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Photography for human rights

04 Oct 2018

Photography for human rights Image

By Niccola Anthony

The cause of human rights has been strengthened following the opening last month of Magnet@Docklands gallery’s latest exhibition “Wolfgang Sievers – 50 Years (1930s – 1980s)”.

Prominent human rights barrister Julian Burnside QC donated a number of Wolfgang Sievers prints from his own personal collection, gifted to him by the artist with the intention that they be sold to raise money for human rights causes.

All proceeds from the sale of Sievers’ prints in the exhibition will be donated to the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes and protects human rights in Australia.

Wolfgang Sievers was one of Australia’s pre-eminent architectural and industrial photographers in the 20th century, noted for his extraordinary talent at capturing often monotonous and utilitarian manufacturing sites with an artlike quality.

Sievers’ most famous work Gears for Mining Industry (1967), taken at the former Vickers Ruwolt factory in Burnley, was used for a 1994 Australia Post stamp.

Sievers, a German Jew, migrated to Australia in 1938 to escape persecution from the Nazis. His personal history informed the bulk of his human rights and anti-war activism throughout his lifetime.

Mr Burnside and Sievers became friends in 2005, a couple of years before Sievers’ death, after Sievers took an interest in Burnside’s legal work for human rights causes.

The interest in one another’s professional achievements was mutually reciprocated by Mr Burnside – he had purchased a collection of Sievers prints around a year before their friendship was solidified.

“To be able to raise so much money, without any costs over the top, is fantastic,” Mr Burnside said of Magnet@Docklands’ hospitality in hosting the exhibition.

“We always need to be on the look out for abuses of human rights and the HRLC has done a very good job of pulling up instances of real human rights abuses. If we don’t have organisations like them we will descend into a society that’s not worth living in.”

Keren Adams, director for legal advocacy at the HRLC, said it intended to use the funds to continue its work in promoting human rights causes, not just in Australia, but also overseas as in the case of offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

“Fundraisers like this make up a big part of our work and we are also very reliant on philanthropic organisations and private individuals giving their money,” Ms Adams said.

“I think many people in Australia recognise that the HLRC has come to play an incredibly important role in providing that safety net and protection against some of the worst abuses we’ve seen in recent years.”

“We’re incredibly grateful for the support of the Australian community.”

A social enterprise, Magnet@Docklands will continue to house socially-important exhibitions that bring together people with an interest in photography.

Magnet’s unspoken motto, “photography that works”, emphasises the gallery’s commitment to go beyond mere exhibition and instead use photography to spark social conversations within the wider community.

Gallery owner Michael Silver shares his own unique connection to Sievers. When Mr Silver was in his 20s, he was invited by the photographer to work as his apprentice.

However Mr Silver, sporting an unkempt hairstyle that was typical of the time, declined the offer of work when he was asked by Sievers to go and get a haircut.

Magnet@Docklands is located at Level 1, 1 Wharf St and is open to the public between 12pm – 4pm, Thursday to Sunday. Find out more about Magnet Galleries at www.magnet.org.au

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