Make no mistakes about it, Mehdi Jaghuri wants Australian audiences to be confronted by his work. The Afghan-Australian artist is disheartened by the current dehumanising state of refugee affairs in the country and has taken out his “anger and frustration” onto a canvas.
Born in Jaghuri in Central Afghanistan, he moved to Australia as a child in 2005 after his family fled Hazara targeted persecution. Now in his final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Monash he is determined in changing the conversation and language around refugees and asylum seekers.
For the past year he has been busy producing a collection of work that takes a “critical view of social, political and cultural issues” and draws on his own experiences as a refugee.
In a collection of confronting self-portraits titled “Tortured” Jaghuri uses bright prints and masking tape placed over his face to deform his physical features. The artist explains that this process of mutilation intends to obscure his identity and disconnect from what he calls “a sick world”, and force Australian audiences to self-reflect on their own practice of identifying others through narrow lenses of ethnicity and nationality.
The pieces also comment on the loss of identity experienced by refugees in Australia where they are neither accepted as “Australians” and yet no longer have a physical connection to their homelands. His disfigured portraits allude to a detachment of self and belonging. He muses on how Australians would interact with each other if we no longer placed importance on narrow constraints of identity and if refugees were no longer presented as the dangerous “Other”.
In “3 Brothers Dead” he quietly captures the senselessness of conflict in Afghanistan. The painting a mixture of “thick and juicy” swirls of browns, reds and oranges was inspired by the real life tragedy of three young brothers who were all killed on the same day. While brutal the artist insists that he wanted to bring an almost “beautiful energy” into the painting while also convey to Australian audiences the potential dangers of sending refugees back to conflict and war zones.
Currently based in Melbourne, he remains committed to a career in art as it is “the only visual language I can use to bring my culture” to the forefront and hopefully bring change to Australian culture.