Official War Artists Statement: Letter in support of Farhad Bandesh

Image: Farhad Bandesh, Kurdish refugee  - Aylan - beach, courtesy of Farhad Bandesh.

This statement was prepared independently by Official War Artists, some of whom are NAVA Members, and is supported by NAVA.

On World Refugee Day, we write in support of Farhad Bandesh, a refugee currently being held in the detention facility known as MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation), whose art has helped him survive seven years of imprisonment and whose materials are now being arbitrarily withheld. We condemn the silencing of a fellow artist and the suffering of all those who, like Farhad, have spent years in offshore detention and are still waiting for their freedom.

Farhad came to Australia in July 2013 to seek asylum. He was exiled to Manus Island until July 2019, when he was transferred to Australia for medical treatment under the Medevac law. On 23 April, 2020, as reported by Amnesty International Australia, Farhad was abruptly moved from the Mantra Hotel in Preston to MITA, late at night and without his art materials and other personal belongings. The forced relocation took place just days after Farhad appeared on national television to raise questions about the safety of refugees and asylum-seekers in detention. His requests to have his materials returned—including books, drawing pencils, brushes, and paint—have been repeatedly denied. It has been 58 days.

Why withhold art materials? They are not illegal or unsafe. The threat lies, instead, in the ability of art to challenge injustice, the power of a free voice in an unfree system. It lies in Farhard Bandesh’s art, in Behrouz Boochani’s writing, in the films and photographs, pictures, poems, speeches and signs that refugees and asylum-seekers have made to depict and resist their detention, to share their humanity with the outside world. A paintbrush can be a lifeline for a prisoner.

We have all been participants in the Official War Art Scheme. Since its founding during the First World War, the scheme has deployed artists into conflict zones and peacekeeping missions alongside the Australian military. Chosen by the state to humanise the experience of war, we reject the attempt to dehumanise those who have fled violence, poverty, and persecution. 

We believe in each person’s human right to express themselves, whether through the visual arts and other creative endeavours, or through work, study, sport, family, charity, or protest. We cannot watch quietly while those rights are trampled on.


Tony Albert, Official War Artist, Northern Australia, 2012

Rick Amor, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Official War Artists, Afghanistan and Iraq, 2007

Jon Cattapan, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 2008

Peter Churcher, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2002

Megan Cope, Official War Artist, Middle Eastern operations, 2017

Shaun Gladwell, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2009

eX de Medici, Official War Artist, Solomon Islands, 2009

Lewis Miller, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2003

Susan Norrie, Official War Artist, Iraq, 2016-2019  

Ben Quilty, Official War Artist, Afghanistan, 2011

Wendy Sharpe, Official War Artist, Timor-Leste, 1999