Bendigo Art Gallery's Myuran Sukumaran exhibition is evoking emotional reactions

While emotionally exhausting and challenging for some, the Myuran Sukumaran exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery is creating discussion.

Bendigo Art Gallery curatorial manager Tansy Curtin said the exhibition, Another Day in Paradise, had done what galleries aimed to do – create conversation.

“The feedback we have had has been very positive,” she said. “A lot of people thanked us for bringing it here and being the only Victorian venue for it. Many have come from Melbourne to see it.

“Popular is not a word I would use to describe it. This exhibition is more about creating conversations,” she said.

“It has done that in this community and the wider arts community. That’s what we want to do as an arts organisation –create a place to have those conversations and take on big issues.”

Another Day in Paradise features paintings by convicted drug trafficker Myuran Sukumaran. The Bendigo Art Gallery is the only Victorian venue to host the exhibition, which opened in July and runs until September 16.

The works were created while Sukumaran was incarcerated in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison and Nusa Kambangan Island in the three days before his execution in 2015. 

Ms Curtin said the exhibition was emotionally exhausting for some.

“It is a challenging exhibition that makes you think about who you are, the fragility of life, and the consequences of actions,” she said.

“Some people said couldn’t see it all at once because it had a powerful impact on them.

“The work with the Indonesian flag that is signed by the people executed (alongside Sukumaran) really brings (that impact) home. It makes you think about your own mortality.”

Having worked with artist Ben Quilty and Sukumaran’s family for more than 18 months to bring the exhibition to Bendigo, Ms Curtin said the artwork also had an effect on her.

“After the opening weekend I felt like I had been through the ringer. It was emotionally exhausting,” she said.

“Hearing people like Ben and meeting Myuran’s family brings those facts close to you –  that he was a young man who spent 10 years in prison.”

Ms Curtin said the artwork created discussion about restorative justice, redemption and whether people could change.

“Personally, I believe people can change and, given opportunity, people can help the world and use the justice system to turn their lives around,” she said.

“Myuran’s story has touched a lot of people irrespective of the crime involved.

“One of the most successful things (about Myuran) is how he developed his art and used it as a tool to communicate and change the lives of people within Kerobokan Prison.

“That message didn’t get out as much as it should have. Myuran and (fellow convicted trafficker Andrew Chan) changed the culture in prison. 

“Myuran’s art became a way that prisoners could get money to support buying their own food and support their families.

“Ben just wanted people to come see it, look at the work and the kinds of painting he did and learn about human being that was Myuran Sukumaran.”