Safdar Ahmed has sent to me a very moving and powerful online comic book about life in the Villawood detention centre. The press release which he issued, follows. John Menadue
A new graphic novel depicts life inside the Villawood Detention Centre
A documentary web-comic by Safdar Ahmed depicts the stories of asylum seekers and refugees inside Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. [Villawood: Notes From An Immigration Detention Centre LINK] depicts the testimony of people from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, including men, women and teenagers. Some of those included are long-term detainees who have been detained for up to five years.
Ahmed has conducted art workshops inside Villawood for the last four years. ‘My web-comic draws upon the tradition of underground comics, which encourages a level of self-reflexivity’ he said. ‘It describes my impressions of first entering the centre and is subjective in the way it is drawn: in the line-work and choice of imagery.’
The comic shows the disempowerment experienced by refugees in detention and the methods employed to survive and resist it. A chapter recounts the death of Ahmad Ali Jafari, a young Afghan refugee who suffered a heart attack within the centre in 2013. Forms of resistance depicted in the comic include acts of non-compliance, self-harm and one refugee’s participation in a rooftop protest.
‘Where it fits the narrative I’ve inserted some artwork by refugees, which was made in the workshops that I’ve facilitated’ said Ahmed. ‘It seemed like a good way to bring the direct self-expression of refugees into the comic, instead of having me speak exclusively on their behalf.’
Safdar Ahmed is an artist and director of Refugee Art Project. Academic in Islamic studies, author of Reform and Modernity in Islam.
Reporting on this story was made possible with an independently awarded grant from GetUp’s Shipping News project.
To see comic book, click on link below.