Who Are We Anyway?

Jolyon Hoff, Muzafar Ali & Khadim Dai

Khadim Dai filming in Indonesia

Who Are We Anyway? is a collaborative multimedia art installation created by three artists: Australian filmmaker and visual artist Jolyon Hoff; recently arrived Hazara refugee, human rights activist and photographer Muzafar Ali; and from Indonesia, current Hazara refugee, filmmaker and social media commentator Khadim Dai.

This is a joint project presented at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery and Nexus Arts from 17 March — 28 April 2016. The exhibition is curated by Jolyon Hoff.

Opening March 17, 6pm
March 17 — May 6
Nexus Gallery

Journeys of identity, loss and inspiration

Essay by Caroline Sage

This Exhibition is a reflection of multiple layered identities and connections between the three artists; a story of pride and history, of loss and pain, of friendship and struggle, of pasts and futures, and of all the spaces in-between. The exhibition is also about the nature of representation; how we represent ourselves and others, who is behind the lens, what different images mean to us. And the mediums of communication; the tools people use to define themselves, to make themselves seen and heard.

The exhibition presents a crisscrossing of many stories woven around the physical, emotional and spiritual journeys of the three artists- Muzafar Ali, Jolyon Hoff and Khadim Dai. The many layers of narratives unfold in different ways across the two galleries. On its surface the exhibition reflects a journey from there to here, from the mountains of Afghanistan to these galleries in Adelaide, South Australia. The immense nature of this journey echoes through the exhibition, the stories of thousands of refugees- some left behind, many in limbo in places like Cisarua Indonesia, and others struggling to understand their place in a new world.

Muzafar Ali’s photographs of Afghanistan tell us at once of the love and respect this man has for his people and a homeland he was forced to flee. In contrast to the desolate, grey, war torn images of Afghanistan in the mainstream media, to see Afghanistan through Muzafar’s eyes is to see a stunning, majestic landscape, shaped by a rich history and spirituality. Against this striking backdrop his photos give voice to a people struggling for survival, a people grounded in tradition and connection to a land where they are no longer safe. The photos are at once a celebration of culture and vitality and an exposition of suffering and loss. The faces and images scream out at us- we are still here. This is our land and we are still here.

Muzafar’s photos equally give us a window into his own story; His own connection to his homeland and the pain of exile. Working for many months with Jolyon to select the images for the exhibition Muzafar has pieced together parts of his own past- his own identity and his own loss. As much as the characters looking out at us demand their own recognition, the entire collection enables us to see through the eyes of this remarkable man. To walk into his shoes for a moment; An outstretched hand to which we can connect. It is here that the photos become a gateway to the rest of the exhibition; a continuation of Muzafar’s journey from Afghanistan, which bought these three men together. Here we find the central platform from which this exhibition grew –a story of friendship, solidarity and creation in a place of fear, struggle and an endless waiting.

Here at the centre of the exhibition we find the school- the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre, the creation of these three men, and the place where Jolyon and Khadim seemingly enter the story. Yet as the story unfolds we start to realize that both of these men are connected back through Muzafar’s photographs in different ways. It was Muzafar’s photos that brought them together. Khadim first knew of Muzafar because of his photos; not only has he been a role model, but through his photographs he has also been able to provide Khadim with a sense of a homeland he never knew. For Jolyon the photographs provided an immediate connection to his work and passion, and the spark of friendship. From the start, Muzafar was the photographer and thus a like-minded soul, not ‘just’ a refugee. As an expressive art form, the images inspired Jolyon in ways that words may not have and in this way they have fueled his own journey of understanding and interest in Afghanistan and the plight of the Hazara’s.

Jolyon’s part of the story is not so much a physical journey as an emotional and spiritual one- even that first journey up the hill to Cisarua was inspired by a confusion and frustration at the attitudes towards refugees of many Australians and just a basic desire to know more. There is a refreshing naivety in his actions and something that speaks directly to a sense of ‘Australianess’- a reclaiming of the Australian ideals of ‘treating people as they come, connecting and just getting on with stuff’. Jolyon’s films focus on life in and around the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center. Like Muzafar’s photos, his films not only give voice to those people living in the community, they let us see through his eyes; the eyes of a relatively ordinary Australian male. From the beginning Jolyon has known the power of talking to his own ‘tribe’. ‘If I can connect then so can you’, his films say, ‘if you are just willing to engage’.

The school was set up to enable refugee families stuck in limbo in Cisarua, Indonesia, to send their kids to school. It provides a space for community, connection, and hope. The films give us a sense of this space that is more than a school. It is a symbol of survival. It is a pause in so many journeys, a space for people to come together, to fight for their children’s futures in the only way they can. While the searing pain running through each refugee’s story is never far from the surface, we equally feel the sense of belonging, hope and children’s laughter that the school brings. Importantly the school is also a space for communication and connection with the outside word. This leads me to the third strand of this exhibition- the interactive space and Khadim’s story.

Screen Shot; Khadim Dai

Here the exhibition draws us into the ongoing world of the school and Khadim’s life in limbo. Waiting. There is madness in the years of waiting. In such a space of physical and psychological confinement social media can become not just a weapon against madness, but a way of connecting and of living a life beyond ones immediate surrounds. While stuck in Cisarua, with many hundreds of other refuges, Khadim has connected to people all over the world through his films and the ongoing multi-media dimension of Who are we Anyway. It was Khadim’s films and his desire to tell his own story through his own eyes that was the catalyst for the project. And in the end, it is the social media following built around the project that has ensured ongoing support for the school. It is this part of the exhibition that reminds us that this is a living exhibition, not just a reflection on the past. These are ongoing journeys, ongoing struggles. 
Khadim, by his very being, adds another dimension to this story. His charm, wit and maturity flies in the face of stereotypes of young male refugees. His enthusiasm, his zest for life, and his commitment to supporting others and crossing the intangible divide between cultures, reminds us again and again that he is our future- if only we let him be. If we can only embrace this world of difference, celebrate our diversity, walk together on the journey, and together pay tribute to those things, places and people who have been lost along the way.

Here we realize we are as much part of the exhibition as the people in the images we have been looking at, who have been reaching out beyond the frames to us. The exhibition that pulls us in firmly and says- you are part of this story, what sort of part do you want to play? This is when we comprehend the real message of the exhibition and see the ties that inspire that run through both spaces — A friendship between three men of different generations, different cultures, different places, that goes to the heart of what it is to be human. A friendship that says connection and community in context of diversity and hardship is more than possible; it is the very basis of our futures together. To connect, to respect, to communicate, to learn and to love; this is the hope that the exhibition ultimately brings. Who are we Anyway; they say, this is who we are, we are here, we stand together, and we are not going anywhere.