When they came to bury Myuran Sukumaran in his hometown of Sydney, no one in the crowd of thousands was there to farewell an alleged key figure of the ‘Bali Nine’ heroin-smuggling operation. Those gathered did so to pay tribute to the man Myuran had becom
“We knew Myu liked to draw, and while Mum recently found some photos of him painting as a toddler, I don’t have any memories of him being attracted to art at a young age. He really found it, found his love for art, inside prison. Someone told Myu art was something he wouldn’t be able to do, or would be good at, that was what initially drove him to pursue it – and from there he just wanted to get better, and better and better. He was always someone who wanted to better himself and so he worked hard and dedicated himself to it, he didn’t want to waste his life. Myu completed a fne arts degree at Curtin University [West Australia] while in prison. And he was extremely proud of that. It made a massive difference during some of those dark days, during a time when the justice system wasn’t giving him any recognition, so it was good to get some from outside – that meant a huge deal to him.
A supporter who was helping out in the legal team was responsible for Ben Quilty connecting with Myu. My brother had asked if someone could help him research how to paint ‘thick’ – they started looking into it and came across Ben. Ben then said he wanted to come to Bali to meet Myu – that was a big thing for my brother, he was so grateful to Ben for taking an interest in him when most people wouldn’t have, or didn’t. And Ben really taught him a great deal, he enabled Myu to become a great artist because he saw in him talent and potential. They started off as student and teacher, but soon became close friends. Ben saw who Myu really was – the person our family and others close to him knew. Art was escapism to my brother, it allowed him to leave where he was, mentally, and it gave him purpose and identity. It also meant he was recognised for something else – that he was recognised by others beyond what people thought he was, as there was so much written about him and he wasn’t that person. This was important, he wanted Mum to be proud of him. There was a lot of hope in his art, and it was a big part of him being able to maintain that hope, which he did. It’s hard to say exactly what painting gave him, but it was such a strong influence and he fell completely in love with it. Myu read everything he could on all the great artists, different forms of art and expression – not just painting. And art was a way to help himself but also to help others – it did so much for him and he wanted others to feel that too, to come along this path with him. Myu never fully spoke about everything he did, though we’ve since learnt and it’s quite amazing – so many people out there are living positive, productive lives as a result of what he created through his love of art, which drove him to build an art studio, and he also set up T-shirt printing, a computer studio and inmates learnt music, design, English, philosophy – the list goes on. People know bits and pieces about what else he did to help others while in prison, but no one’s aware of the scale of what he did. And some of those people have now achieved a great deal as a result. He never spoke to me directly about his specifc attraction to portraiture, but when he started painting he did say it helped him to look inside and to see himself, to see who he really was, especially with self-portraits. Myu never thought of himself as a bad person, despite many who didn’t know him thinking this. His art is what we have – it’s his legacy and what he stood for, what he tried to do and what he was able to do and as a family we’re proud of what he achieved. We have a few pieces hanging at home and pictures of others. And we’re trying to get some more of his art back in the next month. I’m not sure what it will be like when all his works fnally arrive back, I know it will be very diffcult, but we’ll embrace it and look on it with positivity. Ultimately, Myu communicated from the darkest places through his art – he spoke to the world through his paintings. This was especially the case in the last few months and days, his way of expressing how he felt and just how cruel this process was.” n