Friday, April 11, 2014
Not in my name. Not exactly.
This is my little piece for the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria's Australian National Brooch Show. Australian readers probably know what I'm getting at here. It might be the first time I've tried to make any kind of political statement by making something.
There is a lot of history to asylum seeker policy and 'boat people' in this country, and there sure are some wicked problems each successive government has faced. However, it is impossible to condone the way both major parties have formed and implemented nasty, brutal, inhumane policy in response to the perception that Australia is being swamped by illegal boat arrivals (who of course are all potential terrorists). Especially when the numbers arriving by boat have never been large at all by world standards or even within the context of our regular immigration programs.
So this idea came up in response to the recent efforts to ensure no boats reach Australia, by forcibly turning them back towards Indonesia, and if the boats are unseaworthy, towing the occupants in those orange bubble lifeboats.
But it's not just that, in my mind it goes (at least) back to the Tampa, the Prime Minister's selective hearing about "children overboard", and the bizarre strategy of excising territory from Australia's migration zone (haha! so you made it but it turns out you didn't). Followed by all the variants of offshore processing, including the debacle of Manus Island where, it seems, no one is getting processed, no one is ever going to be resettled there or in Australia, the locals are up in arms (literally), and detainees are dying, or/or trying to kill themselves. Offshore detention allows everything to be kept at arms length and in relative secrecy. It's not happening on Australian soil. Let's not even talk about children in detention, or the justification for detention at all in many cases, the enormous amounts of money Australia is spending keeping all of these efforts going, and the direct mental and physical toll it has on the people detained for indefinite periods.
And I know that I can say all this happens "not in my name," but of course it is. I am Australian. I know these problems aren't simple. Of course discouraging people from trying to come to Australia by boat is a good thing if it saves people from drowning when unseaworthy boats can't make the distance. But I can't support cruelty to one lot of people as a lesson to those who might be tempted to follow them. The ends cannot justify the means. And I think there are other forces at work justifying the cruelty - racism, xenophobia, misinformation.
I made the brooch pretty quickly to meet the deadline, and it mostly came together as I imagined, just a bit messier. It is actually two separate brooches joined by a chain. I was struggling a little to keep within the size limits for the show, and would have preferred the chain a bit longer. I also took some artistic liberties with scale - this orange lifeboat is really way too big relative to the Customs boat. My first attempt at the lifeboat was even bigger. I still can't accurately predict how much something will shrink with felting.
The Customs boat is black aida cloth glued onto a plastic template, cut from an ice cream container. I would have liked neater corners. And I'm showing you the back of the thing, even though it's not that neat and you can see the glue!
The (grandly named) Australian National Brooch Show is on now in Melbourne, at Fitzroy Library until 30 May and then South Yarra Library from 3 June - 30 July.