Curated and organised by book designer and illustrator Arielle Gamble, All We Can’t See is the product of over twelve months of tireless fundraising, cold-calling, organising and rallying of troops.
Arielle has never done anything like this before, but her passion and drive is an empowering reminder of the role one small voice can play, even in the most overwhelming, seemingly hopeless of battles.
We spoke to Arielle this week about this amazing project. Her words are so inspiring, we haven’t edited as much as we usually would… I sincerely hope you can find a few extra minutes to read them in full – they deserve our full attention.
How and when did the idea for this exhibition come to you?
Reading Richard Flanagan’s essay ‘Does Writing Matter‘. He described the Nauru Files as, “an extraordinary trove of anonymous short stories… Sometimes, writing can panic us in the same way we are sometimes panicked at the moment of waking: here is the day and here is the world and we can sleep no longer, we must rise and live within it.”
The Nauru Files are stories you read and can’t forget, can’t allow yourself to forget. But when they were published the government and Australian communities carried on with business as usual. It defied belief. Then I realised that although many people had heard of the files, most haven’t actually sat down & read the devastating individual, human stories behind each one. There are over 2000, and they are written as incident reports – official language, names redacted – they aren’t easy going. Though these are Australian stories – they are a direct consequence of Aus govt policy – they are happening so far away, on this remote island. Out of sight out of mind has been an incredibly effective strategy.
My background is in book design – we understand the role imagery can play in asking, sometimes demanding, that people stop, look & engage with stories, even complex and dark ones. Imagery is immediate, it can override prejudice, language, fear, politics, and speak directly to people’s hearts. Art has always been a powerful tool for social and political change because of this – artists have always played crucial roles in documenting and reflecting back ourselves to ourselves – from the uncomfortable to the downright wrong. I felt the files needed this – we needed to create ways to shine light on what’s (still) happening.
So… I took this fledgling idea to my old art director at Penguin Books, Daniel New, and with him it evolved into the concept for the show – calling on prominent Australian artists and the greater public, each person responding to individual files as a way of humanising the stories and engaging people from all walks of life with the realities of Australia’s offshore processing policies.
Your background isn’t in fine art. how did you go about organising such a diverse and impressive line up of artists and venue for this show?
With an incredible & dedicated team – Morna Seres, Heidi Forbes, Daniel New and Georgie Bright of Human Rights Watch. Everyone came to the project as a concerned citizen wanting to help. With backgrounds in design, arts, acting, finance, law, we pooled our resources and got creative, and the project grew from a small idea between friends to the large scale show opening this week.
Individual artists and galleries were approached for initial expressions of interest followed by a successful fundraising effort that included a Kickstarter campaign. The interest has been overwhelming, with many renowned artists asking to be involved.
It was also very important for us to consult with communities and community groups to engage with people who have experienced detention on Nauru first hand – there are a few artists in the line up who have lived or are living through this experience themselves, we are honoured that they have chosen to share their stories and experience through this show.
The show is taking place at Yellow House Gallery in Potts Point, a place with a rich creative history. The gallerists believe very much in this project and have come on as the most incredible sponsors and supporters.
What challenges have you faced in staging the show?
Many! But mostly we have been met with incredible support all along – a testament to the huge number of Australians who are opposed to offshore detention, feel frustrated, helpless and politically unrepresented, and are looking for ways to create and call for change.
What are your hopes for the outcome of All We Can’t See?
That it will encourage people from all walks of life to read the files, connect with the human stories within them, listen to their consciences and start raising their voices.
In August 2016 The Guardian published The Nauru Files, leaked incident reports written by staff in Australia’s detention centre on Nauru between 2013 and 2015.
These files detail 2,116 individual cases of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm, child abuse and abhorrent living conditions endured by asylum seekers in the care of the Australian Government.
You can read the files here.