Porous Borders

  • Pygmalion Studio, Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, 4-6 June 2003
  • Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Western Australia, 24 July - 31 August 2003
  • Victorian College of the Arts Gallery, Melbourne, 2004
  • Span Galleries, Melbourne, Victoria, 7 - 18 June 2005

Porous Borders addresses current migration and refugee issues in Australia and globally. The work relates to heightened global anxieties over border-protection and consists of 56 pictures of children's faces dispersed amongst images of waves.

Australia's most recent border-protection 'crisis'; dates from mid to late 2001 when a higher than usual number of boats began arriving, via Indonesia, carrying refugees from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. During this period a number of significant events occurred very closely together; the most notorious of these being the 'children overboard affair' in which it was claimed that refugees entering Australian waters threw their children into the sea in order to be rescued and granted asylum.

As this incident occurred during a federal election campaign in October 2001, its use to win votes from an already fearful population (primed to distrust strangers a month after September 11) was viewed by some as cynical. Although every subsequent enquiry has exonerated the refugees involved and exposed the information promulgated by the governing party as fallacious, the momentum of 'world-terror' rhetoric threatened to carry the majority of Australians further towards isolationism.

It is relatively recently that a critical mass of people has emerged to protest against Australia's current refugee policies through the huge peace marches that have strongly linked the primary cause of statelessness to war. Porous Borders seeks to contribute to this positive momentum.

Refugees swimming from the sinking Olong to an Australian Navy rescue craft, 7 October 2001


Individual paintings and an installation view of Porous Borders 2005, as part of Under one Roof at Span Galleries Melbourne, oil on linen and board, each portrait approx 15 x 15 cms


Porous Borders installed at Pygmalion Studios, Old Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, 2003

The images used are mostly of the artist's friends' children but hidden amongst them are some of the 56 children who were said to have been thrown into the water during the 'children overboard affair'.

The installation explores solidarity and diversity, identification and difference and empathy and alienation: all themes that underpin current international debates about border-opening and border-protection.

"Penelope Aitken's installation juxtaposes the faces of Iraqi children with images of children
from manistream Australian society. By positioning them among images of the ocean in this erily lit
space, Aitken encourages the audience to reconsider their position of priviledge and
to rethink 'them' and 'us'."

Eva Fernandez, curator of Australiens, in which Porous Borders was included at PICA, Western Australia

Porous Borders was supported by Arts Victoria and the Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta in Cyprus and by the Perth Institue of Contemporary Arts in WA


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