Street art unites newly landed young migrants in Australia

by Paola Totaro | @p_totaro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 17 March 2017 12:00 GMT

Street artist Kaff-eine stands in front of one of the murals painted by young, newly arrived refugees in Sydney, Australia on March 15, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Paola Totaro

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Murals depict treasured objects that refugees took with them, words expressing their feelings about migration and images inspired by landscape of their countries

By Paola Totaro

SYDNEY, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four leading Australian street artists have joined forces with nearly 300 newly arrived refugees and migrants to create a series of murals aimed at jolting perceptions in a country where migration has polarised public sentiment.

Depicting treasured objects that the refugees took with them, words expressing their feelings about migration and images inspired by the landscape of their countries, the murals in the heart of Sydney's financial district were unveiled this week.

Australian criminal lawyer-turned street artist, Kaff-eine, said the project was designed to highlight similarities between refugees and their host communities in an effort to dispel growing suspicion of migrants in the country.

"This distrust of the 'other', the fetishization of difference, the obsession with religion, skin colour, accent, culture ... it isn't just happening in Australia, it is everywhere," she said.

Mural painted by young, newly arrived refugees in Sydney, Australia on March 15, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Paola Totaro

Border security and immigration are hot political issues in Australia that have swayed past elections and led to a policy of indefinite detention for anyone who attempts to make it to the country by boat.

Australia's tough points-based migration system and offshore detention policies have polarised the nation and drawn international attention with political leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump supporting the stance and human rights groups criticising it.

The four artists, including Brad Eastman (aka Beastman), Regan Tamanui (aka Haha) and Ben Frost, organised workshops with recently arrived young people from Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iraq and South Sudan among others.

Despite shyness and vast cultural and language differences, the migrants united in a common goal, Kaff-eine said.

"They said, 'We are all in Australia together now and our stories have a commonality'," she said.

"It is much harder for us to be angry at someone if you find our similarities."

One young migrant chose to paint the words 'young and free', initially oblivious to the fact these words appear in the Australian national anthem.

Kagi, 23, from conflict-hit South Sudan who moved to Australia with her sisters in 2015, said she now regularly paints to express herself.

"The workshop has allowed me to see that I can create beautiful things that have real meaning," she said.

(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)