BREAK THE SILENCE

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 26 2017

A cellist and over two hundred refugee supporters occupied the ground floor of the National Gallery of Victoria in solidarity with the refugees and asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru. The performative intervention, designed by a coalition of artists and activists, is a final bid to end the Gallery’s and the Victorian State Government’s contract with Wilson Security, a company that has carried out extensive and well-documented human rights abuses on Nauru and Manus Island since 2012 and 2014 respectively. 

Photo: Lara Chamas

Photo: Lara Chamas

 

The cellist played a melody composed by the journalist Behrouz Boochani, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for the past four and a half years. Supporters stood in a large circle that filled the entire space outside of the gallery, holding red ribbons connected to the cellist. Others held signs saying “We Rise with the Men on Manus” and “Artists Against Abuse.”

Artist and protester Trish Roan explains: “The NGV and the State Government have been silent in response to urgent demands that they drop Wilson Security for the inexcusable human rights assaults that they have committed.”

“Not only have Wilson Security carried out years of violent and sexual abuse against the people they were supposed to protect, but they have attempted to cover up their crimes, engaging in spying, bribery and deceptive conduct.”

The situation on Manus Island is reaching breaking point with Australian Border Force, Broadspectrum, IHMS and Wilson Security having withdrawn all food, water and medical support for the prisoners as of October 31. Widespread ill-health among the men is reaching a critical level, with more deaths on the island prison being predicted in days to come. 

Another protester and artist, Gabrielle de Vietri adds: “This is a humanitarian emergency. This is a national crime. We must do everything we can to stop this government from torturing and killing these people for political gain. Standing in the way of Wilson Security and any company that profits from human misery is the only way to get through to this heartless government and their cowardly opposition.” 

“The NGV and the Victorian Government have the perfect opportunity to do the right thing right now, while a new long-term security contract is under negotiation. We look forward to the news that they have ruled out doing business with this criminal company.”

The protesters surrounding the cellist amplified the sorrowful melody, filling the large space with swelling music. The music was interspersed with a rousing “human microphone” a technique used to naturally amplify human voices without equipment, explaining why the protesters are targeting the NGV and Wilson Security. 

Behrouz Boochani gave the Artists' Committee permission to use the song for the protest.

The NGV did not give the protesters permission to hold the event.

Photo: Lara Chamas

Photo: Lara Chamas