt to make the treacherous journey."
In a bid to prevent such tragedies, JRS Australia is urging the Federal Government to provide safer pathways for those struggling to reach our shores.
"The world's poorest countries take in 80% of all refugees. By offering sanctuary to refugees they restore hope for a future free from fear, persecution, violence and insecurity," Fr Mowe says.
"A refugee's journey is provoked by danger. It also begins with the hope of finding safety," he adds and points out that since the bloody civil war began in Syria over two years ago, more than 1.6 million Syrians have become refugees in neighbouring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.
"Each of these countries has steadfastly kept its borders open despite each of these nation's own overwhelming internal and external pressures and problems," Fr Mowe says. He contrasts this with the hostility, suspicion and maltreatment greeting asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and who many claim are economic refugees who have flown to a departure point where they pay the people smugglers.
"Refugees are normal people in extraordinary situations. We cannot ignore the innocent people arriving on our shores in search of protection. Australia is a wealthy country that has the ability and resources to care for those who are vulnerable and in need," he says.