For the first time in its history, Australia's iconic Sculpture by the Sea exhibition—where contemporary artists install large scale sculptures on beaches around the country—has been washed away by stormy tides. At Sydney's Tamarama Beach, at least three artworks have been destroyed. One of those was Melbourne artist Bronek Kozka's Fair Dinkum Offshore Processing, which depicted a refugee family imprisoned in a detention camp like those on Nauru and Manus Island.
Fair Dinkum Offshore Processing was constructed from an aluminium wire cage, which contains five refugees—their metal bodies symbolically rusting away in the ocean air. That symbolism was made a little more potent as the artwork was violently dragged out to sea by the swell and smashed against rocky outcrops that enclose the beach.
Earlier this month, Kozka told the Australian that his work was a deliberate attempt to provoke thought about the Federal Government's controversial policy of indefinitely detaining asylum seekers in prison camps that have been decried for their human rights abuses. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition each year.
Kozka, who lectures at the RMIT School of Art, said that the issue of offshore processing felt personal to him as the son of a Polish father who was deported from the country during World War II. His artwork took its tongue-in-cheek title from an actual quote by Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fairfield.
The government has no plans to discontinue offshore processing, despite widespread criticism of the practice—most recently from the New York Times, who called the policy a "disgrace."
In August, more than 2,000 leaked incident reports obtained by The Guardian detailed repeated cases of abuse reported at the Nauru offshore camp. A landmark report released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch earlier that month also documented widespread "abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect" inside the detention centre.
Under the weight of extensive media coverage of the alleged abuses taking place on Nauru and Manus island, Wilson Security—the security firm in charge of managing the two camps—has announced it will sever ties with both centres this month.
Unfortunately, Kozka's sculpture is irretrievable—but its intended message remains powerful.
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