‘Daneha’, translating to ‘seeds’, explores the identities and stories of the Afghan community in Blacktown. Underpinned by cultural and linguistic links to ancient Persia, the exhibition distills issues of displacement, loss, survival, resilience and the challenges of resettlement impacting the broader Persian diaspora.

Led by artists and community groups from the Persian cultural region – including Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Iran – ‘Daneha’ opens a space for reflection about the migrant experience, using the trope of the seed to symbolise a scattered replanting of community across the globe – re-rooting in unfamiliar soil and growing new cultural identities in a foreign environment.

In the show, Khadim Ali’s work Golden Country (2018) examines the psychological and physical processes guiding how refugees adapt to their new countries. Inspired by the 17th and 18th century Afghan and Persian tradition of depicting nature – which came into practice after the fatwa banning images of bodies that contain souls – Ali’s steel-cut brass renditions of native animals doubling as Arabic and Persian words of praise poeticise Afghan refugees’ perceptions of Australia as a ‘golden country’. Approaching the diasporic experience from a different angle, Zainab Haidariy’s sound-based installation Speculator (2018) focuses on the economic management of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 1970 to 1976. The work ‘speculates’ about ASEAN’s policies and decisions made by ‘speculators’ – policy-makers – forty-two years ago that still impact the region’s monetary policy, growth, budget and labour force. The artist questions, ‘Can we read conflict from other perspectives by looking back to political and economic decisions made in another era?’

The thematic kernel of the exhibition is most evident in the work Planting Seeds (2018) by Nazanin Marashian and Afghan Women on the Move, an installation created by each member in the female collective – which creates a safe platform for female survivors of war and trauma, to gather and participate in arts and cultural programs outside of politico-religious frameworks. The work symbolises the ‘seeding hopes’ of their new life in Australia as they navigate their identity as Afghan-Australian women. The collective also worked closely with photographer Gerrie Mifsud to create photographic portraits that reflect the contemporary and diverse roles of Afghan women in the community, breaking isolation by sharing stories and facilitating encounters with women from other cultures.

A tone of hope is evinced in Elyas Alavi’s installation, comprising vests similar to those worn by suicide bombers in the Middle East yet recontextualised as alternate symbols of peace. The work reacts to news of suicide attacks from Alavi’s homeland in Afghanistan, where relatives and friends still live. Inspired by the poems people write on walls of the ruined cities of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, the artist notes, ‘I dream of a time when the pockets of these vests are filled with simple words such as naan, pomegranate or home rather than guns, bullets or grenades.’

Avan Anwar’s work Indurability of Life (2018) plays a more sober note, exploring fragility, loss and rebirth in relation to Kurdish cultural identity and socio-politics. The large-scale constellation of daffodil flowers creates a poetic space rendering Anwar’s experience of exile. ‘Displacement is being cut off from roots, land, and the past’, she reflects. This mood continues in Elyas Alavi Alavi’s series, which is based on the Afghani tradition of planting a sacred tree to honor the birth of a child. The works were inspired by Alavi’s return to his birth village in Daikundi, Afghanistan, in 2015 – the first time in 21 years. In one of the drawings the artist honours his late sister Latifa, depicting her ghostly figure merging with her tree; a poignant image of the cycle of life.

5 July – 9 September 2018
Blacktown Arts Centre, Sydney


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