The Invisible features new and recent work by artists Khadim Ali, Elyas Alavi, Avan Anwar, Rushdi Anwar and Abdul Karim Hekmat, who all draw on their own refugee backgrounds to create evocative and powerful works in painting, video, sculpture, installation and photography. The exhibition explores the effects of displacement, dispossession, migration, vilification, trauma and memory.
‘Refugees are blemished figures in Australia, which has become a global pattern now,’ says exhibition curator and artist Abdul Karim Hekmat. ‘Art is a powerful way to emphasise our humanity and commonality and create a humanising space for others to connect. We refugees after all are not so different.”
The artists transform both personal and collective experience to make visible the daily lives and struggles of people who are displaced by IS in the Middle East. Rushdi Anwar returned to his homeland of Kurdistan to spend four months in Iraqi refugee camps where 1.5 million people live in uncertainty. Working with local artisans and school-aged children he produced a unique recreation of a standard issue UNHCR family tent, giving insight into the daily life and experiences of those in the camps.
Avan Anwar transforms the words of the 19th century Kurdish poet Nali, whose writing was composed in exile from his homeland, into sculptural installations using fragile materials like paper, plaster and aluminium foil. By so doing she strips the text of its legibility, displacing the words from their meaning and reflecting the dramatic shift in cultural context faced by refugees in their new circumstances.
Exhibition curator and artist Abdul Karim Hekmat will present a video work composed from material recorded by refugees currently detained on Nauru. “This work gives visibility to those voices our government silenced and marooned on an Island where they face violence on a regular basis,” says Hekmat. Recent work by Khadim Ali will employ his traditional training in miniature painting to highlight the contemporary persecution and dehumanisation of refugees seeking asylum.
Elyas Alavi’s finely painted portraits on glass suggest the untold narratives of the 90 Hazara people killed in an IS bomb blast while protesting in the Afghanistan capital Kabul in 2016, an event the artist witnessed and survived. “Elyas survived a tragedy to tell the stories of those who did not through artwork,” Hekmat says. “We are all survivors of violence; terror and atrocity at some points in our lives,” Abdul said “The artworks in The Invisible are re-enactment of past traumatic memories or current experiences, of traces of deep wounds, which are not seen by many. That’s what this exhibition is about.”
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive print catalogue, public programs and schools workshops supported by grant funding from Create NSW. The full public program will be announced shortly, and all are welcome to public artist talks on Wednesday 4th October at 1pm. The exhibition will be launched on Tuesday 3rd October at UTS Gallery by writer and activist Eva Cox AO.
Read a response to this exhibition by UTS student Madeline Newling, produced as part of the UTS Gallery Student Writing Program.