On Saturday 30 September Australian artist Josephine Fagan received the Fringe Festival Best Visual Arts Award for her work ‘Diaspora’ which was exhibited at the Alliance Francaise Eildon Gallery as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

The award night was held at the Fringe Hub Arts House at the North Melbourne Town Hall with six nominees in that category out of more than the 40 art exhibitions that were part of the festival.

“I did not even know that I had been nominated until I received a phone call late Saturday afternoon informing me of the nomination and suggesting that I should definitely attend the awards night,” Josephine told Neos Kosmos after receiving the award.

“Even then, I wasn’t really expecting to win, so it was an exciting surprise to hear that ‘Diaspora’ was announced the winner. I was so elated and grateful for the recognition.”

‘Diaspora’ was an installation of over 1,500 ceramic vessels arranged on the gallery floor as a symbolic representation of the perilous journey of Syrian refugees attempting the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece. The artwork was inspired by Josephine’s six-week stay on the Greek island of Skopelos and her time in Athens, where she investigated cross-cultural symbols of belief, fortune, loss, transition and travel.

“October 2015 was a difficult time for the Greeks that had to face an influx of refugees, especially on the Eastern coasts of the Aegean, with 300,000 Syrian refugees arriving continuously after having fled their country seeking a better life,” said Josephine admitting that it was during that time that she discovered the Greek people’s generosity and the real meaning behind the Greek word φιλοξενία.

“I immediately felt so welcome and so loved that I did not want to leave the island.”

Josephine Fagan

Josephine said that although she was touched by the locals’ welcome, she was also really moved by the way the broader Greek community treated the refugees.

“It was just an eye-opener to meet and discuss with the residents of a small island that had just been hit and severely damaged by a catastrophic flood as well, and my experience in Greece has made me realise that in Australia we are much stricter in terms of how we treat people in need and I feel that there is a lot we can learn from the Greeks in terms of how they treat other human beings.”

Each of Fagan’s ceramic vessels on display was individually glazed and some contained glass in ultramarine, aquamarine, and crimson colours.

Throughout the exhibition the audience was invited to bring with them a precious object to swap with a piece of the artwork, taking Fagan’s artwork home.

“Overall the exhibition was very successful. People brought with them a range of thoughtful items to swap with the vessels making up the artwork and also left touching comments in a guest book.
“Some people left things like little origami and paper sculptures that they had made, a little lantern to ‘light the way’, small icons like an angel or saint, and also funny things like a bar of chocolate, a tin of fish, tiny perfume bottles, a bell, a teddy bear, and even a Greek flag.”

Fagan hopes that through this exchange the vessels will be dispersed throughout our community in a gesture of recognition for the precious lives lost and support for those seeking safe passage to a better life.

“I was trying to make a humane statement that we should all remember to help each other in time of need and during the exhibition I received an immense amount of very positive feedback from people who took part in the experience. I think it had a very strong message that people were able to connect with and this is why I won the award.”