WORLD NEWS
09/02/2018 11:48 AM AEDT

Australian Artists Powerfully Call Attention To Child Abuse In Offshore Detention Camp

“There were all these stories that people needed to read but weren’t engaging with."

A group of Australian artists is calling attention to a trove of leaked reports detailing child abuse at the nation’s offshore detention center on Nauru, a remote island that is part of Australia’s controversial offshore detention scheme for people seeking asylum.

The Sydney-based exhibition “All We Can’t See” is a collection of works by 33 Australian artists. Each is a direct response to the “Nauru files,” a collection of 2,000 leaked documents The Guardian reported on in 2016. The reports detail cases of assault, sexual abuse and self-harm that asylum-seekers and refugees endured under the care of the Australian government.

Abbas Alabdoudi/"All We Can't See"
Abbas Alaboudi's work, "What Would You Do, Peter Dutton?" Alaboudi is an Iraqi asylum-seeker, visual artist and plasterer by trade who has been detained on Nauru for over four years. Dutton is Australia's immigration minister.

Australian artists including Ben Quilty, Abdul Abdullah, Josh Yeldham and Janet Laurence were quick to sign on to the project, which asked the artists to respond to individual case files.

The Australian Senate convened an inquiry shortly after the Nauru files became public, exposing damning findings about how offshore detention camps were run. However, senators from the governing party called the inquiry a PR stunt in a dissenting report. 

Arielle Gamble, co-curator of “All We Can’t See,” said the exhibition was motivated by Australian author Richard Flanagan’s description of the files as “anonymous short stories” that might be “called in another context flash fiction. Except they are true stories.”

Penny Byrne/"All We Cant See"
Penny Byrne's work is based on the following incident report, which redacts the child's name: "[REDACTED] disclosed the following: she had cut her wrist because she 'was sad,' she explained that she was sad because all her friends had received positive RSDs and was worried she would be left in the RPC3 all alone. She expressed she had no friends at school and didn’t enjoy attending. CW observed the cut on [REDACTED] wrist. It was approximately 1cm long and had some dried blood on the cut."

Gamble said she fears the Nauru files did not get enough public attention at the time. 

“There were all these stories that people needed to read but weren’t engaging with,” Gamble told HuffPost Australia. 

She wanted to find a new way to help Australians to connect with the people behind the files.

“I think each artist believed so much in getting this information out there and doing whatever they could to help share these stories,” Gamble added. “That’s why they came on.”

Angela Brennan/"All We Can't See"
The incident report attached to this work reads, in part: "REDACTED saw them crying and told REDACTED he was worried about them. He then said, Do I have to kill myself to go to Australia? What place makes a REDACTED yr old try to kill themselves?"
Alex Seton/All We Cant See
The file accompanying Alex Seton's "Oilstone 01_Transluscent" reads: "They do not feel safe in the community, [REDACTED 3] is very unwell and receives daily medical treatment now and she will not receive adequate medical treatment in the community. CW’s discussed the possible repercussions of them not attending this appointment, [REDACTED 4] and [REDACTED 3] advised the following: they have suffered for 1 year and 10 months here already, they can’t make it any worse."

Gamble said she found photographer Pia Johnson’s untitled work to be the most moving.

It consists of three panels of photographs of the artist obscured behind a shower curtain and is based on a young detainee’s report about asking to be allowed to shower for four minutes instead of the usual two.

“Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favors,” the report read. 

“The guard asked if they could watch a child shower,” Gamble said.

Pia Johnson/"All We Can't See"
Pia Johnson's work responds to an incident report that reads in part: "She reported that she has been asking for a 4-minute shower as opposed to 2 minutes. Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favors. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn't occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower."
Abdullah M. I. Syed/"All We Cant See"
Oh his work "Flesh & Blood," artist Abdullah M. I. Syed writes: "which the artist transformed the rose—a desirable cultural and spiritual material symbolizing love, purity, soul, and melancholia in South Asia and the Middle East—into a bloody pulp."

With the weeklong exhibition wrapping up in Sydney, Gamble is hoping to promote the works regionally.

“All We Can’t See” has also recreated The Guardian’s online database of abuses, with the intention of getting members of the public to respond to the files with their own artwork.