SALA Winners Pay It Forward

Following in the spirit of their installation Safe Harbour, the winners of the 2019 Don Dunstan Foundation SALA Festival Award, Deborah Baldassi and Sue Webb, have generously donated their prize to help asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru Islands.

Baldassi and Webb donated their $2,500 win to Gifts for Manus and Nauru charity, which will provide asylum seekers and refugees with mobile phone credit, enabling them to contact family and friends in Australia and overseas.

The duo were announced as the winners on Saturday 31 August for their installation which featured over a thousand hand-painted balsa wood boats and 800 origami boats, which filled the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church in Beulah Park.

Winning the award not only felt like a recognition of their work but also of the issue.

“Things like the award make it seem worthwhile,” Baldassi said.

“From the outset it was an idea of reclaiming the image of the boat as something of salvation, the idea of an ark or something carrying to safety which has been completely demonised by the government over the past few years. We tried to turn that around a bit and reclaim that image. The prize made us feel like we had achieved it to a certain degree,” she said.

Their long standing passion for asylum seeker and refugee rights was an obvious issue for them to address, and to donate to.

“These completely disenfranchised individuals are languishing offshore, they’re out of sight and out of mind. It’s really important to keep a link with them and the only way to do that is through mobile phones,” Baldassi said.

The piece not only reflected the values of the Don Dunstan Foundation, but the artistic process was based on community engagement, a key priority for the Foundation.

The boats were painted by volunteers from the community, both artists and non-artists, aging from two-years-old to 90-years-old.

Due to the popularity of the installations, more workshops where community members could paint the boats on site were created, while the origami boats were made in people’s homes and during congregations at the Church.

“Even if it is not getting through to the upper echelons, at least people are taking notice of it along the way,” Baldassi said.

Baldassi and Webb commenced work on Safe Harbour last September, with the final piece being a culmination of nearly nine months work.

“We thought about how to get a political message across in a way that people could relate to, contribute to and get something out of it without it being threatening. And the obvious way of doing that is through art,” Baldassi said.

The origami boats hung in the church to symbolise the lives of asylum seekers and refugees that are currently hanging in suspension, while figures of people were placed in the church to tell the stories of those who have died in detention.

Since the closing of the SALA Festival, the success of the installation has accelerated, with it going on to the Migration Museum for a weekend, while Baldassi and Webb visited two schools in Yorketown to educate students on asylum seekers and refugees.

“It was an awareness campaign and it has been successful in that respect,” Webb said.

The Foundation is committed to continuing the support for the SALA Don Dunstan Foundation Award in 2020, and to inspire action for a fairer world through art, as this year’s winners have done.

Contributed by Lisa Cooper.