The power of painting can be seen in this touching exhibition that appears to be both a plead for mercy and a man painting his own eulogy. The current exhibition of Myuran Sukumaran’s work in the Campbelltown Arts Centre creates an atmosphere of sorrow and sympathy for the supposed ring leader of the Bali Nine that media could not (or would not) capture.
The scandal of “The Bali Nine” has crossed the path of just about all Australians. In 2005 nine Australians were arrested and convicted for smuggling 8.3 kilograms of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. Whilst the other seven members of the smuggling ring faced prison sentences, the two alleged ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death. This sentence would be carried out ten years later on the 29th of April 2015.
Before his execution Sukumaran began to paint as means of coping with his situation, a strange limbo between certain death and imprisonment. The works produced by Sukumaran are powerful and portray a man tormented by his past, present, and future. Sukumaran’s self portraits contain a consistent theme of duality as he often paints himself standing next to himself, arms and limb appearing and disappearing, but each persona is identifiably different. One will have a smudged appearance, paint streaked across the brow. This continual viewing of duality portrays Sukumaran’s own experience of rehabilitation. During his time in prison he became a model prisoner, earning privileges and responsibilities, changing completely from the alleged young drug smuggler he was.
This duality is also haunted by the constant shadow of death. The, arguably, most powerful piece in the exhibition is a single canvas hung alone on a large wall depicting, in Sukumaran’s signature style, the gun that he would eventually face. This work entitled “Gun (Large)” demonstrates the fear and preoccupation that plagued the mind of the artist. Among some of the paintings hung in the same room are images of the types of bullet used by the Indonesian government in executions, these images of the means of Sukumaran’s death are followed by ghost like images of himself and powerful images of faith. These works demonstrate the fear Sukumaran felt and the forgiveness he craved.
A powerful and poignant work, hung in the middle of the gallery floor is Sukumaran’s final work. A simple canvas with a top half blood red that seems to bleed into the lower white half. This representation of the Indonesian flag was painted by Sukumaran minutes before his execution and the back is signed by all who would face the firing squad that day. This small, unassuming canvas confronts the viewer with the realities of corporal punishment and an unbending justice system with messages such as “God Bless Indonesia” and “God’s Will is Best” written by people who moments later would take their last breath.
This exhibition is a beautifully curated example of artistic expression and demonstrates a side of a popular story that most people could not or refused to see. The arresting art of Sukumaran is balanced with the reaction art of other artists, without being out staged or overwhelmed. Sukumaran’s own struggle with the consequences of his action, actions that were not discouraged in his childhood within the western suburbs of Sydney, become profound and allow for a discussion of nature, nurture, and normality. With the astounding statistic that 52% of polled Australian’s agreed with the execution of both Sukumaran and Chan, this exhibition succeeds in making people uncomfortable with their own ideas of responsibility, mercy, and justice.
Another Day In Paradise is open until the 23rd of March. More information can be found here