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Greek photographer gives voice to the refugee experience at the Sydney Festival

Maria Kourkouta is one of 14 artists from around the world being featured as part of the 'In Your Dreams' exhibition, exploring the impact of wealth inequality

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A scene from Maria Kourkouta's short film Idomeni. Photos: Supplied

In Australia we can be cocooned from the major problems that face the world.
05 January 2018

Despite it being 2018, humanity's advancements in science and technology, and the fact that more people around the world than ever have some sort of access to education, inequality and displacement persist.

A new exhibition launching this week at UNSW Galleries as part of the 2018 Sydney Festival, 'In Your Dreams' endeavours to highlight these global challenges from around the world through confronting imagery.

Curated by Dr Felicity Fenner and Cherie McNair, together they have selected 14 artists from around the world, including Australia, Greece, Bangladesh, China, France, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and the US to share the stories of people that have been left with no choice but to leave their homes due to war, natural disaster, or poverty.

"In Australia we can be cocooned from the major problems that face the world. Because we process immigrants offshore and we're an island - it can sometimes be difficult to have refugee stories made visible," said Dr Fenner, director of UNSW Galleries, and with this exhibition she hopes to get minds ticking over and the dialogue going.

Among those exhibiting their work is Greek cinematographer Maria Kourkouta.

Dr Fenner first came across the artist's 17-minute video Idomeni at the Jeu de Paume Gallery in Paris in 2016.

The short film, shot by Kourkouta on location at the border of Greece and FYROM on 14 March 2016 when the European Commission closed the 'Balkan route', documents the story of several hundred refugees stuck at Idomeni who made their way through fields and barbed wire fencing to the village of Moin, where they were arrested by FYROM's army and sent back to Greece.

Shot at ground level, the curator told Neos Kosmos she was deeply confronted by what she saw.

"It's a work about refugees fleeing on foot. I was really, really moved by it. Because it's shot from ground level, you feel like you're in amongst it and it's just a paddock of mud really," she said.

"What happened was, people were walking to the fence that had been opened, and when it was closed, they were turning around and coming back and so what you have is this video of people, individuals but mostly couples and whole families, walking past you and then moments later walking back," which the curator says is all too reminiscent of caged animals, the refugees seen walking backwards and forwards looking perplexed and angry.

Meanwhile bringing the context closer to home, local Australian artist Raphaela Rosella is showcasing her work on the lives of young mothers in Moree in outback New South Wales, who face their own hardships and discrimination.

While it may be a different background to the stories located in the rest of the world, Dr Fenner says she hopes that all the issues around displacement and inequality being explored in the works, will help spread greater global awareness in Australia while revealing that, inevitably, locals are not untouched by it.

"I had three months in Paris on a residency and the refugee crisis really struck me; it's in your face everyday, with mostly Syrians coming in, living in terrible conditions in Metro stations and things like that and I realised how we are so distanced from it in Australia even though its happening just off shore; it's not in our face and we can choose to ignore it and that's why I wanted to tell these stories," she revealed.

"And it's true, images speak louder than words."

'In Your Dreams' will be on show from Saturday 6 January - Saturday 24 February at UNSW Galleries (corner Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington, NSW).

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