Refugees share stories through art

Over the fence exhibition

Sina Pourhorayed, Crushing Hope. Acrylic on canvas board

Many refugees experience unimaginable horrors when they flee their war-torn homes and seek safety in a new country.

It can be difficult to translate their deeply personal and traumatic memories into words. One way refugees are sharing their stories with the Australian public is through art.

An exhibition that took place on 18-19 June showcased the artworks of former and current detainees at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) in Broadmeadows.

The Over the Fence exhibition was hosted at Gallery 314, located on the site of Richmond Uniting Church.

The exhibition organiser was Rev Lisa Stewart, minister at Glen Iris Road Uniting Church. Ms Stewart is a regular visitor to the Broadmeadows detention centre.  She told ABC the artwork gave a voice to asylum seekers hidden away behind tall steel fences.

“I just began as a visitor and that came out of a sense of despair at our current policies and the way that we speak about asylum seekers in the public sphere,” she said.

“I felt that I needed to do something that expressed my solidarity with them.”

One of the artists, who experienced anxiety and depression during her time in immigration detention, said painting helped relax her mind.

However, MITA authorities refused to allow the artists currently in detention to attend the exhibition. Since the Border Force took control of the Broadmeadows detention centre in December last year, asylum seekers at the centre have been subjected to increasingly strict measures. The centre has been described by refugee advocates as like a ‘high-security prison’.

Another campaign that encourages art and self-expression is the Refugee Art Project. It was formed in late 2010 by a team of academics and artists who ran art classes for refugees in Villawood detention centre. Since then, more than 500 artworks have been created by refugees and presented to the Australian public.

To see a sample of their artwork, visit

Refugee youth are using the power of film to tell their stories. The Heartlands 2016 Arts Project: Stories from Refugee Youth features young people from refugee backgrounds sharing their journey to Australia and their dreams for the future.

The participants come from a diverse range of countries including Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan. Their stories are captured in a collection of short films that will be shown at Footscray Community Arts Centre from 17-30 June.

More than 250 local events are taking place during Refugee Week – from open mics to photography exhibitions to theatre productions. To find a local Refugee Week event near you, visit

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