The old psychologist line of “how does that make you feel” is ever present in art galleries.
Considering an artwork can force people to look at themselves.
Bendigo Art Gallery’s Myuran Sukumaran exhibition is one of those rare collections of work that can change your view of the world.
Before viewing Another Day in Paradise, my opinion of Myuran Sukumaran was based around the criminal aspects of his life.
He made the foolish decision to try and smuggle drugs out of Indonesia, a country renowned for its tough stance on illicit drugs and trafficking.
Accounts of Sukumaran’s time in prison say he was on the road to redemption. He taught English, and other subjects to prisoners, was instrumental in setting up courses to help other prisoners and established a business were prisoners could sell art and clothing to support themselves and their families.
We will never know if he would have continued on the path of rehabilitation upon a return to Australia. But what we can see in his exhibition is how good Sukumaran’s artwork is, and how far he had come.
His early work right up to the paintings he created in his last 72 hours of life are entrancing – even more so when you consider the physical canvases hanging in Bendigo didn’t come from an art studio but rather a tiny cell on an island prison in Indonesia.
One work – an Indonesian flag with blood red paint dripping to the bottom of the frame – is signed by the nine inmates (including Sukumaran) who were executed together. It is harrowing to think that less than a day after that painting was completed, those inmates were shot dead.
As time ticked down for Myuran Sukumaran, he kept painting self portraits. The faces, textures, expressions and physical paint tell the story of the emotions he was feeling and lets us consider what might have been going through his mind.
No matter how I feel about Myuran Sukumaran, he has paid for his crime now.
What is left is his artwork and for us to think what might have been if the Indonesian courts had not sentenced him to death.
– Chris Pedler, journalist