Under One Roof as a title has for me a wistful, retrospective air about it. It evokes nostalgia for a time when “Universal Human Rights” was a theme we all felt we were working towards, not backing away from.
Times change, and we seem to have descended to a place where even the word “human” has a suspicious ring to it. Where expressions like “Reale Politikue” and in the “Real world” and “bottom line” are the expressions we use to show how pragmatic, hard-line and contemptuous we’ve become.
The title Under One Roof implies an agreed need to share and a sense of obligation to protect and shelter others.
Spare Rooms for Refugees expressed a similarly quaint and buoyant attitude. And I’m sure that’s why I’ve been asked to open this exhibition in this room, under this roof. But as you know, we don’t really belong in Australia. We belong in “La La Land” (another expression used by John Howard) to ridicule our illusions about the foundations of this Australian household. All the familiar clutter of notions and beliefs we’ve nurtured about ourselves.
The people in power today, must have their revenge on people like the ones in this room and their assault on asylum seekers is a way of cutting us down to size, of undermining what I thought were the underpinnings and the satisfactions of living here.
The misanthropy this government has promoted has adhered rather well to Australians, and our new acquisition indifference is proof that this government has changed us. Australia has by no means had a blameless history but it has probably through luck had a relatively innocent life to date.
And innocence is what I really want to talk about. Innocence can’t be recreated, like virginity once lost it’s forever. I resent the needless abandonment of innocence. I wish I hadn’t been an angry lobbyist for four years. I wish I’d been more effective and I felt powerless.
Which brought me back to art. I am an artist too and I spent a large part of last year painting my heart out over asylum seekers, their fate in the SEIV X and in this country.
Like humanitarians, artists don’t get the welcome mat around here much anymore. They’re not really constructive people, they’re mostly carping in gutters or performing pretentious stunts at some government funded swill that no-one cares about.
But look around you, look at the art these artists have produced, it’s heart-breaking and it’s intelligent. They are guiding you back to your sensitivities, your empathies and your desire to protect and care for what is after all our own species. Us.
This government has tried to persuade us that we don’t share and that we’re not obliged by our own nature to be concerned for these people. But maybe art is pragmatic and constructive after all, perhaps it can repair some of the damage, it won’t return us to innocence, but it might do better. It might reveal and renew our right to care, to shelter and nourish our sense of belonging to human kind.