Paintings from Myuran Sukumaran, ringleader of the drug trafficking group the ‘Bali Nine’, were showcased last month during an exhibition in Canberra on the anniversary of his execution.
The exhibition, titled ‘Another Day in Paradise’, ran at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre from March 2nd to April 29th, ending on the third anniversary of Sukumaran and his accomplice Andrew Chan’s execution by firing squad.
Sukumaran was arrested in 2005 in a highly publicised case involving the arrest of nine Australians in Bali for being caught with scales and large quantities of heroin.
The event showcased artwork primarily from Sukumaran, who during his time on death row for the crime, expressed himself heavily through his art, and organised education for his fellow prisoners.
Sukumaran’s art primarily included self-portraits, but also featured his cellmates, family, and politicians such as Julia Gillard and Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo.
One particularly confronting piece had the viewer stand between two wide screens facing each other, each displaying a looped video showing one of the two Bali nine ringleaders staring into the camera. Standing in between the two stern faces, the viewer is forced to confront the faces and the stories behind the artwork.
While the majority of the exhibition focused on Sukumaran’s paintings and his time in prison, other human rights issues were also explored through the lens of historical events, such as the massacre of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils during the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Tamils are an ethnic group who primarily originate from India but also exist as a minority group in Sri Lanka. Sukumaran was himself of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage.
Jagath Dheerasekara’s ‘Not so white: regained territories’ displayed audio waves over bright photographs of beautiful scenery in Sri Lanka’s north, where many Tamil civilians were killed during the end of the civil war. The audio waves represent “the sounds of war that still echo” in the land.
Other human rights issues, such as the disproportionate death of Indigenous Australians in custody were also explored in the exhibition. Megan Cope’s untitled artwork consisted of a small wooden hut known as a barracoon, a hut commonly used to confine African slaves during the slave trade. The barracoon was lined with shredded documents from the royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody and the Indonesian supreme court judicial review.
Parallels are drawn in the exhibition between these historical events and modern cases in regards to issues with human rights and imprisonment. The institutional racism faced by Indigenous Australians is paralleled to the the mistreatment of slaves in the barracoons.
The exhibition aims to show that these issues of human rights and imprisonment are still relevant in modern times.
Indonesia continues to execute people on drug charges in 2018, however cases like Sukumaran’s have inspired Indonesian politicians to consider softer legislation on execution.
Despite Sukumaran’s execution three years ago, the ripple effects of his case on the discussion of human rights and crime continue today. Sukumaran’s art was curated shortly after his execution, and originally exhibited by the Campbelltown arts centre in 2017, but organisers say that the discussions raised by the work give it relevance today.
“The themes and questions the work raises about crime and punishment, choices and consequences, rehabilitation and redemption, transformation, compassion and hope are relevant today,” said Jacqui Malins, the facilitator of the exhibition.
The final day of the exhibition, which fell on the anniversary of the execution, also saw the gallery host a public program aimed at sharing art.
“The exhibition and related events prompted contemplation as well as lively discussion and debate,” said Mallins.
Named ‘The Final Hours’, the program had performances, talks, and workshops, all aimed at having artists respond and generate discussion human rights and ethics.
For more information on exhibitions at Tuggeranong Art Centre, visit https://www.tuggeranongarts.com/types/whats-on/