I Painted This Bondi Mural Because Australians Have Their Heads In The Sand
When I put the final touches on my mural at Bondi beach, I knew some feathers would get ruffled, but I certainly wasn't expecting this shitstorm.
Yes, families and beachgoers heading down for a swim and a sunbake might feel confronted by a mural of 24 Australian Border Force officers in full riot gear in front of the words "Not.. Welcome to Bondi", but please allow me to explain.
I painted the mural in conjunction with an exhibition of my artwork, which is informed by three trips I took to war-torn Syria over the last couple of years, where I spent time with various charities.
As a part of Waverley Council inviting me to show my work, I was also invited to paint a mural on the Bondi beach sea wall. Having a good working relationship with Waverley Council, I was also entrusted with full creative control of the content to be created. This is a very rare opportunity for artists these days, especially with the commercialisation of public space, to actually do and say what they want.
When viewing a piece of art, people naturally ascribe to it a meaning that fits with their beliefs -- I can’t stop that -- but I can give an honest explanation of what my art actually means.
"Not welcome to Bondi" refers to the asylum seekers who’ve been treated so poorly by Australia that they’ve been driven to end their own lives in our detention facilities. The 24 Australian Border Force officers are representative of the 24 people who have committed suicide in these detention facilities (onshore and offshore) since 2010.
I was given the opportunity to say something, and I used this opportunity to speak for people who don’t have a voice.
Unfortunately a lot of people don't want to hear this, and I understand that -- it's easy to change the channel when you don’t like what's on the news, or put your phone away when your feed is a bit depressing. The frustration of these people is borne from not being able to turn this off.
My art is not an attack on anybody, it's a comment on an incredibly important social issue that needs to be addressed. I'm not attacking the government, whose policies are the direct cause of this inhumane treatment -- the government doesn't do what we tell it to, it does what we let it do.
I’m certainly not attacking the Border Force personnel who are implementing these policies -- I have nothing but respect for these officers and the extremely difficult job they do.
Lastly, I’m not attacking the people who don't want to know about these issues, the people that allow this horror to occur by saying things like ‘it's not my problem’.
It’s not your problem, it's our problem.
Maybe if these people got as offended by the treatment of innocent people, people that have travelled across the sea, to share our ‘boundless plains’, escaping the horrors of war, maybe with a hope of swimming at Bondi beach one day, only to be interned in a camp in one of the world's poorest countries, too scared to leave, so desperate that their only option is to end their life -- maybe if they got as offended by this as they did about a mural commenting on it, maybe our country would be a better place.
One newspaper article quoted me as calling beachgoers "ignorant", and summed up my stance as "beachgoers are to blame for Australia's divisive border policy". What I actually said was "people who have their heads in the sand" are to blame -- there's a big difference between people who are unaware of something, and people who are aware but are actively ignoring it.
All I’m saying with this mural is that we need to treat people better. I don't understand why that is deemed to be such a rebellious act.
I’m making a concerted effort to be respectful at all times to everybody in this debate. There is a vested interest to keep people divided on these issues, but this needn’t be an argument -- just a conversation that we desperately need to have.