A group of former refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia reached a creative milestone recently when they exhibited images produced during eight weeks of photography workshops with SSI and CuriousWorks.
SSI has partnered with CuriousWorks, a media arts company celebrating diversity in multicultural Australia, to facilitate a series of photography and video workshops aimed at developing the creative potential of asylum seekers and refugees in western Sydney.
The photography workshops, held at Auburn Centre for Community and the Royal Botanic Gardens, explored the still image from portraiture to landscape, working with DSLRs, studio set-ups and outdoor photography.
They were part of a body of work within CuriousWorks’ community program that equips former refugees to communicate their experience of seeking asylum, arrival in Australia and what lies beyond refuge.
The display at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre gave participants a chance to show their work to family and friends, while getting feedback from experienced curators and artists. It was an important step in the creative process, as the participants (who were originally from Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) work towards being part of the arts centre’s major Refuge exhibition in 2016.
Apart from their artistic development, participants have cited numerous other personal, professional and community benefits to being involved in the program.
SSI Arts & Culture Coordinator Carolina Triana said arts initiatives were a powerful tool for refugee and asylum seeker settlement. Both visual storytelling workshops run by CuriousWorks in partnership with SSI to date have helped participants find a creative voice and contributed to build confidence and develop language skills among participants, Ms Triana said.
Guido Gonzalez — a CuriousWorks filmmaker and cultural leader born in Chile, who moved to Australia as a child refugee — mentored the SSI photography group.
He was full of enthusiasm for CuriousWorks and its partnership with SSI.
“As a young person growing up in western Sydney I’ve always wanted to engage with arts programs,” Mr Gonzalez said. “When I was younger I saw lots of organisations, facilitators and artists but I’ve never seen anyone do things the way CuriousWorks does things.
“They really emphasise the people in the workshops and what they are getting out of it. And, when the workshop is done, what is happening after that — the opportunities.
“I love the way they help new arrivals find their place and belonging through expression and artistic engagement.”
Mr Gonzalez said working with SSI participants had been life-changing.
“Every time I engage with a new group from SSI I’m being taught another piece of humanity,” he said. “I don’t have to travel the world. The world is here. It’s in western Sydney.
Curious Works will now give the participants’ photography another life. In addition to a further four-week workshop at Casula Powerhouse, the SSI participants will have a chance to show their photography in a larger Powerhouse space and contribute to an exhibition during Refugee Week in 2016.
Mr Gonzalez has also spoken to Fairfield Council about showing the participants’ photographs in Fairfield, which has a large refugee community.
SSI launched its Arts & Culture program for refugees and people seeking asylum in February 2014, to harness the positive roles that the arts and cultural activities can play during settlement.
The program also 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.
See more about the SSI Curious Works workshops here
SSI Arts & Culture Program