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Heartlands exhibition a window on the refugee experience

18 July 20190 comments

A new art exhibition is giving audiences a rare perspective on the refugee experience by presenting intensely personal digital art pieces that give glimpses into the lives of a group of young refugees.

The Heartlands 2019 arts project brings together the work of eleven mostly young digital artists from refugee backgrounds under the theme of ‘stories from the other side’.

The artworks tell authentic stories about the lives and communities of the artists; while celebrating a collective sense of humanity in their shared circumstance as refugees.

Collectively they present a compelling and thought provoking set of artworks that speak of their hopes and dreams as well as their challenges and issues.

Hailing from countries including Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, the young artists have highlighted their passions, hopes, dreams and journeys in a series of disparate but emotionally connected pieces.

Launched by settlement agency AMES Australia this month, the twenty artworks provide a window into some of the communities who have found a safe haven in Australia in recent years.

AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said the aim of Heartlands was to transcend cultural barriers and reveal the humanity of people who make up Australia’s refugee communities.

“This year we are witnessing the largest refugee crisis in history. The number of displaced people around the globe is now over 70 million – more than at the end of World War II,” Ms Scarth said.

“Heartlands this year has offered the opportunity for culturally and linguistically diverse young people to tell their own stories using accessible digital tools,” she said.

“Much of what we see and hear in the media about refugees, migrants and emerging communities comes to us through the prism of the mainstream media. So, it’s great to see some authentic stories that reflect the experiences, challenges, achievements and aspirations of migrant and refugee youth.  

“We at AMES Australia never cease to be inspired by the resilience, determination and ingenuity many of our migrant, refugee and asylum seekers clients show.

“And we are very aware of the contributions they make and of the skills, creativity and rich social capital they bring with them,” Ms Scarth said.

One of the exhibited artists is Sarah Kangarlou, a refugee from Iran, who was forced to flee her homeland because of her student activism.

“As a student, I was part of a group that protested against the government’s restrictive rules and laws, especially those relating to women. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, it became too dangerous to protest and many of my friends who opposed the government were imprisoned,” Ms Kangarlou said.

She and her sister arrived in Australian in 2010.

Ms Kangarlou’s artwork, titled ‘Await’, evokes the feeling she has in being separated from her mother.

“You see three elements in these pictures. One is the wave, which has pushed me away from my mother. My mother’s picture on the right which has the both sides of hopping, which is shown in her turned face looking to the future and the dark side, that shows the waiting period. But the night sky connects us as we look at it at the same time,” she said.

“I’m very lucky to live in Australia. I miss my mum and it was a difficult and uncertain journey to get here. But how I have lots of good things in my life,” Ms Kangarlou said.

Heartlands 2019 is showing at The Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre,  Dandenong from July 4 until July 27, 2019.