Fly Away

Sohrab Rustami , Murtaza Hussaini, Ziyaghul Yahya, Farzana Noori, Asif Hossaini, Zahra Hossaini, Fatema Ahmadi, Elyas Alavi
Curator: Elyas Alavi

Elyas Alavi, from Milky Life series, 2017, Acrylic and collage on paper, 65×72cm

“Fly Away” is an interdisciplinary exhibition by 8 Afghan-Australian new and emerging artists to be showcased at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery and The Nexus Arts Venue Gallery for SALA Festival.

The exhibition is the first phase of the project, “Fly Away; Identity workshops with Afghan Youth of South Australia (AYSA)”; a youth initiative of Lutheran Community Care (LCC) which has facilitated the creation of art works for exhibition in partnership with Nexus Art Gallery, the Kerry Packer Civic Art Gallery and Afghan Youth of SA (AYSA).

During this project, young people from the Afghan community in South Australia will come together to build connections with one another and their community through group workshops, focused on the common themes of identity and connection.

10 August — 1 September 2017
Tues — Fri, 9am — 5pm

Curator’s Statement

This project is important for me on many levels. On a personal level I would like to support and encourage young Afghan artists who despite many challenges in our community, decided to study visual arts. It reminds me of myself when I started university 6 years ago and due to cultural and language barriers, felt isolated and disconnected. I simply wished that there were a place or someone who would believe in me and support me to have my first exhibition in a contemporary gallery. Finally with help of an artist friend I was able to have my first solo exhibition in the last year of my bachelor degree. It was a big step for me that assisted me to grow artistically. In this project I also encourage young artists in their first artistic steps. On another level there is a negative stereotype view on refugees especially of people from the Middle-East in Australia. This exhibition aims to show that young refugees are capable of thriving in all professions if the right opportunity is given to them. — Elyas Alavi

When art flourishes from adversity

Essay by Sosefina Fuamoli

Ziyahgul Yahya, I found home, 2017, thread and acrylic on canvas, 30×40cm, 3 pieces, Photo: Sohrab Rustami

The concept of a healthy cultural identity is a luxury many of us are lucky to be afforded. Understanding our own roots, our own history is one thing but when it comes to turning attention to others’, it can be a completely different story.

When it comes to expression of cultural identity through art we, as consumers, are asked to embrace and become educated, but what happens when the subject of the art is not necessarily rooted in positivity?

Think about it: art can be a way out. It can be a distraction; it can be a way to teach. When most young people are faced with adversity, they are encouraged to write down their feelings; to draw, paint or immerse themselves in music or television as a way of escape. For many growing up in a Western society, where safety is guaranteed, this could be as simple as watching your favourite film to cheer you up. For many others forced to survive in war-torn and socially upended communities, these creative avenues of escape are rare, if present at all.

Fly Away has provided an opportunity for eight Afghan Australian artists to explore their individuality through multiple artistic disciplines, while relating their stories to an audience very far removed from their origins.

Fly Away began as an interdisciplinary mentorship program curated by poet and artist Elyas Alavi, as a way to supply selected visual arts students of the University of South Australia and high school students with an avenue to inspire and be inspired by not only a central theme, but by each other. The four month-long workshop series and studio visits has culminated in this exhibition, one that not only stands to reach a broader audience, but has taught the artists and curator invaluable skills as well.

“It reminds me of myself when I started university six years ago,” Alavi explains. “Due to cultural and language barriers, [I] felt isolated and disconnected. I simply wished that there was a place or someone who would believe in me and support me to have my first exhibition in a contemporary gallery.”

Visual arts, as a medium, is very immersive and as the showcasing artists of Fly Away have determined, their stories are equally as multi-layered, textured and vibrant. Sharing their memories with an Australian audience or indeed, with any newcomer, is an incredibly raw and vulnerable motion. Each artist has come to this series of workshops and the resulting exhibition with their own set of ideals, their own set of experiences and overall, their own set of views about the world they have grown up and currently live in.

Murtaza Hussaini, Mashk, 2017, Styrofoam, plaster, bottle, talcum powder, fluid drop pipe, acrylic paint, 8 pieces, dimension variable Photo: Sohrab Rustami

Artist Murtaza Hussaini aims to connect his traditions with the current contemporary setting he finds himself both living in and creating work in. Centring his piece on the traditional mashk or water carrying bag, Hussaini’s work connects the old with the modern.

“What I’m trying to do here is compare the use and function of this object, mashk, with the aesthetic and conceptual qualities. Bringing in objects from my traditional [background], putting it in a contemporary gallery and seeing how the audience responds to it.”

The pieces on display for this exhibition are representative of not only the diversity shared between the artists’ cultural backgrounds, but the way their childhoods and young adulthoods have continued to shape their artistry. Relocating to Australia to escape the problems that plague their homelands, many people from the Middle East are met with a whole new set of societal issues and misconceptions. In today’s climate, it’s a whole new battle for people to face. Fly Away aims to break these misconceptions and stereotypes further down.

“There is a negative stereotype view of refugees, especially of people from the Middle East in Australia,” says Alavi. “This exhibition is aimed to show that young refugees are capable of thriving in all professions if the right opportunity is given to them.”

The theme itself — Fly Away — is one that offers itself open to interpretation. For these artists, they have all come to Australia having spent time living as refugees in different countries, including Pakistan and Iran, and most certainly, unique societies.

For some artists, their specific focus is trained on a fear of war and the isolation, personal and cultural, living in a constant state of fleeing and uncertainty can bring. For others, ‘Fly Away’ represents a departure from the culture and homeland that can feel a whole world away. What remains a common thread linking these artists together is personal strength and courage to share their stories, as well as a passion in exploring their own still-developing artistries.

Sohrab Rustami, A Thousand pieces in solitude, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 130×06cm photograph: Sohrab Rustami

Showcase artist Sohrab Rustami’s patching together of various canvas pieces demonstrates the ever fluctuating sense of stability that many areas of the Middle East are still under the command of.

“I think the whole idea of creating and destroying is a general process we all go through in our daily lives as human beings. I personally think that we, as a civilisation, create and then destroy. We come together and create big cities and then we go to war and destroy. I’m trying to follow that circle. It’s the same in our country; people, for a few years there, were working together for a united country or town and then something happened and it was destroyed.”

Ziyahgul Yahya, giving the ability to walk, thread on wall, dimension variable, Photo: Sohrab Rustami

Similarly, young artist Ziyahghul Yahya has used the medium of wool and textures to illustrate a connection to her land, her family and her culture. Intertwining, ever-winding and incredibly striking, her work is representative of the intricacies woven throughout one’s tradition and indeed, when displaced, the threads back home often remain prominent still.

What we see here are visual representations of our original concept — a healthy cultural identity. In each piece of artwork, individual experience and memory remains at the core of each creation. There are stories to be told every day by our neighbours, by our youth; there are stories to be shared between cultures in Australia that add to the overall cultural narrative of our modern society. The issue we commonly face is that, despite having such a wealth of knowledge and unique experience living in Australia, channels for sharing and learning often remain stubbornly closed.

Sohrab Rustami, Self-portrait Series, 2017, oil on burned wood panel, 28.5×30cm, Photo: Sohrab Rustami

As an instrument for change, exhibitions such as Fly Away redirect the narrative. Instead of ignoring the positives that come with healthy cultural exchange, Alavi and the artists whose work you see today put their different experiences on display, ready to be embraced and approached with an open mind, ready to learn.

This is the work of artists who, themselves, are still forming their creative voices but have already delved deep in creating pieces primed to connect, influence and share. Though they come from the same country, their journeys have been remarkably different. As Fly Away dictates, art and creativity can indeed flourish through adversity which, for today’s audience, is a powerful tool to not just escape through, but to inspire and influence change as well.