It’s the Australia Day weekend and every year at this time I think about persecution, violence and oppression. Not really the all - Australian sentiments for this our national commemorative holiday. Aboriginal Australians refer to 26 January as Invasion Day, the date when Governor Arthur Phillip raised the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788, declaring the land to be under British sovereignty.
Every year on this anniversary I hope things will change, that we will get a flag which more properly represents Australia, that we will have a national anthem which does not glorify our colonial heritage and that we will have a parliament which reflects our multicultural society and in particular consists of equal number of indigenous and non-indigenous parliamentarians.
I’ve been thinking about all these things as I stitch this collage Libertad for my forthcoming exhibition Deluge in Murwillumbah in March. It consists of posters from Mexico and prints I made from political street posters in Greece collected during the 2011 Greek crisis. Both speak to me of freedom, that right we have as humans and non-humans to co-exist peacefully on this planet, to celebrate our unity through diversity and difference.
Libertad is from the last suite of artworks Reframing the Past, Imagining the Future which concludes my journey of healing with papers in my paper drawers which survived the big Murwillumbah flood of March 2017. As I look at these armed police images and stitch them together with the images of Mayan women from Mexico, I think of repression and people fighting for their freedom. There are so many stories of persecution and genocide perpetrated against the original inhabitants of countries all over the world during centuries of colonisation. Governments enforce their rule with armies and police. People protest with their bodies and their voices.
The image below is from a brown paper placement I collected from Tierradantro, a cafe in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. This cafe is also a cultural centre for the Zapatistas, a resistance movement which fought against the Mexican government and army in 1994 seeking better conditions and land control for the indigenous Mayan peoples. Indigenous peoples make up about one third of the population of Chiapas. Anti-zapitista militia open fired on villagers attending a prayer meeting in the village of Acteal in 1997, killing 45 people and tensions are always simmering in the towns in Chiapas and Oaxaca.
I think of Libertad ~ freedom for indigenous peoples all over the world and especially the women who live under the dominance of men, church and state. As we travelled through Mexico we encountered public displays of resistance and an abundance of political posters. The posters speak to me of unity, of women’s voices and hands across the globe and I could not bear to throw them out after I retrieved them from my flooded paper drawers.
Now as I stitch these papers together I have a sense of their importance, both to my own story and theirs. Resilience and unity, connections we make across time and place which remind us that we are all sharing this world together and that we need to work for change and for creating freedom and equality for all.