By David Southwell
The most inspiring view of Melbourne is not to be seen from the observation deck of the Rialto Tower or any other tourist lookout, but from the confines of a small room in a detention centre.
It was there that Naser Moradi painted a Melbourne as fantastic as the City of Oz, where gleaming towers reached up to fluffy white clouds in brilliant blue sky and a welcoming pathway, with a flag-themed flowerbed of Victoria, funnels in outsiders through a luxuriant garden.
Naser is an asylum seeker who has been held for more than three years in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, where since 2017 he has been regularly visited by Banyule Network Uniting Church member David Landis-Morse.
“For Naser, Melbourne is a magical place. He is so excited that one day he might get to see it, so it’s a dream-like vision of Melbourne,” David said of Naser’s artwork.
Naser’s vision of Melbourne and other works the self-taught artist has produced in detention are on display at the Scots’ Uniting Church in Heidelberg. They have also been a feature of worship services.
“Naser wants his paintings to be shared with people, that’s really important to him as part of his psychological wellbeing,” David said.
“He is trying to express a rich inner world. Naser’s a very quiet, shy individual when you talk to him. Big on hugs, but very quiet.”
A member of the persecuted Hazara ethnic minority, Naser managed to leave Afghanistan to work in Dubai before a long journey to Australia, where he arrived by boat in 2012.
“Naser will tell you of being forced off buses and seeing people killed in Afghanistan,” David said.
“He doesn’t tell these stories with any degree of remarkability because that was just his life.”
Naser manages to paint these elaborate pictures despite having severe limitations placed on him.
“Many of his paintings are done within a day because he is only allowed to paint in his room unofficially and it’s a tiny little room and he paints very quickly with whatever he has to hand,” David said.
In some ways, being in detention is worse than being in prison because detainees never know when or whether they will be freed. Some detainees have been locked up for 12 years.
“Part of the mental torture of the whole thing is that they never know, tomorrow they might be released,” David said.
“They are given one hour’s notice of being released. One of the guys I have been visiting for the past two years got his safe haven visa two weeks ago and he was literally given an hour and deposited outside the front door.”
David said Naser, who is Muslim, demonstrated something of the Christian concept of looking beyond present circumstances, which have seen him in different types of detention since he arrived.
“He is still more positive about Australia than he is about returning to his homeland,” he said.
“He still sees this as a place of promise rather than being a place of despair, but he despairs at being locked up.”
Naser’s art can be viewed in Scots’ Uniting Church, Heidelberg, Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, until 14 September.