From Chagall to Ai Weiwei, this exhibition showcases 22 world-renowned artists with refugee roots
Casula Powerhouse's new exhibition aims to give some context to the asylum debate, showcasing more than 65 works by Australian and international artists with a refugee background – including superstars Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei and Yoko Ono.
Australian artists on the line-up include Sydney-based photomedia artists Anne Zahalka and Guo Jian, ceramicist and sculptor Ah Xian, and painter Khadim Ali.
Most of the works are on loan from Australian institutions and private collectors, but Refugees will also include two new works. Guo Jian has created a 10-metre-wide montage that from far away appears to be traditional Chinese scroll painting featuring carp – but up close is revealed as a digital collage of images of celebrity faces adorning trash in his heavily polluted hometown, in Guizhou province. It’s the latest in his ‘Picturesque scenery’ series (‘Picturesque scenery 26’ is currently on display at White Rabbit Gallery).
Ah Xian, whose popular MCA acquisition ‘China China – Bust 81’ will appear (on loan from the museum), will also present his first ever performance work, which takes the inspiration from the idea of ‘refuge’.
You couldn’t find a better location for this particular exhibition: Casula sits within one of the most diverse cultural zones in Australia, with 40% of the population born overseas and more than 150 languages spoken.
For curator Toni Bailey, the exhibition felt urgent: a necessary antidote to an increasingly ugly public debate on Australia’s handling of refugees.
Bailey says that although most of the artists in the show do not make works about the refugee experience, there are some notable exceptions – including one of her favourite works: a photograph by Vietnamese American artist Dinh Q. Lê, taken from his 2011 installation Erasure. A first-generation refugee, Dinh made the work in response to the sinking of a boat carrying asylum seekers, off Christmas Island in December 2010.
“This image reflects the danger and sense of urgency [faced by refugees],” says Bailey. “I think that often gets lost in the debate about refugees – the danger they are fleeing.”