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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Bondi's Newest Large-Scale Mural Is a Commentary on Australia's Treatment of Asylum Seekers

It's the work of Sydney street artist Luke Cornish — but not everyone is happy about it.
By Samantha Teague
July 31, 2019
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Bondi's Newest Large-Scale Mural Is a Commentary on Australia's Treatment of Asylum Seekers

It's the work of Sydney street artist Luke Cornish — but not everyone is happy about it.
By Samantha Teague
July 31, 2019
  shares

Twenty-four Australian Border Force officers in full combat gear toting semi-automatics now overlook Bondi Beach. Standing under the words 'Welcome to Bondi' — with a small red 'not' prefixed at the start — the black-and-white officers make up the beachside suburb's latest large-scale mural.

Located on the Bondi Beach Sea Wall, the stencil artwork is by prolific Australian street artist and Archibald Prize finalist Luke Cornish (aka ELK). It's a commentary on Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in on- and offshore detention facilities. As Cornish explains in a post on Facebook, "the 24 Australian Border Force officers represent the 24 suicides in these detention facilities (onshore and offshore) since 2010".

This statistic is particularly poignant at the moment with the government currently in the process of repealing the medical evacuation bill, which gives doctors more say in the transfer of sick (physically and mentally) asylum seekers from offshore detention to mainland Australia for treatment. The repeal passed the House of Representatives late last week, and it is expected to head to the Senate in October.

Luke Cornish by Enzo Amato

Despite the mural's relevance to modern politics, not everyone is happy with it. Even Cornish admits he's had "a mixed reaction" to the work. One local took to social media to say that the mural was "likely to offend families and turn away visitors" and another said it was "inappropriate and hateful",  while others have supported the artwork, calling it "brave", "impressive" and "brilliant social commentary".

The Waverley Council website also comments on the appropriate use of the art-covered wall, making direct mention to artworks of a political nature, saying the wall has "been in operation since the late 1970s and has featured a mix of street and contemporary art with strong social and political messages throughout the decades". Artists must also seek Council permission before painting an artwork, and the application form specifically calls for an outline of the artist's mural concept.

Cornish is no stranger to political artworks, either. His latest exhibition at the Bondi Pavilion Gallery, called The Sea, is an exploration of and response to his three recent trips to war-torn Syria. Some of his other works have touched on France's recent Gilet Jaune movement and the destruction of war.

Despite community outcry, it's looking (for now) as if the mural will stay up for the rest of the year. Each painting on the wall is up for approximately six months — so, if you're interested, make sure you visit it before January.

Luke Cornish's The Sea is on show at Bondi Pavilion Gallery until Thursday, August 8. It's open from 10am–5pm daily. The Bondi Sea Wall mural is expected to be up for another six months.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Headspace.

Images: Enzo Amato.

Published on July 31, 2019 by Samantha Teague

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