Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art recently commissioned its second wall painting for the entrance way - a huge work by Chinese-Australian artist Guan Wei. It's populated by Guan's usual whimsical figures with their mouths shaped by cries or laughter - though in this particular case I have no doubt their cries are of anguish. Guan says this of his work:
I have observed that much of our daily news is filled with stories of refugee ships arriving in Australian waters...As an Australian immigrant and as an artist, I am able to not only identify with but also help relate and bear witness to (the refugees) solemn, stirring and tragic story...As you go up the stairs you follow the immigrants' journey, from the mythical dragon-lion creatures of their past,
through the horrors of the sea voyage, with accompaniments of helicopters and navy vessels (evoking both their strife-torn past and surveillance-ridden present)
to arrival in Australia.
I love the way the arrival scene reminds us of the first arrival of European boat people who were forced to flee their pasts. The Museum's location at Circular Quay where that first influx of immigrants occurred, like many to follow, adds even deeper emotional resonance. In Guan's words it's 'a place that links the past with the present, you with me, and Australia with the world'. Such wise words. The painting reinforces my feeling that what distresses me most about the current debate about people in boats is its denial of both our history and our ties with the wider world.
As a post-script - the earlier wall-painting commissioned by the MCA also pleased me greatly - for very different reasons
It was a neat, precise, geometrically pleasing repetition of orange triangles painted by Sydney artist Helen Eager. I loved it. But look what I have hanging on my hallway wall:
Yellow triangles, in pastel on paper, also by Helen Eager. It also give me great pleasure.