THE ISLAND exhibition at Newcastle Art Gallery contemplates the plight of asylum seekers

20 Feb 2017

Known for his intricately-carved marble sculptures, Sydney-based artist Alex Seton also encompasses installation, photography and mixed media into his practice. This can be seen in the upcoming exhibition ALEX SETON: THE ISLAND, on until 7 May 2017 at Newcastle Art Gallery.

This compelling and highly topical exhibition contemplates and questions Australia’s role in the asylum debate. Through his works of art, Seton investigates issues around the central theme of Australian immigration history and current policy. His installations raise questions and provoke viewers to confront their own beliefs and morals, without taking a particular stand on the issues.

"The humanitarian issues Alex has explored in his works are very topical right now, both here and overseas" says Newcastle Art Gallery Manager Lauretta Morton.

"You often read in the media the importance of ‘humanising’ refugee issues, and this exhibition truly shows us the power of great works of art. When you think about it, these works are made largely of marble - a material more commonly seen in commemorative statues of great statesmen - not unknown asylum seekers. With these sculptures of life jackets; paper boats or inflatable palm trees - the literal heaviness of the materials is quietly poignant."

Morton notes that we are seeing history repeated in Europe today, with the mass movement of refugees and asylum seekers displaced by war and poverty. Where once immigrants were embraced as a means to drive the health and economy of nations, today they are seen as suspect, with political discussion turning instead to the construction of walls and fences.

Through his marble sculptures and installation pieces, Seton reflects on the impact this change in attitudes toward refugees is having on the human condition.

A key work on loan from The Art Gallery of South Australia, Someone died trying to have a life like mine 2013 depicts strewn life vests across the Gallery floor, as if washed up on the shore. First shown in the exhibition Dark Heart at the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, this major work is inspired by an actual event where 28 life jackets were found on a beach of the Cocos Islands within Australian territory. Their wearers still remain unidentified.

Someone else’s problem 2015 is a mass of apparently discarded boat paddles recalling the many people scrambling to flee war-torn regions around the globe, while the 2014 sculpture Last Resort shows carved marble renditions of theatrically-lit inflatable palm trees. Seemingly creating an idyllic postcard landscape, they are full of empty promises.

ALEX SETON: THE ISLAND is supported by an exhibition catalogue featuring an essay by Linda Jaivin and will be available for purchase at the Gallery Shop.

Public talks: Asylum in Australia | Free, bookings required
Wednesday 8 March and Tuesday 21 March, 2-3pm

In celebration of International Women's Day (8 March) and Harmony Day (21 March) Newcastle Art Gallery presents a two-part series of free talks by inspirational speakers to expand on the ideas explored in the exhibition.
8 March - Shukufa Tahiri followed her father and family out of Afghanistan in 1998, after the Taliban ordered civilian massacres targeting Hazara people just like her family. She came to Australia in 2006, and today she works as an assistant policy officer for the Refugee Council of Australia, whilst studying law, aiming to be a human rights lawyer.
21 March - Tim O’Connor is the Acting Chief Executive Officer at the Refugee Council of Australia, a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to promote the development of humane, lawful and constructive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers. Tim has worked in human rights, international aid and development for over 15 years.

For children:
School Holiday workshops | $10 per child, bookings required
Tuesday 18 - Friday 21 April
Inspired by the exhibition children will create paper boat dioramas and explore paper-folding techniques as well as setting a scene and telling a story through a work of art.

Bookings: 4974 5100 or or visit us at the Gallery.

Image above:
Alex SETON 'Paper Armada' 2015 Bianco Carrara marble dimensions variable Artist collection