Refugees tell stories of courage and strength


Refugees at Casula Powerhouse sheds light on to one of the most highly publicised areas of Australian politics: the ongoing refugee crisis. Each of the 22 artists exhibiting have refugee backgrounds, spanning several continents and conflicts. Curator Toni Bailey views this topic as a “blindingly obvious” choice for an exhibition, saying that the statistics on refugees speak for themselves. “Australia only receives 0.29% of the world’s refugees and over 90% of people who arrive here by boat are found to be genuine refugees,” she explains, “and we are legally bound to protect them.”

1200 Christian Boltanski, Dog in the street, Children Playing, Bathtime, Toys (intstalltion view), 1991. Gelatin silver photograph, biscuit box, lamp and electrical wires. Dimensions variable. 1
Christian Boltanski, Dog in the street, Children, Playing, Bathtime, Toys, installation view, 1991, gelatin silver photograph, biscuit box, lamp and electrical wires. Dimensions-variable.

High profile international artists such as Yoko Ono, Anish Kapoor, Mona Hatoum, Marc Chagall, Lucian Freud and Ai Wei Wei will exhibit next to local artists such as Guo Jian, Inge King, Ah Xian, Aida Tomescu and Anne Zahalka. In many cases it will be the first time some of their works have been seen in Western Sydney. Bailey comments, “My hope is that hearing about how many of these now famous artists escaped life-threatening situations by being incredibly brave and showing enormous strength will remind us that we should be treating people with the compassion they deserve.”

In Refugees, the stories behind the works are as significant as the works themselves. Yoko Ono was exiled from Tokyo during the firebombing of 9 March 1945; Frank Auerbach’s parents went on to die in a Nazi concentration camp after they put him on a train to the UK when he was just seven years old; and Dinh Q. Lê escaped from the Khmer Rouge in 1978 when he was only 10 years old.

“By talking about the courage and the strength of these artists and celebrating what they have been able to achieve I’m hoping there will be constructive and positive conversations that happen,” Bailey says, “But at the same time, I don’t want to shy away from the confronting conversations: I want to address the misconceptions and face up to the ugly truths.” Refugees is a depiction of strength and courage, challenging its audiences while encouraging compassion and understanding.

Casula Powerhouse
30 July – 11 September

Preview Words by Naomi Gall