Friday, August 21, 2015

The Right To Know

This week I sat in front of 20 Preps studying Journeys and told them the story of our family's migration to Australia from Poland when I was precisely their age. I had their rapt attention. It's that kind of story, which includes our family separated across continents, my father's trip by boat to Africa, my mother's escape from Poland with four small children over the mountains in an unreliable car and our eventual reunion in Vienna before the long journey by plane to Australia. 

My own background as a refugee was one of the reasons I was so glad to participate in Red Cross' exhibition, The Right To Know, which tells eight stories of family separation and reunion thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross Tracing Service. It's difficult not to be moved by the stories of sadness, longing and loss told so achingly concisely. 

Designer Cate Hall and I worked on the project out of her backyard studio calling out measurements to each other against a background of children's voices, and Cate's large, doleful black rabbit hopping silently around the yard.

It was the beginning of winter. There was a birth – beautiful Nina in Adelaide – and the shock of Otto's diagnosis of diabetes to contend with the week the artwork was due at the printers. To be honest I was grateful for the chance to lose myself in meaningful work. I laid out photographs of Emmanuel – his warm, positive and dignified face – alongside quotes that were horrifying in their meaning. His story begins: "I was only 14 years old when my family members were killed, when I witnessed that mass killing." 

Moving graphic elements around millimetre by millimetre in Illustrator and changing pixels sizes in Photoshop, I felt fate's cruel hand: good and bad fortune, historical and geographical forces. What choice do we have but to keep moving forward one foot in front of the other? 

Immigration Museum
400 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Until 25 October 2015

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