Concealed Borders

Oil painting    36 x 48 inches 

Concealed Borders is my experience as a journalist and a political prisoner in Australian offshore processing centre on Nauru Island (2013-2019). The painting depicts real stories that I witnesses and heard from the imprisoned children whom I interviewed on the island.  It was for a campaign called Kids Off Nauru in November 2019, which helped to end the detention of over 150 refugee children and their families, some having been born there.

I took a group photo of the 150 children, with a banner of the date in their hands. We tried to change the narrative, to speak out against the incarceration of children and let the outside world know that they really exist, and are not some kind of lie, as the Australian government claimed.

Blind Border - OK- M-size.jpg

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 photos I took.

At the centre 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 centres 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. I want to thank Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who provided me, and many other vulnerable people, with mental health services on Nauru during that time. This was the “crime” for which they were unceremoniously kicked out of Nauru by the Nauru government, following orders from the Australia government,  in order to keep the refugees sick and drive more of them to give up hope. MSF 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 centre 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, Immigration Minister 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! This is the real purpose of the Border-Industrial Complex.