20 June 2011

Art Gallery - Asylum Seekers from The University of Queensland on Vimeo.

A powerful series of UQ art exhibitions is providing a rare opportunity to discover the human face behind the asylum seeker debate in time for 2011 Refugee Week (June 19–25).

Waiting for Asylum: Figures from an archive, Collaborative Witness: Artists’ responses to the plight of the asylum seeker and refugee, and John Young: Safety Zone are the result of a collaboration between the UQ Art Museum, the UQ Library and researchers in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History (EMSAH).

The exhibitions opened earlier this month and are on show free to the public, seven days a week, until August 7.

A special Fryer Library symposium on June 23 will recognise the activists who donated these materials to the library, and open the archives to discussion and debate.

“The exhibitions are partly inspired by research Professor Gillian Whitlock is undertaking with asylum-seeker archives held within UQ’s Fryer Library,” Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said.

“After being introduced to Professor Whitlock’s research in the archives of asylum-seeker letters in the Fryer Library, the UQ Art Museum committed to hosting these exhibitions and commissioned Ross Gibson and Carl Warner to collaborate on an artwork responding to the material.”

Using photographs sourced from Fryer Library, Gibson and Warner produced a work entitled ‘protection’, which comprises a grid of 60 enlarged colour photographs. Bands of blackboard paint have been dragged across the images to eliminate the possibility of facial recognition, and to represent the loss of identity experienced by asylum seekers at the Australian detention centre in Nauru.

“Many of these photographs are anonymous and yet they provide extraordinary insights into the Nauru detention centre as it was photographed by the asylum seekers themselves,” exhibition co-curator and UQ Lecturer in Art History Dr Prue Ahrens said.

“The subjects appear at first as banal, and then they intrigue as glimpses into the strange, suspended state of being of an asylum seeker or refugee.”

The Fryer Library collection includes photo albums, artworks and other material donated by activists who had corresponded with the asylum seekers featured in the exhibitions.

Collaborative Witness: Artists’ responses to the plight of the asylum seeker and refugee includes works produced in the past decade by prominent artists including Jon Cattapan, Rosemary Laing, Judy Watson and Guan Wei.

Both Waiting for Asylum and Collaborative Witness are curated by Dr Ahrens and UQ Art Museum Senior Curator Michele Helmrich.

The third exhibition, John Young: Safety Zone, pays tribute to a little-known humanitarian event that took place during the “Rape of Nanjing” in China in 1937. A group of 21 foreigners saved the lives of some 300,000 Chinese citizens by sheltering them in the city’s international zone.

Young, a Hong Kong-born artist living in Melbourne, travelled to China and Germany to conduct first-hand interviews and research, and has incorporated historical photographs and documents in works that speak to these events.

All three exhibitions will be officially opened at 6pm this Thursday, June 23 and are supported by a diverse series of public programs.

Public Program calendar

Thursday, June 23
2.00pm – 5.00pm Session for Refugee Week 2011
Living Archives Symposium: Kate Durham, Elaine Smith, Marion Le, Gillian Whitlock, Prue Ahrens, Carl Warner and moderator Carol Johnman Low
Library Conference Room, Level 1, Duhig Building
Friday, July 29
1.00pm – 2.00pm: EMSAH research seminar
Gillian Whitlock, Prue Ahrens and Leili Golafshani on their curatorial work and research of the Fryer Library's collection of refugee ephemera
Level 3, UQ Art Museum
Wednesday, August 3
4.00pm – 5.30pm: Panel Discussion “Soft Power: Art, museums and international diplomacy”: Gillian Whitlock, Phil Orchard, Graeme Were and Pat Hoffie
Level 3, UQ Art Museum

6.00pm – 7.00pm: Artist talk John Young Safety Zone
Level 3, UQ Art Museum
Saturday, August 6
11.00am – 12.00pm: Artist talks Jon Cattapan Collaborative Witness and Carl Warner Waiting for Asylum
Level 3, UQ Art Museum

Media: Dr Ahrens (07 3365 2710, p.ahrens@uq.edu.au), Professor Whitlock (07 3365 2255, g.whitlock@uq.edu.au) or Michele Helmrich at the UQ Art Museum (07 3365 3946, m.helmrich@uq.edu.au)