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Art for heart's sake in refugee art prize

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See article in its original context here by Annabel Ross for The Age.

“I wish to see”, a twist on the famous Mahatma Gandhi saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, was a fitting theme for this year’s Heartlands Refugee Art Prize.

The winners of the three main awards – a newly arrived prize, an artist-in-residence prize and two highly commended entries – were announced at the Thursday night exhibition opening of the shortlisted works at fortyfivedownstairs.

Now in its fourth year, the competition attracted 70 entries this year, including paintings, drawings, photographs and mixed-medium pieces. Artists from 16 countries are represented in the 40 shortlisted works that make up the exhibition, judged by a panel of prominent Melbourne arts figures, including Carol Cains, curator of Asian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, and Daine Singer, who runs a gallery in Flinders Lane.

There was no second-place prize this year, with Ethiopian-born Sutueal Bekele Althe and Vietnamese-born Minh Phan instead named joint winners. Phan, who came runner up in last year’s prize, impressed judges with an oil on copper painting called Two Views.

It’s about “what lies at the heart of the refugee debate; the bonds of family and the barriers of separation,” says Phan in his competition entry. Phan fled Vietnam by boat in 1980, at the age of seven, with his older brother and father. Three years later, his mother, older sister and younger brother joined the family in Melbourne. Phan’s painting is divided into four squares, depicting his family in Vietnam 25 years ago, and his new family, comprising Phan, his Australian wife and their twin girls, conceived through IVF in 2012.

Phan, who graduated in medicine at Melbourne University in 1999, is enrolled in a masters of contemporary art at the Victorian College of the Arts, and continues to work part-time as a GP while painting on the side.


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