The idea for this project started during Australia’s 2013 federal election. Both major parties were promising to ‘stop the boats’ that carry asylum seekers to Australia. I designed this poster to parody the policy and began installing it around London’s east end . After living overseas for almost a year I’d noticed in myself a growing concern towards Australia’s conflicted national identity. To put it simply, I wanted to feel proud to be Australian without ignoring the facts. I decided to confront the issue when I returned home.
Back in Adelaide I made contact with the community group ‘Circle of Friends’ who gave me a great deal of help in the process of entering the Inverbrakie Detention Centre where I was able to meet asylum seekers. I began meeting one family at a time, explaining my idea for the project and hoping that I might find someone who liked to draw. This went on for several months until I’d collected several few sketches.
I decided to include participants who had recently left detention and were living in the community on bridging visas. On Australia Day I attended a large community picnic held by various community groups that support asylum seekers. It was there that I met Ali Rezai Muhammad. He told me his story and that he loved to make art. For the first time I felt sure that the project would be a success.
I began to install the posters in the first week of June. It took two weeks to install all 36, at the end of which time some had already been removed. The project received an overwhelming public engagement and support. I took great pleasure in letting Ali know just how much his story was appreciated.
One thing I’ve learnt from this project is that the individual stories behind migration are more nuanced than the politicised stereotypes, from both sides of the debate. It’s difficult to empathise with people when you can see that their story has been filtered through a political agenda. So I tried to stay an impartial.
On the original question of national identity, I still believe that everyone wants to feel proud of the country they belong to but every nation is, at times, unjust. So it’s impossible to avoid a conflicted sense of national identity and the task of resolving that conflict is perpetual. The willingness to accept that task, however, is something we might all feel proud of.
Thank you to everyone who helped throughout this project, especially Ali.