Last night the New Beginnings Refugee Arts and Culture Festival was launched with a beautifully curated exhibition on the theme of ‘the singular’ and ‘the plural’ aspects of being. The festival has expanded over the last couple of years to include exhibitions and a series of participatory cultural events at different times in the year, as well as the flagship free outdoors community whole-day festival event at Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour (save the date – 18 Nov).

I got to chatting with festival producer and Arts Coordinator at Settlement Services International (SSI), Carolina Triana, at the opening of Singluar/Plural. She commented about the importance of being able to respond to need and not be tied into a pre-existing model for the festival. The festival is re-imagined to a degree each year to best serve the artists and communities it was established to support. In her welcome speech, she said the festival is “all about the art” and this was clear by the quality of the exhibition itself as a whole. The mission of the festival is spelled out on its website:

The New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival is a celebration of the artistic vibrancy, cultural expressions and heritage of people from refugee backgrounds

Singular/Plural showcased exactly that and presented it from various viewpoints – the individual as artist, the artist as teacher in the community, artists in collaboration, community participation and celebration of heritage. The call out went to artists both from refugee and non-refugee backgrounds; the open-ended, non-prescriptive approach to curation ensuring different, inclusive, multi-dimensional, pluralistic takes – both by artist and viewer. This is the sort of exhibition I love – not being guided or coerced towards any pre-determined end point; not being asked for any action. Just a gentle invitation to enjoy, contemplate, experience.

Some stand out pieces for me were:

The intricate miniature bronze carvings by Sameer Dakhil – a jewellery maker/object designer/sculptor from a long line of gold and silversmiths in Iraq.

Sayd Mahmood’s tapestry works, created with new techniques and tools he has designed and refined over his 27 years of practice.

Video artist Mohammed Alanezi‘s sound/video installation, ‘Nausea’, re-telling parts of his journey over water to Australia. I had the pleasure to spend a few moments chatting to him about his practice, his education and professional background. A Fine Arts graduate with a theatre major, Mohammed worked professionally in Iraq across media and genres. He described how he pursues all artistic opportunities afforded him in Australia to work in the arts. (Mohammed is pictured above beside his work).

‘Tree of Life’ by the Women’s Creative Group – a collective of mothers who gather at Westmead Public School to share, practice and learn folk art traditions from India.

Alex Seton‘s ‘Oilstone 04_Saturated’. A marble sculpture of a boat engine submerged in a tank of engine oil. Probably my favourite piece and the most confronting for its allusions.

Singular/Plural is on at 107 until 2nd July.

Where: 107, 107 Redfern St, Redfern
When: Saturday 22 June – 2 July
Opening times: 11am – 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday

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