Asylum seekers. Refugees. The unseen identities of vulnerable people processed offshore. They’re being brought to light in The Invisible.
The exhibition, which is on display in the UTS Gallery throughout October and November, is curated by UTS alumnus Abdul Karim Hekmat.
Hekmat, now a board member of the Refugee Council of Australia, arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001. Unable to continue his education in Australia under his Temporary Protection Visa, a scholarship at UTS enabled Hekmat to finish a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Communication in 2008. He’s now also a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Hekmat was inspired to curate the exhibition to counter the dominant narrative that dehumanise refugees. In The Invisible, Hekmat says, five artists have transformed their own refugee experiences into artwork “to create understanding about refugees, and start a debate and dialogue between the artists and the people who are coming to see the exhibition.
“We are showing some work about the voices of people that we often don’t hear, for example those being marooned in Nauru or those displaced by IS in the Middle East,” explains Hekmat.
Included is Rushdi Anwar. To create his work, the Kurdish artist, who was displaced in the 1980s by Saddam Hussain, went back to Iraq this year to work with refugees who were displaced by IS. Hekmat says, “Rushdi brings to light the situation of 1.5 million refugees by showing the humanity and the suffering of those people hidden from our views.”
Khadim Ali, meanwhile, was inspired by the ancient Persian poem Shahmana – the Book of Kings. Ali’s painting, Hekmat explains, depicts how Hazara refugees “are being demonised in Australia as refugees” after persecution from the Taliban.
Also on display are voices of refugees being detained in Nauru, which Hekmat obtained, as well as the personal documents of some asylum seekers who have lost their lives while on bridging visas in the community or in detention centres. Hekmat says, “They are the victims of Australia’s policy. They left all their belongings and documents and they took their lives because of the despair that they were going through.”
To help visitors understand how these asylum seekers felt, Hekmat has included a number of artist talks, a catalogue of essays and an exhibition-inspired poetry competition for students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
There are also workshops specifically for high school students. On 10 and 11 October, students from Mount St Benedict College and Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design will come on campus to take part in projects developed by UTS Art’s Education and Outreach Coordinator Alice McAuliffe. They are designed to show students the power of images and their potential to influence people’s emotional response to a topical issue.
She says some students will produce videos about the exhibition for social media and others will produce narratives about their friends using iPhone photography.
McAuliffe hopes the projects will help students learn about visual inclusion and exclusion in the image frame and how influential their own photography and video can be.
“Art is a really useful vehicle for talking about the big issues in society,” she says. “Young people often don’t understand the power they hold in their pockets!”
The Invisible will be on display at the UTS Gallery until 24 November. For more information, visit uts.ac/2ewCet0