This February I am excited to be participating in the ‘All we can’t see’ exhibition in which artists are invited to illustrate the infamous Nauru Files.
The Nauru Files are 2,000 leaked incident reports written by staff in Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers on the remote Pacific island of Nauru, published by the Guardian in 2016. The Nauru files set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty. Despite the harrowing nature of the files, the centre continues to operate as before – the conditions remain and the abuse is ongoing.
'I heart Nauru' by Penny Byrne.
I can’t look at that!
I get it. No one wants to see or hear about this. Too many feelings; anger, sadness, despair, even guilt. When it’s too hard to look with your eyes, look with your heart. This is why All we can’t see brings together 30 Award Winning contemporary Australian artists to depict the content of these files in a human way. Featuring big names such as Ben Quilty, Abdul Abdullah, Pia Johnson and Megan Seres, one of my own personal favorites’, to mention just a few. The project also invites participation from emerging artists, inviting them to choose a file to illustrate and upload it to the site as I have done.
Out of sight, not out of mind
The asylum seeker debate is alive and well in Australia, but it’s important to remember that this is not merely a political problem but a personal one. Every case file is a real life experience of a real life person. At the time of these reports 51% contain incidents relating to children, although children make up only 18% of the detainees. These people could be your brother, your child, yourself. But for pure chance luck we were born in a country not devasted by war. This wasn’t a clever thing we accomplished ourselves, this was pure chance. These people are in this position through pure chance too. They also have things they want to do in their lives, careers that are being held up, dreams of a family life they cannot attain. Is it ok to keep these innocent people jailed for years without any hope of moving on with their lives?
I won’t lie to you; the case files were hard to read. Some of the files deal with serious incidents such as starvation strikes, abuse, suicide threats etc, but one specific file stood out to me, a report of a child left to weep at night without comfort. When I read this case file it resonated with me on a personal level.
'Turned to Stone' By Nikky Agnello
Acrylic on plywood.
My artwork examines child neglect. As a child who experienced neglect I understand the profound effect it has on your life and self worth. Now as a mother myself I understand the primal instinct I have to protect and care for my child against all odds and so I am able to see the story from sides, mother and child. Ask yourself how far gone do you need to be to no longer even have the energy to comfort your crying child when they have a nightmare? This mother has had every piece of hope stripped from her.
'Turned to Stone Detail' by Nikky Agnello
I was reminded of a saying I used to say to comfort myself as a child; ‘I am a cold stone statue. I can’t feel. Nothing can hurt me’. For this artwork I took inspiration from Pompeii and the victims turned to stone by Lava. These emotions; fear, hatred, anxiety, anger, depression, they burn away at our flesh from the inside like Lava that atrophies our lungs and turns our hearts to stone.
I was particularly inspired by CT scans done by an archaeologist that lets us see inside. I have made visible the contours of pain deep inside the body in my personal style, giving form to emotion through biomorphic contours.
Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.
So what can we do? Let’s keep the asylum seeker conversation going. The complete media blackout on Nauru means the only thing way these people can get a message out to the world is through people like you. For a start please share this blog post on your social media pages and let’s show as many people as possible what it feels like to be in Nauru right now and keep these people visible.