"The Personal is Political" ‘The personal is political’ was the rallying cry for second-wave feminists of the late 1960s. The phrase underscored the connection between personal experience and broader social and political structures. In an essay of the same title (1970), Carol Hansich, a member of the New York Radical Women’s Movement, argued that engagement with the inequality of women from a personal viewpoint was as powerful and as influential to change as public protest and marches. This idea that individual engagement is as important as collective action pervades contemporary art and culture.
Contemporary art is inherently embroiled in the complexities of our time. It witnesses our environment, translates our thoughts and documents our condition. Art allows us to see the world through varied eyes, offering new perspectives on another’s lived experience and memory. In Home Thoughts from Abroad three artists engage with the social, economic, environmental and political concerns of their homelands from the vantage point of a life in Adelaide, Australia. Badiucao speaks as a Chinese artist in exile, Elyas Alavi as an Afghan refugee and Aida Azin a as first-generation Australian building an understanding of her heritage.
Elyas Alavi also approaches notions of unrest through metaphor. Alavi fled Afghanistan’s Daikundi province with his family when he was six years old, seeking protection in Iran as the war in his homeland intensified. In 2007 he came to South Australia as a refugee at risk. The emotional tumult of living in a conflict-zone and then leaving his country as a refugee, impacts deeply on Alavi’s practice.
In recent works Alavi has used animal carcasses as referential to life in a war-torn country. In 2015, Alavi covered the front pages of Middle Eastern and Australian newspapers with rows of painted animal carcasses hung in butcher’s shops. The bloodied bodies represented scenes of horror normalised when viewed day after day. In Milky Life (2017), a series of ink, acrylic and hand-cut photograph collages, Alavi utilises the image of de-feathered chickens to replace the heads of striding human figures, pails of milk and blood swinging precariously from their hands. The artist says that these surreal images pervade his sleep.
Ordugah (Detention Camp) (2013) and Blood Sample (2017) comment on discrimination against Afghan refugees in Iran. For Alavi, the suburb of Sakhteman felt like an ordugah, a detention camp both undocumented and documented refugees live in constant fear of being caught at police checkpoints when leaving or entering. To travel to other cities, a person must obtain a ten day permit, available only once per year. In his performative video piece, Alavi suggests confinement and geographical control over Afghan refugees in Iranian suburbs; invisible wire fences and walls surrounding communities living on the fringes of cities. He wraps fragile thread around trees, poles and across roads at the edges of Sahkteman in an attempt to make visible the walls of the ordugah. The thread is a combination of fabric found in the refugee community and wool Alavi unraveled from jumpers knitted by his mother and worn as a child in Afghanistan and Iran.
Blood Sample responds to the death of a twelve-year-old Afghan girl in Shiraz, Iran who was denied an organ transplant due to her status as an illegal immigrant. This is particularly pertinent for Alavi, whose own sister is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. In contrast, photographs of young Afghan solders who fought and died for Iran in the Syrian war are displayed in suburbs where Afghan refugees live. Alavi reflects on this injustice. His blood is drawn alongside the blood of an Iranian friend. Their blood is poured into corporeal blocks of ice before melting away.
Together in Home Thoughts from Abroad, these artists share with us their unique position in the world. As we enter a global paradigm plagued by the fear of globalisation, manifest in fear of the other, engagement with one another is more urgent than ever. Indeed, it has become clear that the one of the most radical acts is that of listening.
Extract from catalogue essay written by Joanna Kitto (exhibition curator)