art is treason

Just before I left Australia for Taiwan last year, the odious forces of imperialism, bizarrely named the Liberals got back in power for another four years of desecrating the country. After the obvious deceptions, dissemblings, and outright lies the party undertook in their previous term, along with Siev-X, the obscene detention centres and the offensively named ‘Pacific Solution’, I’d hoped for a population motivated by some kind of altruism or at least disgust at what had been done in their names. The cringing truth was Australians care more about the size of their mortgage than about the government’s premeditated manipulation of the law to permit what any sane country would wholly condemn.

The running joke in the days after the election before I departed was that I would seek refugee status or asylum, or be an exile in some European country more favourably inclined to artists and human rights. The joke is not so funny now.

The ABC reports that an exhibition in Wagga, in which portraits of John Howard, Amanda Vanstone, and Phillip Ruddock with their lips sewn together like so many asylum seekers in detention centres did has been labelled ‘treasonous’ by an offended member of the public. Which is fine in itself, what is really disturbing for me both as an artist and as (still) an Australian citizen, is the complaint went to the Arts Department, who subsequently checked to see if the exhibition had government funding.

Agzarian says the reaction from the department is concerning for freedom of expression in Australia.

“It just seems ironic that this happened to myself,” he said.

“I was speaking out in response to my beliefs and my experience and someone takes offence to it.

“As I said, I don’t want to blow things out of proportion but we’ve just got to keep en eye on it that these things don’t happen slowly.

“There’s a sort of deterioration of things we take for granted here.”

— ABC News

Ministerial art prompts treason complaint

Digital portraits by Michael Agzarian show the Prime Minister and senior ministers with their lips sewn together. Courtesy: Michael Agzarian

Manipulated portraits of the Prime Minister and two of his senior ministers on display in a regional art gallery have been labelled treasonous but they will not be coming down.

The digital images of John Howard, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone with their lips sewn up are on display at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

Artist Michael Agzarian has been told the Prime Minister’s office received a complaint alleging his works were treasonous.

The complaint was referred to the Arts Department, which then contacted the gallery to ask if the show was government-funded.

It was not funded by the Government but by the local council and Charles Sturt University (CSU).

Agzarian says the events are still a worry.

“I suppose that’s the part that a lot of people are concerned about, and so am I: that if there was an implication there was concern about the funding,” he said.

The Wagga gallery’s manager says the complaint is the only one received about the images from 4,000 visitors to the exhibition of work by CSU staff members.

Agzarian says the images of Mr Howard, Mr Ruddock and Senator Vanstone were created to highlight the plight of refugees.

“The idea came from my alarm at seeing actual detainees doing this to themselves,” he said.

“They get to a country and they’re detained and I think injustly (sic) in a lot of cases, and I think these people are just speaking out.”

Agzarian says the reaction from the department is concerning for freedom of expression in Australia.

“It just seems ironic that this happened to myself,” he said.

“I was speaking out in response to my beliefs and my experience and someone takes offence to it.

“As I said, I don’t want to blow things out of proportion but we’ve just got to keep en eye on it that these things don’t happen slowly.

“There’s a sort of deterioration of things we take for granted here.”