Blind Borders is my experience as a journalist and a political prisoner in Australia offshore processing center on Nauru Island (2013-2019). The painting depict real stories that I witnessed and heard from the prisoner children whom I interviewed on the island for a historical campaign called Kids Off Nauru (November 2019 - Australia) which finished the incarceration of over 150 refugees children and their families who were detained and some had born there.
The campaign began with the help of my dear friend Gabby Sutherland, who was a former teacher and a fellow whistle blowing photographer, on Nauru and remained in contact with her students. Together we organized a group photo of all the 150 children imprisoned on the island, the same children whose existence was publicly denied by Peter Dutton (Australia Minister of Home Affairs).
I took the group photo of the 150 children, with a banner of the date in their hands, and Gabby would use to speak to the Australian public and politicians, through a popular political TV show in Australia, on ABC television, called Q&A. She held up the photo and said “was taken yesterday” and asked the question of Minister Peter Dutton, “When is the Government going to stop lying and admit that these children, in this photograph, on the screen exist?” The response from the cornered political panel recorded the first acknowledgement of children’s existence. Together Gabby and I changed the narrative, which in turn gave other child rights organizations the long-awaited ammunition to speak out against the incarceration of children.
You can see Gabby’s profile and her tireless efforts and our solidarity with other brave women on the top-left side of the painting. This is us and our cameras that recorded first footage of detained children on Nauru and went viral in social media after the campaign. This focused the attention from Humanitarian and no for profit organizations like World Vision to run the campaign and I was given the responsibility to provide the required photos, videos and interviews with the children, while all of them were in terrible mental and physical decline. Seeing these desperate kids and listening to their heartbreaking words gave me terrible nightmares and deeply influenced my art.
Blind Borders is visual depiction of my nightmares during that time. Each profile on the canvas belongs to a real person and some are from the viral photos I took.
At the center of the painting a camera has torn the cold, scary fences of the prison and a little further you see a face within it, which is an abstract profile of Peter Dutton, the emotionless monster, blowing the fire of human misery on his victims. There is a man on fire, the target of the monster who symbolizes the 12 victims who died in Australian detention centers during these years, by suicide or killed by the authorities.
On the top right there is a little Iraqi girl who I interviewed. My conversation with her led me to visit a psychiatrist and take anti-anxiety medication for first time in my life. I want to take this opportunity to appreciate Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who provided me and other vulnerable people mental health services on Nauru during that time, a “crime” for which they were unceremoniously kicked out of Nauru by Nauru government, following orders from the Australia government, in order to keep the refugees sick and drive more of them to give up hope. They had embarrassed the Australian Government by revealing the extent of the mental health problems caused by their illegal detention of refugees on the island.
The girl was 12 years old and had been in an accident with a motorbike. In front of her face, there is a coffin behind the fence that belongs to a young Kurdish man, Fariborz a 26 year old former medical student from Iran, who died on Nauru in the most mysterious way. Nobody knew if it was suicide or it was an accident, whatever it was, the reason of his death was available dangerous drugs on island provided by Australia government as medication. Everyone was on drugs those days that was the Australian method for managing these people in illegal detention. Whatever had happened to Faroborz, it had a big effect on the refugees, especially the children. Because Fariborz was there with his mom and little brother all the smaller children knew him and were friends of his little brother. After his mystery death, his uncle who was a citizen in Australia was trying to bring his corpse to Australia and organize the funeral. But the Australian Government didn’t let it happen and kept his corpse in a coffin at the detention center for almost a month, where anyone including kids were able to see the coffin. The purpose was to let them know, even your corpse won’t get into Australia!
During my conversation with the Iraqi girl she said
“I’m begging my family to go back to Iraq! I know it’s too dangerous and we will die, but at least we will have graves! I do not want to die, and they keep me in a coffin here like Fariborz! He doesn’t have a grave!”
The child’s concern, instead of going to school or having a playground, was not having a grave! This is another reason that all of those children were extremely sick. At the same time, Peter Dutton was trying so hard to ignore the doctors who were trying to transfer these children to the Australia mainland. He accused the parents of forcing their kids into hunger strikes in order to go to Australia and unfortunately the vast majority of the Australian media and journalists supported the government of Australia. He had the political power, the media control and whatever else he needed to keep the cruelty and injustice going on Nauru and Manus. They created propaganda lauding the Liberal Party’s success in “stopping the boats” of refugees, who were painted as potential terrorists would be a burden on the state and who would also steal the jobs of ordinary Australians. They used this kind of racism and hate to divide the Australians and win election after election, corruptly enriching themselves and their friends immensely in the process!
Despite his power to hide the kids, control the media and ignore the doctors, the Kids Off Nauru campaign was finally successful and managed to force the Australian Government to release all the children and their families from Nauru Island.