Tempera on panel. Oil on canvas. Coffee on paper. Not a popular style of painting among the masters of the Renaissance but it’ll have to do if you’re in a detention centre. The technique was developed by detainees who originally had no access to paints and so started creating art with instant coffee diluted in warm water. It was refined by Alwy Fadhel who after 50 months is one of Australia’s longest detainees.
Fadhel has six ‘coffee paintings’ on display featuring the work of asylum seekers. The aptly named Shock shows a young woman with her head covered and hand over her mouth staring at you. You see what she’s seen and feel what she’s feeling. She can’t look away and neither can you.
The artworks have been assembled by The Refugee Art Project which runs art classes within Villawood and other detention centres around the country. All works are by asylum seekers in detention or recently released refugees. “The exhibition gives a voice to asylum seekers who otherwise have no avenues for political or cultural expression,” says Refugee Art Project founder Dr Safdar Ahmed.
There is a digital image of a boy on a ladder reaching for his kite stuck in barbed wire atop a tall wall, the silhouette of a man in despair, desperate hands of a person drowning and what looks like Sydney’s Anzac Bridge made from spaghetti and window panels. There are cartoons and sketches, a lighthearted scribble inspired from humour and hope. Take your time by Palestinian-refugee and cartoonist Mahmoud Salameh shows an asylum seeker buried below a tombstone being thanked by onlookers for his patience. His works epitomise political freedom and remind us not to take it for granted.
Kamaleshwaran Selladurai, a refugee from Sri Lanka who continues to paint following his release from detention said, “Painting has changed my life. I have improved in my art and I love to paint new and different subjects. I want to show how refugees feel in my painting and what the people in detention are going through. Everyone in detention misses their family and the process is far too long.”
Until Jul 27, Foyer Gallery, UTS Tower Building, 15 Broadway, Ultimo, free, 0400 312 581, therefugeeartproject.com