After fleeing the war ravaging their home country of Sudan, Kagi Kowa and her younger sister lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for much of their lives. Then they were separated. Miraculously they both ended up being relocated to Brisbane where they were reunited. Last year Kowa was overwhelmed by anxiety and feelings of displacement. Then she was given a paintbrush and a blank canvas, which helped her to begin healing and communicating her experiences to others.
Kowa is one of 300 young refugees and newly arrived migrants taking part in the Harmony Art Collective, a project by aMBUSH Gallery co-founder Bill Dimas (in collaboration with SBS). He’s invited established street artists Brad Eastman (Beastman), Ben Frost, Regan Tamanui (Haha) and Kaff-eine to hold eight national workshops (funded by the Department of Social Services) over the past year.
From March 15 a curated exhibition of the art produced during the workshops will go on display at the public art space overseen by aMBUSH at Darling Quarter.
“Through the artworks we’re getting a lot of messages of hope and gratitude towards the Australian people,” says Dimas. “It’s a bit of a reality check about war, too, and how that’s affected people.”
The workshops were held around Australia from Hume in Victoria to Inala in Queensland and Bankstown and Wollongong in NSW. Each workshop involved around 30 participants working on a collaborative collage with their mentor with the aim of encouraging positive discussion around identity and belonging.
aMBUSH is also using the foyer at the adjacent Monkey Baa Theatre for an accompanying photographic exhibition. TV screens will play short documentaries about the participants and their processes, filmed in collaboration with SBS.
“Given the current climate with the perception of migration around the world, it’s come at the right time,” Dimas says. “When you engage with these kids they’re just like us, they’ve just experienced something different to us and they want to share that experience.”
Harmony Art Collective runs from March 15 to April 25. The accompanying documentaries will also be available on the SBS Learn website. aMBUSH is hosting free kids’ urban art workshops from April 19–21.