Crocheting Dissent

Crocheting Dissent

Stories/342 , Issues/Arts & Culture , Issues/Refugees
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
23rd Aug 2018
Crocheting Dissent
Naomi Hamer uses textiles to destabilise the contentious arena of the Australian Government’s treatment of refugees.

What are you doing? What are you not doing? These were the competing questions which arose when Naomi Hamer invited her audience to unravel a large crocheted orange banner wielding the name, 'Manus', in her poignant exhibition, Mandatory/Monument.

In the face of a not-so-distant unfolding of the humanitarian crisis on Manus Island, followed by the recent push for Qantas and Virgin airlines to abstain from facilitating refugee repatriation, Sydney based artist, Naomi Hamer, is using textiles to destabilise the increasingly contentious arena of the Australian Government's treatment of refugees. Hamer's threads of solidarity challenge these sites of (con)tension and ask us to consider how we take responsibility for those caught within an unjust system.

Pictured: Mandatory/Monument.
Pictured: Mandatory/Monument. Photo: Leilah Schubert.

Hamer sat in a trance, deftly threading her crochet hook as the fluorescent banner grew in sync with the crisis it resembles beyond the gallery walls. As she did, she described 'craftivism' as a practice drawing from the work of 'Les Tricoteuses', the women during the French Revolution who knitted alongside the guillotine to protest their lack of participation in political decisions. Similarly, the Tassie Nanna's are one of several knitting groups bringing traditionally domestic crafts into the public space in order to protest, like Hamer, the Australian government's treatment of refugees.

Hamer's work consists of six loosely crocheted banners that spell the name of each detention centre in beads wound from immigration forms. It took her a minimum of 577 and a maximum of 1074 beads (banner Christmas Island), spread over 15 to 20 rows, meaning she rolled approximately 3940 beads in total to spell the names of the detention centres. Its hi-vis fluorescent orange building line encapsulates the vibrant orange of life vests, as well as the Refugee National Flag flown at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Pictured: Mandatory/Monument.
Pictured: Mandatory/Monument. Photo: Leilah Schubert.

Hamer describes detention centres as sites that are "both present, yet not present, visible, yet invisible" — much like the experience of the banners that unravel and collapse onto the exhibition floor. However, it is not until the fluorescent orange building-wire line of the banner rests between your fingers do you fully grasp the sentiment that these are foundations that you are pulling at to unravel, and simultaneously not pulling at firmly enough.

To knowingly collapse another artist's construction of a cry for empathy for displaced citizens is to endure a sobering disruption of an ethical paradigm. However, to stand and omnisciently observe is to remain in the paralysis of inaction, to be a complicit bystander; a silent condoner.

Pictured: Mandatory/Monument.
Pictured: Mandatory/Monument. Photo: Leilah Schubert.

Hamer describes her neologism, '(con)tension', as not restricted to the infrastructure that detains refugees but also encompassing of the colonial histories and cultures, combined with the socio-political climate of injustice that these foundations are built upon and sustained by. She described the building line and beads as vestiges of these continued acts of colonial violence, with the hanging names of the centres all underpinned by the detainment of people against their will.

Hamer's Mandatory/Monument pays homage to Alex Seton's work which featured at Adelaide's Biennial, Someone Died Trying To Have A Life Like Mine (2014), in which 28 carved marble life jackets were strewn across the gallery floor, resembling those found washed up on the shores of the Cocos Keeling Islands in 2013. However, Hamer reflects that her work differs from other artists' work as rather than animating refugees personal stories it focuses on operating from the position of a bystander and protestor.

Pictured: Naomi Hamer with Mandatory/Monument.
Pictured: Naomi Hamer with Mandatory/Monument. Photo: Leilah Schubert.

As an artist from a non-refugee background, Hamer felt that she could not justify working from a refugee's perspective, but believed it was essential to subject her position as a protestor against a government imposing stringent policies. She went further, to articulate that Mandatory/Monument has always been invested in destruction. However, she reflected, "perhaps not the physical destruction of the artwork itself but the abolishment and end of mandatory detention of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, no less".

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