SSI News Blog

Meet Damon Amb, artist and asylum seeker

“I started more than 20 years ago on my dad’s old camera, a manual Konica. I’d save up all my money to buy film and take photos of my surroundings, my people, my life in Iran.

At the end of my military service, I did an Advanced Diploma in Photography at Iran’s Jahad Institute. I ended up working as a photographer in an advertising agency.

Damon Amb
Photographer Damon Amb, sho is seeking refugee protection in Australia.

I had some group and solo exhibitions, but I had lots of problems getting permission to show my artwork. Art is one of the biggest crimes in Iran. There are lots of [censorship] filters you have to pass.

There are no particular rules about anything in Iran because of the different powers; there are religious powers and so many other filters. Randomly, they come to you and they restrict what you’re going to do.

Even after you get permission to exhibit your artwork, powers can come into the gallery and do other weird things, after you’ve passed the filters. There will be other filters you don’t know about.

Because of this, I was [attracted] to abstract photography, instead of figurative photography and social documentary, because social documentary is a big issue in Iran. Some of the powers come to you and, depending on the power, they hurt you.

For part of that period I had my own fast food shop, and I started to do mobile phone photography of abstract things. You know, of rusted plates, of heaters. I liked to capture them with my low-resolution mobile.

I’ve been in Australia for just under two years. At first I was in detention and now I live in the community on a bridging visa while waiting for a decision on my refugee status.

I’m a criminal in my country because I’m an artist. How can I live in a land where my skills, my art, my emotions are crimes?

I’ve exhibited at Art Is Our Voice, an exhibition by refugee and asylum seeker artists. And I’m showing at the New Beginnings Refugee Arts and Culture Festival on World Refugee Day 2015.

In terms of introducing myself as an artist, they’re great first steps. So that my new society knows I’m an artist. But my art doesn’t communicate the things that have happened to me or what could happen to me if I go back to Iran.

I feel like [the artist community in Australia has] welcomed me. Even in the detention centre I found new hope about being part of the art community because I met an artist – someone who listened to me, even though I didn’t have artwork to show. I couldn’t have a camera in detention.

After leaving detention, it was hard to be in a new land with nothing. I’d had the best quality of photography equipment back in Iran. It was very hard to be in a new land with nothing.

But I made some artist friends who helped me get a camera, helped me in this new situation. I collected some money to buy a computer.

And my case manager at SSI, Archana, was very supportive. She deeply listened to me and found what I needed and found what she could do for me. So I’ve been able to start using my photography skills here.”

See Damon's work at New Beginnings Refugee Arts & Culture Festival

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