SSI News Blog

Exhibition gives voice to refugees and asylum seekers

Victor Youssef

Art Is Our Voice is an exhibition showcasing the creative work of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. The exhibition has been organised by Settlement Services International (SSI) in conjunction with University of Sydney Amnesty International and Amnesty International’s ARTillery project, with the support of Verge Gallery, run by The University of Sydney Union.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the exhibition would give artists from communities often marginalised in our society the opportunity to present their stories to the world.

“The exhibition will give voice to people who are too often spoken for and about by others,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“By presenting their work to the community, these 15 visual artists from Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Sri Lanka can show their skills and express their creativity.

“Most of these artists have worked professionally in their countries of origin in a range of media that include, painting, sculpting, photography, and as jewelers and engravers.

“We hope this exhibition will not only showcase their talents but help the artists make new connections in the community that will help them pursue their art here in Australia.”

Of special interest at the exhibition will be the work of ‘coffee artist’ Masoud Akhava Ghassabzadeh. Coffee art is practiced by artists who have spent time in detention centres. With no access to paints or other materials, asylum seekers in detention began using instant coffee mixed with water to paint with.

Masoud taught himself to paint with coffee while in detention and he has said he still prefers the look of the medium over other materials now that he lives in the community.

“My inspirations for painting were all those dark days that I experienced while staying at different detention centres for over 12 months,” he said. “I used to imagine the sun was crying for people who were locked up, with no freedom, inside the detention centre.”

Another artist exhibiting is Victor Youssef, 72, from Egypt, who has been in Australia less than 12 months.

Victor has brought a collection of work made by etching images into copper sheets with him to Australia that he hopes to sell so he can rent a studio space. The images include a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, Jesus and the Virgin Mary and pharaohs. His work is displayed in churches in the USA, Italy and Egypt.

“If I sell this here, it will change my life,” Victor said. “I like Australia very much, that is why I would like to make something here that is better than I have ever done before.”

Other artists exhibiting work are:

  • Atefeh Hekmat: Iran, oil painting;
  • Babak Jahangirzadeh: Iran, oil painting;
  • Bassam Jabar: Iraq, glass carving;
  • Damon Agha Mohammad Bagher: Iran, photography;
  • Hayder Shakir Al Bdairi: Iraq, mixed media;
  • Homa Nozari: Iran, photography;
  • Lutheskumar Sinnathurai: Sri Lanka, oil painting;
  • Madhi Jahangirzadeh: Iran, oil painting;
  • Masoud Akhava Ghassabzadeh: Iran, coffee painting;
  • Mohammad Reza Fattah: Iran, acrylic painting and drawing;
  • Mohammed AlanezIraq, photography;
  • Othman Omar Kareem: Iraq, drawing;
  • Sefullah Akbari: Iraq, oil painting;
  • Thasangan Sasitharan: Sri Lanka, oil painting;
  • Victor Youssef: Egypt, copper etching. 

Details: The Art is Our Voice exhibition is on at the Verge Gallery, Jane Foss Russell Plaza, University of Sydney, Darlington, 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, from May 14 to 22.


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