Ask yourself, what is the purpose of art? To educate and inform the viewer about an idea? To offer an escape or insight into a subject? To challenge us to think differently?
Then ask yourself, what is the purpose of incarceration? To punish offenders and provide retribution? To offer justice for victims of crime? To rehabilitate offenders in the hope that future crimes subside?
These are the questions one is faced with open entering the latest exhibition Another Day in Paradise by late Australian artist Myuran Sukumaran. Sukumaran gained notoriety along with eight other Australians in 2005 for attempting to smuggle drugs into Indonesia. Along with the other “Bali Nine,” Sukumaran was incarcerated in Kerobokan Prison in Bali. Here, he would spend nine years before being executed by a firing squad in 2015, along with fellow Australian inmate, Andrew Chan.
In a way, it seems trite to offer an introduction to Sukumaran, as his was a face we came to know so well. Media saturation of the Bali Nine’s journey was everywhere from the moment of arrest, and whipped Australian society into a frenzy up until Sukumaran and Chan’s execution.
However, upon entering the exhibition at Campbelltown Arts Centre, there is an almost indescribable moment of shock, sobriety and near-reverence as viewers are confronted with Sukumaran’s work – offering his own self-representation. An experience made all the more poignant knowing the fate that awaited the artist.
The exhibition presents a vast and sobering series of powerful portraits by Sukumaran, painted during his incarceration at Kerobokan prison, and from his final incarceration on Nusa Kambangan Island. Co-Curated by close friend and mentor Ben Quilty, and Campbelltown Arts Centre Director Michael Dagostino, the artworks prove the profound power of art to change lives, and bring to light the importance of forgiveness and compassion for humanity.
Dagostino says that Sukumaran is proof of the true potential of art to change lives, “Myuran’s story is a Western Sydney story, one of redemption through immense adversity. We are pleased to present an exhibition which explores one of the most complex but important issues of our time.”
Alongside over 100 artworks by Sukumaran, the exhibition also showcases artworks by six leading Australian artists including Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, Jagath Dheerasekara, Taloi Havini, Khaled Sabsabi and Matthew Sleeth. These artworks explore the transformative power of art, the death penalty and profile human rights through multiple layers of social justice systems globally.
Speaking on the exhibition, it is clear that Quilty is still grieving the loss of his friend; a man he describes as being quite shy, humble and not at all the figure that was portrayed in the media. “Myuran would be incredibly proud to be exhibiting works alongside some of Australia’s most innovative and interesting artists,” he says. “The act of creating also ensures a legacy, and Myuran was very aware that he had created a body of work that would go on, beyond his physical body.”
Sukumaran and Chan’s fate is an issue that still divides the Australian public. “There are still a lot of haters in the community and I invite them all with very open arms to come along to this exhibition. And I challenge them to walk away from this exhibition filled with the same hate,” says Quilty. “This exhibition is about sympathy and forgiveness, which is the foundation of any society.”
Regardless of how you think you feel on this issue, this exhibition will make you think, challenge you, and perhaps even move you.
Another Day in Paradise is at Campbelltown Arts Centre from 13 January – 26 March. Entry is free.
More information can be found on their website here