Eight artists explore the causes and effects of migration in this exhibition
At the centre of Blacktown Arts Centre’s main gallery, a jewel-toned hand-carved traditional Javanese bridal bed stands, commanding attention. Painted by Indonesian artist Jumaadi and adorned in his trademark pictorial ‘shadow puppet’ designs, it’s both beautiful and fantastic – the kind of bed a child might crave. But its looks belie a more complicated symbolic significance: arranged marriage, a common cause of migration for Indonesian women. The artist has dedicated the work to a Balinese woman who was murdered by her Australian husband in Cronulla in 2006.
Jumaadi’s ‘Stage of Love’ is one of 16 works made by eight artists (including Indigenous artist Blak Douglas and Pakistan-born Mehwish Iqbal) featured in the Blacktown Arts Centre exhibition Diaspora-Making Machines. Most of the works are new, and site-specific to not just the Centre, but to the Blacktown area generally.
The show is part of BAC’s general focus on the theme of migration in their program. As director Jenny Bisset explains, “we’ve got so many communities who have migrated [in this region]. Refugee communities, migrants, Anglo-Australians who have moved here because land and housing was cheaper, and Aboriginal families who have been pushed out of Redfern.”
Diaspora-Making Machines relates to an exhibition that BAC ran in 2013, Some Other Place, in which five artists explored their migrant experiences through new and existing works.
“That exhibition was really focusing on the personal experience of the artist as migrant,” explains curator Paul Howard, “whereas this new exhibition looks at the underlying systems which force migration. It’s less about the personal experience and more about the larger machines at work.”
Artist Mehwish Iqbal made a ceramic installation of ten legs, inspired by the major movement of refugees on foot – specifically, women: "They play a major role in this phenomenon, keeping the family unit together – but also giving back to society." During a residency in Turkey, Iqbal observed the influx of Syrian refugees. She says of the women, "all their skills – in textiles or cooking – they used to make things that they sold, to survive."
Each leg in the installation is covered in intricate drawings that represent the stories told to her by recently arrived migrants in the Blacktown area. As Iqbal says, "The leg is the vehicle that carries their stories within them."
In particular, she was inspired by the story of an Afghani woman she met in a park one day. "She asked me how I came to Australia, and I was puzzled by the question," the artist recalls. "I said 'By plane, of course.' I asked her how she came to Australia – and she told me she came in a box, and was in this metal box for 11 days. This story had such an emotional impact on me – that someone comes so close to death, just to make it to safer ground."