Who’s On Board?

August 19, 2004

Twenty five Australian wood artists (myself included) were invited to submit work for this year’s 2004 Tweed Wood Biennial; the exhibition’s brief being that the sculpture represent the artist’s interpretation of the theme “Re:Cycle”.

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The intention of the Tweed River Art Gallery was that the wood used for the sculpture should have already been used for another purpose. Simple enough.

But…… once I started considering the etymology of the word “Re:Cycle”, it became apparent that “Re” had more to do with signifying “in reference to” rather than “back again”. The acceptance of the latter definition would have the exhibition spelled “Recycle” (without the colon); a word so recently coined (1934) that it can only be found in the appenda of the Oxford dictionary (“to convert waste into material that can be used again”).

So…… with the more abstract former definition, I have given myself the liberty of referencing “Cycles”; in particular, the “cyclic” nature of stories and myths in our culture; looking at how stories of the past might be cycled back into contemporary usage; looking at the wisdom of yesterday and seeing how it might apply to today’s world.

Therefore…… my personal intention is to cycle back for consideration the story of Christ on the Sea of Galilee, the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, and, the Biblical commands of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you” and “Do not mistreat a foreigner, for you were once a foreigner”.

boat peopleWhy?…… because these offer us Australians guidance in the handling of today’s boat people crisis; they help us empathise with the refugees’ personal struggles, wants and needs. More importantly, they are a jabbing reminder to John Howard, Amanda Vanstone and other supposed “Christian” politicians, that they need to put into practice those stories they should have learned in Sunday School.

Peering over the side of the boat that is the sculpture, Who’s On Board?, is it not possible to see in the hull twelve little stone people plus one captain? Is it not possible to identify these people as today’s boat people; those desperate individuals attempting to reach the shores of Australia?

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This is not simply an exquisitely carved boat filled with some tiny stones. Instead, it is an opportunity to go beyond aesthetics, to go deeper and to imagine people tossed about in an uncertain, wild sea as they make their way towards……

Towards what, where? The boat is crowded, the boat is pitching up a giant wave and the destination unknown. Wherever these people are going, they are willing to risk all to get there. They are willing to enter the dark unknown; willing to gamble that the captain will take them safely through their wilderness experiences to the shores of some distant Promised Land.

Those huddled below are seeking a better and safer life away from their tortured and traumatised countries of birth. Do we have any cultural stories to guide us in the handling of these refugees? Despite whether or not they are “legal” or “illegal” immigrants, hopefully some spark of empathy will enter into the hearts of the gallery goers as they walk about the exhibition (dressed in their comfortable fineries) and pure compassion will enter their hearts as it once did for the Good Samaritan.

The viewer might also see in this boat, not only people from Afghanistan or Iraq, but the twelve disciples of Christ as he preached to them and calmed the stormy waters as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. Is this not an apt comparison? Is there not a “cyclic” event here that constantly repeats how “searching” people in any age are willing to leave all behind to gain a better future?

Who are we to question those who have sought refuge in Australia or elsewhere?

Who are we to question whether or not today’s refugees are criminals? Who are we to deny them healing, humanitarian aid? Who are we to lock away any human — child or adult — caught up in the terrorist activities of this world?

Who are we to deny anyone safe passage?

There just might be a saint among the passengers.

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