Safdar Ahmed is a Sydney based artist, academic and educator. He is
a founding member of not-for-profit community art organisation
Refugee Art Project, for which he conducts regular art workshops with
people of an asylum seekers and refugee background in their studio
at Thirning Villa in Ashfield. He is also a member of eleven: a
collective of contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and
This exhibition coincides with the launch of my graphic novel, Still Alive, which records my experiences of volunteering with people of an asylum seeker or refugee background in the Villawood Detention Centre and in studios around Western Sydney and the Inner West
over the last ten years.
As much as I try to document Australia’s abuse of refugees in a journalistic idiom Still Alive is also about the politics of representation and my thinking over how the refugee issue (or any issue of such magnitude) should be approached. Some of the images in this display were rejected from the graphic novel because they seemed too literal — too evocative of Agamben’s
notion of ‘bare life’, which is a powerful touchstone for thinking about sovereign violence and biopolitics but which can also efface the agency of the very people who are subjected to that violence. Some of these pages didn’t make the final cut because they clamour to ‘tell’ (rather than ‘show’) the reader how duplicitous Australia’s policies are on the issue of human rights and the abusive regimes we support on the international stage. So this is a space to reflect on the storytelling mode as a problem. A way to think through how best to honour and do justice to other people’s experiences and agency, whilst hopefully engaging the viewer is such a way as to prompt the necessary care, concern, shock etc.