Hope floats

boat installation

Artist Denise Keele-bedford’s installation A Gold Boat for a Gold Coin will be displayed at the Adrift Red Gallery exhibition in Fitzroy North this month. In exchange for a gold coin visitors can take home a golden origami boat. Proceeds will go to the Uniting Lentara Vic.Tas Asylum Seeker Project (ASP).

In the article below, Denise explains the inspiration for this idea.

About three years ago, with an artist friend, we had a discussion on the massive movement of people across the globe. We talked about how we came to be in Australia and the issue of so many people having to leave their homes and take boats as an escape, to find a better life and a secure, safe environment.

Melbourne has been voted the most liveable city in the world and for me as a ‘privileged’ white Australian I thank my ancestors for taking a boat in 1849 and migrating to this country.

For so many, though, they do not have the choice to live where they want.

These are people who, for whatever the reason, find themselves physically and emotionally drifting in search of ‘home’.

As I thought about this issue a few years ago I had the opportunity to undertake an artist residency in the Hudson Valley New York State.

The city of Poughkeepsie is a melting pot of cultures and the ‘boat people’ issue in Australia arose in my mind again.

My first boat installations were in Poughkeepsie where I used colourful papers to make origami boats that reflected the migration and transport on the Hudson River.

The yellow boats are a symbol of hope – hope for a safe environment, hope for security, hope for a safe passage, hope for a better life and hope for a home. Each person’s hope could be different.

I have been invited several times to create boat installations so I am continually folding yellow paper.

In the beginning, I folded one boat at a time. I then devised a rhythm and started folding 100 at a time through each of the 10 steps of the production process. One hundred boats takes about six hours to complete, it almost becomes meditative.

A recent invitation to exhibit at Red Gallery has led me to create a series of 2D artworks that are full of colour and collage. They are bright, joyful and in some way humorous.

However, underlying the joyful surface is the deeper concern for asylum seekers in my city and who have a very different perspective of the place that I love and call home.

Due to their legal status, many asylum seekers are unable to work, or access any forms of welfare provided by the Australian Government. Many have nowhere to live, as they are unable to apply for mainstream homeless accommodation or for public housing programs.

I welcome asylum seekers to my city, however what can I do?

Folding yellow boats for Gold Boat for a Gold Coin is in a small way my recognition that we were all once boat people, seeking a better life, a safe environment and a home.

For more information on Uniting Vic.Tas Asylum Seeker Program visit www.lentarauc.org.au

Adrift is an exhibition featuring the works of Chinese-born artist Tan Yifeng and Denise Keele-bedford who explore both humorously and seriously what it means to be unanchored. The exhibit’s opening event will be at the Red Gallery Contemporary Art Space in Fitzroy North from 6-8pm on 7 November. The exhibit runs until 25 November. Hours are Thu/Fri 11am – 6pm , Sat/Sun 12 noon – 5pm. 

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