Home > Free Essays > Art > Art Movements > Can art change how we think about refugees?
Cite this

Can art change how we think about refugees? Essay


This essay aims at exploring the many facets of art and its ability to change how the society thinks of refugees in their search for asylum in foreign states. The study will identify whether it is possible for art to have the power of dissenting against the society’s perception of refugees.

The study expects to crown the findings of the research with a summary that is expected to discern whether it is true or false that art can change how the society thinks of refugees.


This essay is built-up based on work that had been previously done by other writers in identifying whether it is possible for art to change how the society thinks about refugees.

The essay will identify some of the motivating factors that have made artists create some of the unique artistic creations with regard to the experiences of the refugees in their hazardous journeys in pursuit of safety and stability from their mother countries.

The essay will review some of the experiences that the refugees have encountered and the treatment they have received from their hosting communities. The information obtained will act as a buffer for the summary that will be drawn from the essay.

Literature review

The ways through which refugees are treated is objectionable given the predicaments they go through every day in the countries that they seek asylum. It is evident that they are treated in an inhumane, absolutely hypocritical and xenophobic ways that are meant to serve the self-interest of a few minorities in the country.

This sends a horrible message to the rest of the world about the bad treatment of the refugees more so in Australia. It has been noted that the treatment of immigrants in Australia is not only isolated to the incoming refugees, but also to the multicultural Australians.

They have been treated the same by the natives in which it negates their well-being as Australians and it erases their contribution towards nation-building over the years.

These plights necessitated the Australian immigrants to come up with a way of expressing themselves in Australia and this was witnessed in the field of contemporary Australian visual art which boasts of hosting some of the most celebrated practitioners of this form of art.

It should be noted that artists trooped from the migrancy, that is, intercultural Australians whose history depicts that they had visited Australia with the primary objective of refuge from their motherland (Carruthers, Oakley and Thi 150).

Isle of refuge is a group that is composed of prominent Australian visual artists who in their linage have close ties with refugees who were held in detention in Australian camps located in the south pacific borders of Australia. The close ties arise from personal histories, their ethnicity or political realignments from which these arts have come from.

The group is composed of artists who were refugees in Australia due to political or racial unrest in their countries and they represent regions and countries such as Europe, Indonesia, the Middle East, Tibet and East Timor (Carruthers, Oakley and Thi 150).

This group of artists had fruitful collaborations with some professional and non-professional artists who were in detention in Villawood detention camp.

It is through this artistic work that this group sort not to define the experiences of the refugees universally, but they had set out to explore multifarious ways and means that the refugees and the immigrants had attempted to make themselves feel at home in their new home, Australia (Carruthers, Oakley and Thi 152).

The group had identified that the refugees used art to negotiate their way of becoming part and parcel of the indigenous people of the new home, despite the varying degrees of prejudice and exclusion that they were experiencing as the newly arrived members of the community.

It is evident that in their attempt to achieve this objective, the artists had planted deep their roots in Australia in which every contemporary artist had intensively and pervasively explored the experiences that they had encountered in the process of transnationalizing and settling absolutely in their new home.

It is in this process that the artists discovered a renewed sense of claim to being an Australian citizen. At the same time, it inferred a transgression and transformative process etched and imprinted in the values of multiculturalism in Australia (Carruthers, Oakley, and Thi 153).

In their artwork, the artists in this group of The Isle of Refuge in Australia have been able to identify Australia as the isle of refuge. However, it had not acted as one by passively providing the refugees with the shelter that they were seeking, but rather it depicted a site that actively asked questions on the official constructions that sort to identify the nationality, culture and history of the refugees both in the homeland and the host land.

This had led to Australia erecting national boundaries against the refugees in which they felt that the presence of the refugees was a threat to the tranquility of the country’s community. The artists have recognized that this practice led to the loss of recognition, the status and safety of the Australian immigrants and refugees.

This realization by the artists consolidated them to a common ground of understanding. It was evident from the artist’s exhibition in which they had displayed their collective outrage on the dehumanization of the refugees in pursuit to finding happiness and peace in Australia. The artists had exhibited their adamancy in refusal to rewind the time on multiculturalism and its values in Australia.

They had resistively insisted on recognizing the history and the belongingness of refugee and immigrant communities that already existed in Australia. The artist’s central theme in this exhibition aimed at defining Australia as once been an isle of refuge for all those who came to Australia in search of safety, compassion and stability that they were lacking.

Therefore, it would not be prudent if the Australian authorities continued to deny these refugees those virtues that they were searching for since their forefathers of Australia had not rejected them (Carruthers, Oakley and Thi 156).

Some of the artwork that was in display illustrated the experiences of the refugees in the dangerous seas or oceans in such of safety vividly. For instance, one of the exhibitions contained all the horrors of the refugees as they drown in the sea by showing the leaps by small boats overloaded with refugees in monstrous waves and the presence of gigantic crocodiles which posed the danger that lurked.

There were other works that depicted even more brutal experiences by the refugees in which naked bodies of human being literally humping the earth with flesh rising in the mud depicting the killing field of innocent humans. The artwork has gone further to bring out ethnic caging literally as it happened. It is crystal clear that when refugees were captured by the Australian state, they were mistreated and dehumanized.

The cage practices were intimating in which people where put behind fences. It is also evident that the images of the ethnic fencing were horrendous and they would shock even a tolerant society like the Australian society in light of atrocities that took place. The images that it fostered neared ethic cleansing in which the perpetrators had no respect for humanity (Carruthers, Oakley, and Thi 157).

It is evident that humans are given the conscience of being empathetic and therefore, a dominant culture does not attempt to subjugate humans, but it should tolerate them. This is what the artists advocated for; they had sort of bringing out that the Australian spirit is embedded on multiculturalism whose values of mateship, egalitarianism and liberty of all Australians prevail, despite one’s ethnicity.

O’Neill (1) attempts to identify the transformative role that is played by art and how artists have employed their artistic methodology in conducting ethnographic research on refugees and asylum seekers. The writer has identified that art has some transformative possibilities in this field of refugees and asylum seekers.

The writer used research methodologies that uncovered the role and the capacities of art and life stories that were used to change how the world looked at refugees. It is evident that over the years, the United Kingdom had meshing legislatures that were meant to control the flow of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

For instance, when the Asylum and the Immigration Act of 2004 were enacted, it sort to remove all the refugees and asylum seekers from the United Kingdom if they had exhausted all the appeal rights they possessed to be allowed to stay in the United Kingdom. The government justified the new law by stating that it aimed at encouraging the refugees to voluntarily decide to go back to their homes (O’Neill 2).

The writer explored the use of bibliographical approach to conduct the research on the experiences of the refugees in order that the lived experiences of exile and the sense of belonging that the refugees had in the foreign country can be expressed.

This gives the refugees the right to be heard and represented in which they have someone who can advocate for their equivalent treatment as the natives of the country they are seeking asylum. The life stories that are explained by the refugees bring out the hidden aspect of the lived cultures by refugees in pursuit of safety. These stories negate the doctored reports made to the public by the media about refugees.

Therefore, these life stories aim at attaining social justice with regard to the real experiences of the refugees in the foreign countries. This approach of representing the real experiences of the refugees are articulated on two foundational concepts, which are, the relational and the reflective narratives that are told either by an individual or a group of all the events that happened and as they were conceived at each particular time.

It is notable that the narratives that are told by the refugees are performable in which the incorporation of aspects such as visual sociology, performance arts and narrative therapy makes it possible for analytical frames of data can be obtained thus ensuring that this data is interpreted accordingly.

This enables an inter-disciplinary interaction in which the collaboration of the ethnographic bibliographic narratives that are obtained directly from the refugees themselves on their encounters with the artistic representations that exhibit the actual experiences of the refugees.

The same enriched interdisciplinary collaboration has come up with groundbreaking findings that have solved some of the constituent societal dilemmas that exist, such as whether it is possible for art to change how the society looks at refugees (O’Neill 3).

It is evident that the issue of art and its relation to the society requires a lot of mediation and meditation because of its complexity. Artwork can be expressed as a form of feeling in which the creation is based on the tension that exists between exciting knowing of the artist and the historical techniques that are applied in the production of the artwork.

Simply put, it is evident that art is a social product because it originates from the society and also it aims at manifesting specific aspects of the society. Simply put, art makes it possible for the world to see experiences as well as ideas in a reflective space. Art brings new things in the world and thus contributes immensely in the field of knowledge and the capability to understand some complex issues in the world.

For instance, a photograph can intrinsically bring out a lot of meanings. It has the power to penetrate the human heart and bring it to light with the intractable truth in such a way that it makes the experience unforgettable and consequently, aiding them to develop compassion and concise conscience (O’Neill 19).

Artwork has been used to represent some sedimented aspects of the society in which the artist is able to exhibit precisely how such things perpetuate in the society. Thus, artwork unfolds the hidden parts of the society. The artwork of a person can be stated as the animation of his or her spirit.

The experience involves the awareness of the inside and the outside of the art by the artist in which it gives him or her the insight on how best to express the artistic imagination that he or she possesses. This is because the dialectic mimesis rationality and constructive creativity in the art are held in the society.

For instance, ethno-mimesis involves accurate retelling of the life narratives that had been recorded from the refugees in account of their experiences in pursuit for peace in an artistic form in which the narrator is expected to capture the most critical aspect of the narration in which he or she should bring out the sensuous meaning of the refugees and create a rapport with the audience in such a way that it will revive the experiences of the refugees as they had taken place.

The mimesis is expected to arouse memories that should translate into emotional empathy from the audience so that they can understand the plight of the refugees in a closer set dimension.

A good narrator of the refugee experiences should always be in a position to bring out all the senses that were experienced by the refugee and this is attainable if there is collaboration between an ethnographer and the narrator. An absolutely superb narration can be experienced if all parties that are involved in this process are able to revolutionalize their image of the world and in this case, the actual experiences of the refugees.

A good combination of all these aspects of mimesis storytelling an artistry is conceived in which a sensuous and transformative experience is meted to the audience and in which they become fully aware of how dehumanized the refugees are.

Therefore, it is prudent to conclude that the methodological combination of ethnography and art to bring out how narratives and images can be used artistically to depict the experiences of the refugees to the rest of the world on how it has continuously ignored their plight (Darznik 145).

The Albany Community for Afghan Refugees (ACFAR) is an activist group that advocated for refugees. The group took the initiative of petitioning the government on behalf of the refugees in which they sort to bring the plights of the refugee overboard so that they would be addressed to reduce the suffering that they were undergoing.

They also employed other techniques that were expected to address the issue of refugees in the country and they included media campaigns, public forums, festivals and art activities in which artists of all genre were invited whether professional or non- professional.

The Albany community had engaged itself in helping the refugees where the group helped them in doing shopping and in filling the forms that the authority had asked them to fill to legitimatize their presence in Australia. The group also helped them deal with the country’s bureaucracy and organize football teams for them, among other things (Tilbury, Toussaintz and Dari 1).

It is evident that the welcoming experiences that the refugees at Albany experienced were in contrast to the experiences of the other refugees and the negative perceptions that the refugees are accorded by the rest of the Australian population in which the Australians look at the refugees as illegitimate, illegal intruders who threaten the stability of the country and the serenity that clouds its citizens.

This has made the Australian authorities to come up with hostile border protection patrols and bases that are expected to flash out any possible entry of an outsider in search of peace or for whatever reason (Tilbury, Toussaintz and Dari 4).

One of the ways that the people of Albany had been able to interact with the refugees in Australia had been through artwork in which the refugees were welcomed by being asked to decorate a standard doormat.

On a later stage, the refugees were engaged in artwork that brought themes of threshold and arrivals which much borrowed their concept from liminality as the theoretical tool that sets the base for understanding the change and the transformation the refugees undergo in their quest for peace, stability and a new beginning.

It is evident that liminality has acted as an artistic commentary that has attempted to expose the plights of the refugees and in turn, changed how they are treated by the natives of any given locality. This is because the artwork has catalyzed the development of a potential relationship between the refugees and the people of Albany (Tilbury, Toussaintz and Dari 12).

According to Rotas (52), a large number of refugees were arriving at the seashores of the United Kingdom seeking asylum. Due to their large numbers, there were high probabilities that there were professional artists amongst them. It is evident that the refugees in their search for asylum had faced marginalization, which resulted in inconsiderable trauma amongst the refugees.

The artists in this community were expected to overlook the ethnic diversity that exists between them and the host community and link amongst themselves under the pain they have endured due to their displacement and the hostility of the reception they had received from the hosting community.

The artists have been challenged to come up with artistic creation that was expected to address issues such as public stereotyping about refugees as being a threat to national security.

The artists should provide a learning board on which they would educate the society about the plights of the refugees and the dehumanizing experiences they undergo and the ability of the artists to express themselves on behalf of the other refugees as a means in which they are capable of dealing with issues such as trauma amongst the refugees, the ability to acquire skills and mentor other artist refugees (Rotas 60).


It is evident that art has been used in this case by refugee artists to describe their value and plights not with the motive of attracting public sympathy, but as an attempt to integrate with the rest of the community that they had joined.

This is because they identified that art has defied the limits that had been set by societies on what was acceptable or not by being an independent entity in which it is possible to create a complex form of human interaction.

Art has impact on the consciousness of humans and as a result it, has to be used to integrate communities and therefore, it would be prudent to conclude that art has the capacity of changing how the world thinks of refugees.


Carruthers, A., Oakley, R. & Thi, M.L. Isle of Refugee. Paddington: lvan Dougherty Gallery, 2003.

Darznik, J. Forough Goes West: The Legacy Of Forough Farrokhzad In Iranian Diasporic Art And Literature. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. 6 (1) 2003: 103-116,145.

O’Neill, M. Transnational Refugees: The Transformative Role of Art? Qualitative Social Research. 9(2) (2008): 1-22

Rotas, A. Is ‘Refugee Art’ possible? Third Text. 18 (1). (2004): 51-60.

Tilbury, Y., F., Toussaintz & Dari, A. Edges and Centers: Contemporary Experience and Lifestyle. Transformations. 11(5). (2005): 1-12.

This essay on Can art change how we think about refugees? was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

301 certified writers online

Cite This paper

Select a website referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2019, May 12). Can art change how we think about refugees? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/can-art-change-how-we-think-about-refugees-essay/

Work Cited

"Can art change how we think about refugees?" IvyPanda, 12 May 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/can-art-change-how-we-think-about-refugees-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. "Can art change how we think about refugees?" May 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/can-art-change-how-we-think-about-refugees-essay/.


IvyPanda. "Can art change how we think about refugees?" May 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/can-art-change-how-we-think-about-refugees-essay/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Can art change how we think about refugees?" May 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/can-art-change-how-we-think-about-refugees-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Can art change how we think about refugees'. 12 May.

More related papers