Capturing the essence of community
A compelling new photographic exhibition has captured the essence of Melbourne’s extraordinary Hazara community.
The Hazaras have come to Australia to escape what many are calling a genocide in their homeland; and in the wake of fear and persecution they have created a vibrant and thriving community.
The community has grown steadily over past fifteen-or-so years and Dandenong and its surrounds, in Melbourne’s south-east, is now home to an estimated 12,000 ethnic Hazara people.
The first Hazaras arrived in the late 1990s as attacks on them in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani city of Quetta, to which many had fled from the Taliban, increased significantly.
As mostly Shia Muslims, the Hazara are targets for violence by extremist Sunni Muslim groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangri.
More than 1500 have been killed and 4000 maimed over the past decade in Pakistan and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice in that time.
It is not known how many more have been killed by the Taliban inside Afghanistan.
Now, an exhibition has captured the every-day lives of the community. Photographer Barat Ali Batoor, a Hazara refugee himself, is an award winning photo journalist. He won the Nikkon-Walkley Photo of the Year this year for his images of boat people on voyages to Australia.
Batoor has had worked published in the New York Times, Stern Magazine and other European publications.
Batoor spent several months photographing his community, largely around Dandenong, and produced a series of striking and poignant images.
“I wanted to show a community is defined by its circumstances,” Batoor said.
“It’s a very close community because we are all a long way from home and we all know what is happening there – there have been so many Hazaras killed in the past few years and anyone who knows anything about the political situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan will tell you that it is only going to get worse,” he said.
“Hazaras tend to look out for each other and they’re very social. In Dandenong there is a very strong Hazara cultural scene. There are youth groups, music groups, theatre, sporting groups and other community activities,” he said.
The Hazaras comprise the largest ethnic group seeking asylum in Australia and this exodus from terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan has produced a two tier community among the Hazara in Dandenong and elsewhere.
There are those who have jobs or thriving businesses and relatively settled and comfortable lives. And there are those who arrived after August 2012 – as Australian politics became consumed with the ‘boat people’ issue – who do not have work rights and whose futures are uncertain.
These asylum seekers without work rights are typically single men, sharing cheap housing and existing on benefits payments that are less than the dole.
Despite this, the Hazaras are making significant social and economic contributions and, together with the difficulties and challenges the community faces, it is these inherently optimistic, communal and enterprising qualities that Batoor has sought to capture through his images.
The exhibition is running in Footscray and Dandenong as follows:
Footscray: 12-22 June 2014
Footscray Community Arts Centre (Roslyn Smorgon Gallery), 45 Moreland Street, Footscray, VIC 3011
Dandenong: 3-26 July 2014
Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre, Walker and Robinson Streets, Dandenong VIC 3175