Humanity and the sea - maritime art goes virtual
By Meg Hill
A portrait of Behrouz Boochani – the outspoken refugee activist who was held in detention by the Australian government for six years – has won a category award in the Mission to Seafarers Victoria’s (MtSV’s) Maritime Art Prize.
The portrait, titled All Men will be Sailors, won artist Benedict Sibley the 2020 emerging artist award in the highly regarded competition in October.
“A main aspect with this work is that it’s inherently political,” Mr Sibley told Docklands News.
“The theme of the exhibition was ‘the relationship of humanity to the sea’ and the way most people have historically come to Australia was from boat.”
Mr Sibley’s parents were both “boat people” – his mother a refugee from Lithuania, and his fa- ther was what Mr Sibley called “cheap migrant labour from England”.
“I’m a first-generation Australian and am very grateful that my family was welcomed in when they had nothing,” he said.
“Boochani spent six years incarcerated and he never made it here. He was taken in by New Zealand, and I feel that’s a massive injustice and a loss for us.”
“So, this story is a bit of a jab in terms of humanity and the sea, but it’s also about Boochani as a person – he’s a very beautiful individual, a great writer, a romantic and at the same time a great journalist.”
The title All Men will be Sailors was taken from the Leonard Cohen song Suzanne by Mr Sibley to make a statement about universality. Leonard Cohen, who was Jewish, was referencing Jesus in the lyric: “The title is a Christian commentary from a Jewish guy talking about a Kurdish refugee coming to Australia,” Mr Sibley said.
After 18 years at the MtSV in Docklands, the 2020 Maritime Art Prize was held online due to COVID-19 restrictions. The award and exhibition are used as a fundraising initiative for the Mission.
More than 200 entries were received and 107 were shortlisted this year.
“This year the Art Awards and Exhibition have thrown up some interesting challenges due to COVID-19,” Mission to Seafarers Victoria CEO Sue Dight said.
“Taking the exhibition online provides us with a global audience for the artists that have supported the Mission for so many years. Our role in supporting the seafarers is highlighted by providing the public with an understanding of the harsh and dangerous conditions that seafarers live in daily.”
“Our immediate concern is for the 400,000 crew members globally who are stuck on board without shore leave and, for some, a way home. Isolation harms us all and seafarers are suffering more than ever. Art inspires us to remember those who are working solidly to deliver our everyday items.”
The major prize was awarded to Rodney Forbes for A Submariner Dreams of Home – a piece that took up the themes of isolation and distance.
“It’s a sailor in his bunk dreaming and his home village is sort of appearing on his body, so the idea that a big part of being at sea is the isolation of being away from home and being out of contact,” Mr Forbes told Docklands News.
“I grew up in Williamstown and you would often see the sailors wandering around at a loose end, off the ships, so I’ve always admired the work of the Mission to Seafarers and what they do with sailors away from home.”
Mr Forbes said the sea had been one of many
running themes in his art since early age. He had entered the Maritime Art Awards twice before.
“I think things in the air can creep into your paintings, and this year that idea of being isolated and stuck inside is something that’s been happening to many of us,” he said.