Maligned and demonised by the media, Pictures in my Heart shows what anyone who has met a Hazara knows: they are a people of loyalty, uncommon grace and emotional depth seemingly not present in the people whose ignorance disregards them.
Fiona Hamilton has collated the art, poems and stories of 80 men who came to Australia by boat seeking asylum from the centuries of persecution of their people and the horrors of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. These men came alone, many not knowing where they were going, just that they had to go. Andrew Quilty’s beautiful photographs of the vast landscapes of Afghanistan underscore the idea that if there were any choice that would have left them or their families alive, the men featured here would have far preferred to stay. Their own words describe the ever-unfulfilled ache they still feel for the homeland that no longer exists for them.
The book tells not only the stories of the men, but of the rural community of Murray Bridge they settled in and which, for the most part, embraced them. In turn, their labour saved the town’s abattoir. Sadly, the book also tells the story of how the narrative and art therapy that led to Pictures in my Heart was spurred by the suicide of one of the men. Following this event, it became obvious that all the men were depressed and that many suffered post-traumatic stress from their refugee experience, incarceration in Australian immigration detention facilities and the knowledge that they held only temporary protection visas, with nowhere else to go. Finally, it was obvious that they would all need help to heal.
The book itself is beautiful and a delight to hold in your hands. In full colour throughout, there is text that inspires and haunts as well as photographs of the art the men produced, primarily lino cuts and small sculptures. What the men’s art shows is that you don’t need training and education to produce works that are evocative and expressive, you just need inspiration. Contained in various themes such as Home, Separation, Family, Journey and Prayer, the stories share the common themes of endurance, perseverance, tragedy and healing.
Fiona Hamilton did a remarkable job in her work with these men, and ultimately with this stunning book. In it, she has produced something every Australian should read – even more so, those who use their public profile to spread untruths and hatred about asylum seekers. But then this book also shows the truth of why that strategy would fail – you have to want to change the world for the better. Fiona Hamilton and the men featured here have done just that.
Worth a 10/10 except for the tiny print!
Reviewed by Monica Leahy
Rating out of 10: 9
Publisher: Wakefield Press
Release Date: Available Now