Visitors exploring Like a moth to a flame by Sha Sarwari will encounter an untitled artwork within a small annexe room with a panoramic view of the Story Bridge. This artwork is heavy in symbolism and laden in hope, both in the artwork itself and its contextual and physical placement within this exhibition.
In the centre of the room stands a burnt chair. The chair is positioned to look outwards through the window towards Brisbane’s Story Bridge, draped over the chair is a garment as if being worn by the chair. The garment is a Parahan, the cultural dress of an Afghan Hazara man. Printed on the silk garment are stories of the refugee and asylum seeker experience as constructed and portrayed by the media and Australian society. Sha Sarwari says, “this work is strongly about identity, the garment represents both the true identity and the constructed identity of a refugee in the Australian narrative.”
“The true and full stories and identities of refugees are lost within the collective narrative of our society they either don’t get told or they are not heard.
“This is shown in the way the garment is draped over the chair symbolising the absence of a presence. The person who wears the garment is present but absent at the same time.
“I knew I wanted to utilise a chair. I first thought I would make a sculpture for the garment but it had a deeper resonance to place the garment on a chair as one would when they returned home and placed their coat or outer clothing on a chair.
“The chair is waiting and it tells of the absence of a presence, part of the person’s story is present within the narrative in the news about refugees printed on the garment and in the traditional garment itself but there is an absence of the full person.”
“In the same way the narrative about refugees is all about the need and desperation of a refugee and their struggle to build a life but not about the whole person or their individual stories and the essence of their humanity, who they love and who loves them, how they laugh, their opinions on this new culture and people in the country they have left their homeland for, this is the gap in the narrative.”
Sha burnt the chair to connect this piece to other artwork within Like a moth to a flame that use charcoal or reference burning. This is very personal for Sha as it reminds him of a Hazara man, Khodayar Amini, on a temporary protection visa who was so fearful of either being returned to detention or deported he set himself alight and burnt to death under a Eucalyptus tree in bushland of the Dandenong in Victoria. Burning the chair takes Sha to the final moment of the man’s decision, to his final act of refuge. Seeking a final refuge through suicide is an all too common occurrence in the refugee community. Often, the trauma experienced by people in their homeland and the trauma experienced in the country where refuge is sought results in poor mental health.
The idea of placing the artwork facing the window is to give the impression of looking outwards, as an escape from the social, political and media discourse of the refugee and also of looking towards the Bridge. The placement and position of this artwork within this exhibition is both geographically and metaphorically relevant.
Read ‘The hopeful quality of Like a moth to a flame (Part 2)’ for the full significance of the placement of the Artwork
The full exhibition of works in Like a moth to a flame by Sha Sarwari can be viewed when Adderton re-opens.