In developing the context for the exhibition, Illusion, emerging curator Priya Pavri posed the question: How can we understand conflict when the media bombard us with incomprehensible facts and figures every day?
Quite often what is reported in the newspapers is very different to what is actually going on. In posing the question ‘How can we understand conflict when the media bombard us with incomprehensible facts and figures every day?’ Pavri observed that an illusion of truth is created.
“The idea for Illusion came out of my experience working in places in conflict and living in a country where we have relatively no conflict, in the war/military sense,” explains Pavri. “I started thinking about how they are very different conversations and how often what is reported and talked about at home doesn’t really reflect my experience on the ground.”
Illusion brings together artists Elyas Alavi (SA/Afghanistan), Avan Anwar (VIC/Kurdistan) and Sha Sarwari (VIC/Afghanistan) to explore how art and artists can restore empathy and provide context to news reports where the numbers of victims are counted, but not comprehended. The artists were invited to respond to themes ingrained in the award-nominated Virtual Reality artwork DeathTolls Experience (2015) by Iranian artist Ali Eslami, which is premiering in Australia for Illusion. Adelaide-based Jumpgate VR have provided the VR technology needed to present the work.
Through their work, the artists consider broad international issues such as conflict, displacement, news headlines and empathy as well as draw on personal, cultural and collective experiences within an Australian context.
“Each artist has created a new work responding to the idea of illusion in conflict, and they have started thinking about their lived experiences as well as our current climate and the notion of empathy and how we can build more empathy,” says Pavri.
Anwar has created a light installation, Metamorphosis, using light to represent human souls. The light is boxed in clear, fragile cubes that represent the idea of ‘being’ caged. In terms of conflict, ‘being caged’ refers to being controlled by society, ideologies, values and narratives that do not belong to you. Anwar explains: “The essence of modern human beings is unique but beset with complexity when distressed, and experiencing a loss of authenticity. The structures and situations that impose these conditions create cages that devalue human beings. A person’s humanity is framed in a box that makes it fragile, and shine dimly.”
Sarwari’s work explores the capacity for language to simultaneously act as forms of connection and isolation, of fluidity and evolution. He considers how language acts as both a unifying force and a barrier; an integral tool for understanding our own cultures as well as the culture of others.
Alavi presents a series of ink paintings titled Head on the Table, which focus on the psychological effects of displacement, separation, living in exile and war. “In this work, I look back to some of my suppressed feelings as a child,” says Alavi. “I was six when, suddenly, my father decided to leave our home village in Afghanistan and start a difficult 10-month journey to Iran. As a child, I blamed my father for leaving our friends, our relatives, including a brother and sister and our village.”
Co-presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and Nexus Arts Illusion is exhibited across both the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery and Nexus Arts Gallery at the Lion Arts Centre. South Australian academic, writer and poet Dominic Symes is the writer in residence for the project and will present a critical essay to accompany the exhibition.
Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, July 1 to July 29, 2019
Nexus Arts Gallery, Lion Arts Centre, until July 19
Author and journalist Ruby Hamad will present From Identity to Empathy through Art on July 3, 6pm