Quilty Confronts Syrian refugee crisis
Earlier this year the celebrated Australian artist Ben Quilty and the equally lauded author, Richard Flanagan, travelled to Europe and the Middle East to witness the refugee crisis in those regions.
They’ve since returned home and Ben Quilty’s new exhibition opening this week at the Art Gallery of South Australia is his interpretation of that experience.
Barbara Miller visited the artist in his studio.
See video here:
Also: Confronting mortality.
Artist Ben Quilty and author Richard Flanagan make a harrowing trip to Europe and the Middle East to witness first-hand the refugee crisis.
Notes on an Exodus : an essay is a small book by Man Booker prize winning author Richard Flanagan, illustrated by Ben Quilty.
Flanagan and Quilty travelled to the Middle East and Europe with World Vision, visiting refugees in camps and on the road, who were escaping from the violence of their homes in Syria.
While described as “an essay” in its subtitle, the book is more a collection of brief written portraits of the people Flanagan and Quilty met on their journey.
People who had fled villages, towns and cities to escape either the day and night bombing by Assad supporting Russian planes, from the violence and oppression of Daesh (ISIS), or both.
People who had fled prosperous lives to live in makeshift tents constructed from recycled garbage.
People who once owned productive farms and orchards but now have to survive on meagre rations of bread and tea or scraps collected from the floors of vegetable shops. Where a family survives (barely) with the help of their nine year old son, working as a welder for $3 a day. who has half his weekly pay retained by his employer to ensure his return the following week.
These are the kind of stories that we in the west prefer not to know so we don’t have to see the refugees as REAL people with REAL lives who probably weren’t so different from other people we know. Individuals we can’t disguise and dehumanise as a “flood”.
Flanagan’s vignettes of people he met bring focus to the plight of millions who have been driven from their homes and homelands. They should stir similar feelings to those stirred by the photos of the small body of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach that briefly moved the conscience of the world. But sadly they won’t. All too quickly our collective hearts have rehardened.
Suspicion and hostility against the flood have been restored.
There are some fascinating insights into the creative process in these discussions between painter Ben Quilty and composer Andrew Ford.
Quilty is one of my favourite artists, and I recall Ford giving a talk to my Arts Journalism class at university in the early 90s.
So far I’ve listened to the first two recordings in the series and particularly liked the second – very moving: looking at the way an artist struggles to address difficult human experiences.
A video of Ben Quilty’s speech at Myuran Sukumaran’s funeral. Follow this link (approx. 10 mins):
“The senselessness of what happened to my friend has made me see very clearly that the act perpetrated on him was as close to evil as I have ever seen,”
Sukumaran led an art studio for his fellow prisoners during his time in Kerobokan prison, where he was mentored since 2012 by celebrated war artist Ben Quilty.
Sukumaran was recently awarded an associate degree in fine arts by Curtin University.
What can I say about the imminent deaths of two former drug smugglers who have cleary turned their lives around since they were sentenced years ago?
Pastor Andrew Chan is one of two Australians whose execution in Indonesia is imminent. About 10 years ago Chan was found guilty of helping organise the export of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. He was found to be the leader of a group afterwards known as the Bali 9, who were picked up at the airport as they were about to board a plane to Australia, They all had significant amounts of heroin bound to their bodies.
Chan and a co-organiser Myuran Sukamaran were given the death penalty while the others had lengthy prison sentences.
Since that time Chan became a follower of Jesus and trained to be a Pastor to fellow inmates within the jail. Sukamaran turned to art and has been studying for a fine arts degree through an Australian university. Within the jail he has run art classes for current and former inmates.
There is absolutely no doubt that both men have turned their lives around and have become valuable assets to the jail that has been their home for a decade, helping to change the lives of other inmates just as they turned their own lives around.
But recently Indonesia changed its President and he’s been trying to show his authority by coming down hard on those found guilty of drug crimes – irrespective of any demonstrated rehabilitation.
Now after ten years, the new President has demanded that the 10 year old death sentences be carried out. It seems that will happen some time this week.
For more details of the current situation see the following: