‘Culture Does Not Know Death,’ says Mohanad El Ghezi, a refugee from Iraq, as he describes the meanings behind his clay and acrylic artwork. Mohanad’s work is being displayed at Fairfield Musuem until the 9th September 2017 as part of the Shanasheel Exhibition, which showcases the works of Australian-Iraqi artists living in Western Sydney, exploring ideas of place, storytelling and identity. Mohanad’s own artwork explores the diversely rich cultural and religious history of Iraq and its people, and how it has been affected by decades of war.
“This work is talking about unity, Iraqi unity, and to represent this I have symbols that are significant to different provinces and people in Iraq.” Mohanad says that important historical symbols, artifacts and architecture have been attacked by whom he deems as the enemies of Iraq, but despite this, the spirit of Iraq and its people will continue to endure.
“There is life inside, within the traditional artworks and artifacts of Iraqi culture, it speaks to something beyond itself, and although the enemies of Iraq try to break and destroy it, they can’t, because there is life inside, culture does not know death.”
Mohanad is just one of a few artists who are part of the Refugee Bookmarker Project, a partnership between CMRC and Parramatta Library. Project coordinator, Michelle Aneli describes the project, “ we are working with 6 refugee artists for a period of 2 months (April & May 2017) to collaborate on a bookmark project which will showcase the Australian refugee intake through artwork and written stories of the refugee artists journey to Australia.
The artists represent different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds from the Middle East including, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq & Iran. We hope that by creating these bookmarks we can humanise the refugee experience and continue to raise awareness of this human rights issue.”
The project is being run in conjunction with Refugee Week 2017, whose theme this year is ‘with courage let us all combine.’ Michelle believes that art is one of the best mediums to spark conversations and build bridges, “As human beings we all deserve a platform to share our stories and express ourselves whether it be through song, dance, art, writing, or speech. Unfortunately as a ‘refugee’ there are social, economic, and political barriers which may inhibit social participation and acceptance amongst the wider community. “Refugee Week” being Australia’s peak annual activity provides refugees and other Australians to speak up and raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australia.”
Refugees like Mohanad are enriching and making contributions to the arts in Australia, driving creativity and culture. Here is Mohanad’s piece, in his words
Culture Does Not Know Death - Clay and Acrylic on Canvas
“All the beautiful remnants of Iraqi culture have become evil to the nation. The sky and clouds are black with smoke from explosions. As long as history remains and there are those who love the land of the prophets, the homeland of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, Iraq can be restored to its former glory. My art is about having hope that Iraqi civilisation will rise again, like its beautiful history. The hope I represent through this work is that the next steps for Iraqi civilisation is to establish as beautiful and grand a future as it has in its past.”