Art Almanac - - Art In Aus­tralia - Eleanor Ze­ich­ner

‘Why is iden­tity im­por­tant to­day?’ asks Me­gan Rob­son, this year’s cu­ra­tor of ‘Pri­mav­era’, the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia’s (MCA) an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion of artists un­der 35 years of age. As she notes in her cat­a­logue es­say, ‘iden­tity pol­i­tics has once again be­come a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue in pub­lic de­bate.’ For the artists in this ex­hi­bi­tion, how­ever, iden­tity rep­re­sents not an ex­ter­nally im­posed cat­e­gori­sa­tion but a fram­ing of mul­ti­va­lent ex­pres­sions of self, notched by the cur­rents of his­tory.

Hoda Af­shar’s stun­ning 2-chan­nel video work Re­main (2018) re­turns nar­ra­tive agency to men whose sto­ries have been dis­torted, dis­carded and ig­nored. The work was shot on Manus Is­land and made col­lab­o­ra­tively with seven refugees who re­main trapped in Aus­tralian im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion. Kur­dish writer Behrooz Boochani, who has been de­tained on Manus since 2013, served as a col­lab­o­rat­ing pro­ducer, act­ing as trans­la­tor and fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­cess to shoot on the is­land.

Re­main is a ten­der and pow­er­ful por­trait. The cam­era lingers on their faces and bod­ies as they walk through the dense jun­gle, de­scrib­ing the ter­ror and te­dium of their ex­is­tence on the is­land. A se­ries of chore­ographed ac­tions – reen­act­ing the pieta in the crys­tal clear shal­lows, Boochani cradling a gut­ted fish – punc­tu­ate the work. The hope­less­ness of their in­def­i­nite sit­u­a­tion hangs in the air like hu­mid­ity.

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