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08 Feb 2017


Arts and culture initiatives give artist seeking asylum a new beginning

Tree of (my life), Mohammed, photography, digital print on canvas, 122x85cm.

In his native country of Iraq, Mohammed was a successful theatre performer and an exhibiting artist with his own photography studio. He completed a college degree in theatre performance. He appeared in a number of stage and radio productions before he was forced to flee Iraq and seek asylum in Australia in 2013.

Mohammed was supported by SSI’s Status Resolution Support Services program, which provides essential assistance to people living in the community while their application for refugee status is assessed.

It was through his SRSS case manager that Mohammed first became aware of SSI’s Arts and Culture program, which supports newly arrived artists by identifying relevant networks and providing professional development and performance opportunities while they are seeking asylum or during their early stages of settlement.

“SSI helped me to start my life in Australia,” Mohammaed said. “When I came, I didn’t know anyone, but SSI helped me to form a network with artists, people and friends.”

“Someone who was a director saw my artwork in my first SSI exhibition and then read my biography in the catalogue. She wanted me to take photos of an upcoming play, but I told her that before I was a photographer, I was an actor. I applied for her play and won an acting role where I told my story about how I came to Australia.”

The show, Origin-Transit-Destination, was an immersive theatre experience that took theatre-goers on a journey into issues facing people seeking asylum. Mohammed has gone on to co-create a short film, The Suffering of the Asylum Seeker and land an Arabic-speaking role in the 2016 film, Ali’s Wedding.

“I like being a photographer, but I feel most myself on stage and in films,” he explained. “If I hadn’t done that first exhibition, I would never have met the director and gotten to continue on with my artistic culture and meet other people. The first step was SSI.”

Mohammed now runs his own photography business, which he established with the support of SSI’s Ignite Small Business Start-ups, and he recently took out first place in the contemporary category of the Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.

Since participating in SSI’s Art is Our Voice exhibition in 2014, Mohammed has also created works for Home: Between Here and There and last year’s New Beginnings: Refugee Arts and Culture Festival, where his artwork, which was sold on the opening night, centred on the tree of life – a symbol for his intention to continue on in life regardless of the struggles he faces.

SSI is holding the New Beginnings: Refugee Arts and Culture Festival again in 2017, and there are a number of ways to get involved with this celebration of hope, unity and new beginnings.

Click below for more information about sponsorship opportunities and becoming a festival partner.

Support New Beginnings

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