Traditionally dressed in garments of startling orange, the Sannyasins are often referred to as the ‘Orange People’. Primarily a religious movement, public interest in Sannyas has generally focussed on sensationalist and media-driven narratives which tout stories of sex, drugs and controversy. Yet the Sannyas movement in Fremantle is a relatively untold story.
Although Fremantle seems like a rather unlikely location, during the 1980s, the city became a major centre for Sannyas. Devotees of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also known as Osho) brought the movement to Fremantle in 1978. Sannyas is still practiced in the city today, but without the vivid orange garments. By delving into Fremantle’s social history, the upcoming exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle, uncovers the beliefs and experiences of the erstwhile Orange People.
Co-curated by Sannyasin kid Sohan Ariel Hayes and Fremantle Arts Centre Curator Dr Ric Spencer, the exhibition seeks to reconstruct the history and experience of Sannyas in Fremantle. Considering the huge array of available material, Hayes says the curatorial strategy involved “engaging with a number of contemporary artists who would work with, and respond to, a particular subject and create a new work around that subject.”
With this in mind, Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle considers everything from their meditative practices, the experience of growing up in a commune and the blend of Eastern spiritualism and Western materialism associated with the movement. More specifically, the exhibition includes a film on the nature and personal consequences of discipleship, a virtual reality space based upon Sannyas meditation techniques and a spirit radio broadcasting from the image of a Rolls Royce. These works sit alongside reading material, religious paraphernalia, photographs and recorded lectures. The overall intent, as Hayes says, “is to put you in the sensory experience of Sannyas.”
As a child, Hayes lived in Fremantle’s Sannyasin community from the age of five to eight. The impetus for the exhibition began when he reflected on his childhood experiences. In particular, his memories centre on meditation and states of surrender, which Hayes believes “to be at the core of the movement.” These recollection from his childhood led Hayes to create the interactive work Dynamic, which explores the bodily experience of meditation undertaken by his parents. While physically demanding, Hayes wants to unravel the meaning behind the meditations as they invoke an “evolutionary principle of consciousness that Osho, the Sannyas guru, has articulated.”
Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle includes artworks by Hayes and other members of the Sannyas community in WA, as well as works by Dave Brophy, Bevan Honey, Dave Franzke, Naren Farquharson, Loren Holmes, Joseph London, Poppy van Oorde-Grainger and Joshua Webb.