Archibald Prize-winner Ben Quilty curates an exhibition of portraits by the late Myuran Sukumaran, painted during his time in Bali's Kerobokan prison
This ambitious exhibition, part of Sydney Festival’s 2017 Western Sydney focus, constitutes the first major survey of artworks by the late Myuran Sukumaran – one of the 'Bali Nine' convicted of drug smuggling in 2005.
Co-curated by artist Ben Quilty and Campbelltown Arts Centre’s director Michael Dagostino, the show is conceived as a reflection on the power of art to redeem, and on the death penalty and alternative forms of justice.
Sukumaran learned to paint during his incarceration in Kerobokan prison. Around 2012 he was put in touch with Quilty, who became his mentor and friend. He was working towards a Bachelor of Fine Art at Monash University when he was executed in April 2015.
In addition to around 100 of Sukumaran's portraits and paintings, C-A-C commissioned works by six Australian artists: Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, Jagath Dheerasekara, Taloi Havini, Khaled Sabsabi, and Matthew Sleeth.
Sukumaran's works are powerful, for obvious reasons – but they have also been arranged for emotional impact. One of the major gallery walls features paintings made by the prisoner over the four years before his death. Most are self-portraits, arranged so as to constantly pivot between contained expression and feverish, obliterative strokes that resulted in distorted faces. It instantly, powerfully, conveys the torturous nature of existence on death row, teetering between hope and despair.
An adjacent wall is dedicated to paintings made by Myuran in the 72 hours before he died. The emotional effect is like a punch to the guts.
Carefully curated, thoughtfully arranged and beautifully presented: these are the elements behind a great art exhibition. That this show also happens to be about life and death, and about our urgent need to create, make it a must-see.