All We Can't See: Humanising the untold stories of Nauru

All We Can't See: Humanising the untold stories of Nauru

Art as Activism, Refugee Rights
By Alannah Maher | 1/02/2018 12:15:13 AM

All We Can’t See is a rousing Australian-first exhibition that gives the public a glimpse of life at Australia’s elusive offshore detention centre on Nauru.

Open from February 2nd-10th at Yellow House in Potts Point, the exhibition features the work of 33 award-winning Australian artists and panel discussions featuring academics, artists, journalists and human rights experts.

Talking with project founder Arielle Gamble, The QUO investigates the motivations behind this mission to use art to expose all we can’t see. 

In his 2016 essay Does writing matter? Richard Flanagan speaks about The Nauru Files as some of the most important Australian writing of our time. Over 2,000 brief snippets of text with names redacted, these files document incidents of assault, sexual abuse, child abuse, self-harm and abhorrent living conditions endured by refugees and asylum seekers under the care of the Australian Government at the offshore immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Published by The Guardian in August 2016, these leaked incident reports written by staff at the detention centre offered the public’s first glimpse into the conditions inside of the facility, where successive governments have staunchly barred the media from access.

“This writing has woken me from a slumber too long,” Flannagan states in his piece. “It has panicked me. The stories are very short, what might be called in another context flash fiction. Except they are true stories.”

As passionately as he speaks about the power of writing contained in The Nauru Files, Flannagan also laments the lack of images. Where words can be dismissed, imagery and art has the power to stop people in their tracks. “Art can move beyond all language, prejudice and fear and speak to empathy and shared humanity,” says Arielle Gamble, co-creator of All We Can’t See. With a career book design, Gamble can attest to the power of imagery in getting people to engage with a story.

Pictured: Sea of Sorrow/Prayer for Guidance by Joshua Yeldham. Courtesy of All We Can't See.

“The concept of this exhibition came from simply being a concerned citizen and wanting to do something to help expose the abuses and inhumane treatment the men, women and children who sought our protection have endured under Australia’s policies,” says Gamble. “Not everybody connects with words, and we wanted to give people another way in. We want to illustrate these stories through creative expression and use art to shed light on all we can’t see.”

Over a year in the making, the first (physical) public exhibition of All We Can’t See debuts in Sydney, featuring 33 works by award-winning Australian artists including four-time Archibald Prize finalist Abdul Abdullah and acclaimed painter Ben Quilty.

This multidisciplinary collection of artworks aims to raise awareness of the human cost of Australia’s offshore processing policies. Works forged by paint, pencil, photography and collage depict harrowing realities – women and children facing sexual assault, guards abusing power, people pushed to the point of swallowing rocks and screws, sewing their mouths shut in protest.