‘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.