Creative People

Art, Activism And The Archibald

Art has always been a vehicle for social dialogue, and a window into current political issues. When Sydney artist Julian Meagher met former professional soccer player, commentator and human rights advocate Craig ‘Fozzy’ Foster AM, he was inspired.

Fozzy is a massive advocate on a range of social issues, including the freedom of refugees and asylum seekers, incarceration rates of Indigenous people and raising the age, climate action and gender equality. He volunteers around the corner from Julian’s studio in Marrickville, on Gadigal land in Sydney, and will often pop over for a chat afterwards. It was during one of these many conversations that Julian (a four-time Archibald Prize finalist) promised he would paint Fozzy’s portrait for the Archibald Prize every year until it was shortlisted, in an effort to raise awareness of refugee issues. His first attempt in 2020 didn’t quite make it in, but this year, Julian’s second portrait of Fozzy was a successful finalist!

We chat with Julian and Fozzy about their friendship, and the importance of opening our eyes.

Sally Tabart

Former Socceroo, commentator and activist Craig ‘Fozz’ Foster with artist Julian Meagher, alongside the portrait Julian first painted of Fozz. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Artist Julian Meagher in his Sydney studio. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Julian Meagher’s 2020 portrait of Craig ‘Fozz’ Foster, which this year was a finalist in the Archibald prize.

Former Socceroo, activist and commentator Craig ‘Fozz’ Foster. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Sally Tabart
7th of July 2021

The first time artist Julian Meagher painted former Socceroo, renowned commentator and activist Craig ‘Fozzy’ Foster’s portrait for the Archibald Prize, it didn’t make the shortlist. For months Julian would come home to the towering two-metre portrait of Fozzy staring back at him, and he decided he would continue to paint his portrait every year until it was a successful Archibald Prize finalist. Luckily, it only took one more attempt!

Julian and Fozzy have become great friends since meeting a few years ago, but that’s not the only reason Julian committed to the Archibald challenge. As an activist, Fozzy is a vocal advocate for many different human rights issues – from the erasure of First Nations history and the continued suffering of refugees in this country, to domestic abuse and climate change. ‘I want this guy to have a bigger microphone’, Julian recently said of Fozzy on the Betoota Advocate podcast. The challenge of getting his portrait into the Archibald was in solidarity with the human rights activism to which Fozzy has dedicated his profile, and to help raise greater awareness.

Over the last few years Fozzy has been involved in some massive global campaigns, notably the #SaveHakeem campaign, which successfully freed Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibi from a Thai prison in 2019. ‘Fozzy told me it was in the process of securing Hakeem’s safety in Australia when he realised he couldn’t just stop there’, says Julian. ‘He’s worked tirelessly ever since as an activist for equality and freedom, not just for refugees.’

It was around this time, when the pair first met that Fozzy started the #GameOver campaign, which calls to bring an end to offshore detention of over 400 refugees and asylum seekers indefinitely detained. Fozzy travelled to Port Moresby in October, 2019 to meet with refugees and people seeking asylum, and learned more of their horrific circumstances, and continues to advocate for their freedom and resettlement.

In his first attempt, Julian painted Fozzy on a large scale, staring directly at the viewer. It’s a powerful piece in size and intensity. This time, the portrait was much smaller, with Fozzy’s eyes painted closed, in what Julian describes on the Betoota Advocate podcast as a ‘way more poetic painting’.

‘It was [Julian’s] suggestion to paint me with my eyes closed’, says Fozzy. This artistic choice reflects a multitude of meanings – the collective amnesia and silence in Australia as we grapple with our dark history and present. But it also speaks to a moment of softness in a man tirelessly working for a better world.

‘Fozzy is a fighter—he couldn’t have made it so far in professional sport if he wasn’t—though incredibly soft and caring as well’, says Julian. ‘That’s why I painted him with his eyes closed, and his guard down. Even like this, he’s still looking out for everyone.’

Check out some of the campaigns Fozzy is involved with – #GameOver and #RacismNotWelcome – and learn more about how you can contribute. Keep up with his work here

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