Artists Interpret the Nauru Files

Some of Australia’s most celebrated artists have come together for an exhibition that visualises the leaked Nauru files exposed by The Guardian in 2016. Titled ‘All We Can’t See’, the show responds to the inhumanity of Australia’s offshore processing policies by presenting individual interpretations of the leaked files, which detail over 2000 cases of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm and child abuse endured by refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru between 2013 and 2015.

Contributing artists – who include Ben Quilty, Abdul Abdullah, Janet Laurence, Aida Tomescu, Luke Sciberras, Belinda Fox and Tim Maguire – each created an artwork in response to a chosen file(s). Alex Seton references a journey undertaken by one asylum seeking family in his marble Yamaha motor boat engine, which sits in a shallow tray of engine oil. Gradually the blood-red oil soaks indelibly into the stone, symbolising the hypocrisy in which Australia is complicit. Janet Lawrence responds to a file referencing a mass suicide plan of which 30 people were willing, while Belinda Fox’s engraved glass sculpture symbolically visualise an incident in which a woman incised her husband’s name into her chest. Pia Johnson’s haunting photographs allude to a case where one asylum seeker’s request for a 4-minute shower (instead of 2 minutes) was accepted by security ‘on condition of sexual favours’. Meanwhile, Penny Byrne’s ceramic figurine dons an ‘I Heart Nauru’ t-shirt, her self-mutilated body and sewn-shut mouth rendered in flawless porcelain poignantly bringing the paradox and hypocrisy of the detention centre into sharp focus.

While the ‘Nauru Files’ have become a ubiquitous phrase in public vernacular, many people have opted not to read the data, and thus the exhibition connects the Australian public with the men, women and children who sought safety in Australia and instead have languished on Nauru for more than four years. ‘We want to connect people to the human stories behind the Nauru Files’ said Arielle Gamble, who initiated the event alongside Daniel New, with the support of Human Rights Watch, ‘Art is a powerful, visual language. It can override prejudice and fear and speak to the heart. Not everybody connects with words, and we wanted to give people another way in.’

More than a year in the making, ‘All We Can’t See’ came together as individual artists and galleries were approached for expressions of interest followed by a fundraising effort that raised over $22,000. The Australian public is invited to contribute to the show through an online exhibition, whereby people can read through the Nauru files, select one to illustrate and upload their own artwork.


All We Can’t See
2 – 10 February 2018
The Yellow House, Potts Point

3 February + 10 February 2018, 2:30 – 3:30 pm
Yellow House, Potts Point

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