The placement of the Artwork
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. In this exhibition, Sha creates a connection between the artwork and the Bridge as both geographically and metaphorically relevant.
A bridge is often viewed symbolically connecting one point to another point, making a story in some ways a full story, bridging a gap, this is also true in relation to Sha’s journey. Twenty years ago, Sha was living in Government housing at Yungaba under the Story Bridge and it was from this location that he made a pivotal decision in his life. At that time, Sha was on a temporary protection visa, constantly concerned he would be sent back to Afghanistan. Sha was thinking of moving to Sydney or Melbourne to find work and save money in case he was deported. At lease he would return with some money to help his family.
An employee of Mercy Community Services who assisted refugees made a commitment to Sha, if Sha stayed in Brisbane and learnt English, he would make sure he was able to stay in Australia. This gave Sha the assurance and hope to remain in Brisbane and learn English and if he was able to stay in Australia, he would then eventually perhaps have the opportunity to study at University. In 2006, after a long path of study; learning English at Milperra, mature-aged senior schooling at Sunnybank High School and studies in graphic design at TAFE, Sha became an Australian Citizen. From there he went to University attaining an Honours Degree in Visual Arts. Now, in 2020 he is exhibiting his artwork about the refugee journey looking back to the other side of the Bridge from where one part of his journey essentially began.
The Bridge is also geographically significant for another group of refugees, if you journey across the Bridge and travel along Main Street at Kangaroo Point you will reach the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel that is currently being used as an ‘alternative place of detention’ for asylum seekers. Detainees are housed two to a room with the only opportunity to venture outside for visits to another detention location for outdoor exercise. However as referenced in a recent story in The Conversation, a May 2019 report from the Australian Human Rights Commission stated, “… hotels are not appropriate places of detention, given their lack of dedicated facilities and restrictions on access to open space.
With the pandemic further restricting opportunities for access to open space and, detainees report, minimal or non-existent measures to prevent an outbreak at the hotel with a steady slew of visiting Security guards (one of whom tested positive for the virus in mid-March) detainees are feeling particularly vulnerable.
On one side of the Bridge is the Australian discourse about refugees that is often one of weakness, vulnerability and tragedy from which refugees first engage with Australia in seeking mercy. On the other side are the full stories of these individuals each a whole person not just a person seeking refuge, but survivors and individuals with their own spirit, culture, humour and opinions.
“These things are lost within the very rough political rhetoric that I have witnessed since arriving in Australia in 2000. ‘The refugee issue’ is like a political football particularly around elections but beyond that, there is nothing” Sha said.
Sha also positioned the artwork facing outwards towards the Bridge as the metaphor of joining two sides connects with what Sha hopes to highlight through ‘Like a moth to a flame’
“Looking outwards towards the Bridge is also a yearning or desire to bridge the gap between the two sides if not to complete it but at least to attempt to fill that gap.
“I see that as my job as a refugee and artist to try and fill that gap. My message for other refugees and refugee artists would be to keep engaging and telling their stories in any way possible. To give and maintain hope and resilience, to have the ability and persistence to make artwork about this issue and to stand up and keep telling these stories and to fill that gap.
“That is where the hope is,” Sha said.
Read ‘The hopeful quality of Like a moth to a flame (Part 1)’ where Sha Sarwari shares his inspiration for this artwork
The full exhibition of works in Like a moth to a flame by Sha Sarwari can be viewed when Adderton re-opens.