Freeing The Captive Creative Soul

We all have a need to create. Whether we are a writer, artist, photographer, musician, decorator, gardener, programmer, cook or athlete, we all feel the joy of seeing something that has come from us. It feeds our soul and lightens our days.

But what if you couldn’t create?

What happens to the writer who is jailed because of his words? What happens to the musician who is shunned by her community because of the style of music she chooses to play? What happens to the artist who is locked away and told “You must do nothing”?

The writer may continue to write in the hope of regime change. The musician may move to another community in the hope of bringing awareness to the restrictions placed on others. But what does the captive do?

A young man held in immigration detention for many years said the worst thing about being locked away was not the lack of freedom of movement or the indignity of security measures but being able to do nothing. With nothing to do, there is only time to think. “You are useless, Mohammad.” “You are worth nothing, Mohammad.”

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending an art exhibition of works by those currently or formerly held in immigration detention in Melbourne. A small band of volunteers had supplied the asylum seekers with art materials and encouraged them to express themselves. The works were amazing and often heartbreaking.

Screaming Freedom

‘Screaming Freedom’ and ‘Freedom’ by Sina Pourhorayed


‘Guards’ by Mostafa Deilami

Shamans Wand

‘Shaman’s Wand’ by Mostafa Deilami  Constructed from objects found around the detention centre grounds.

Nimsay Mask

‘Nimsay’ by Mostafa Deilami (L) and ‘Mask’ by Sahar (R)


‘Mudslide’ by Leila Hamidavi


“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe


Over The Fence

My thanks to the artists from the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, the volunteer visitors and Lisa Stewart (originator and curator of the exhibition) for an enlightening and moving event. Thanks also to Elly McDonald for the photos.




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44 thoughts on “Freeing The Captive Creative Soul

  1. Being cut off from the wider world and unable to be creative must indeed be very difficult to bear. I’m glad the asylum seekers who contributed the works to the exhibition were given the chance to express themselves so memorably.

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  2. These are some powerful works . I cant even imagine that feeling of powerlessness one would feel in a situation where one is unable to express oneself.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s an interesting proposition, to not be able to create or fulfill our inner passions. From the works of art, I can see and sense a certain kind of loneliness. A sense of melancholy too. The second last one is indeed interesting with the bright colours – hopeful. As Pray said, unable to express oneself can be scary. Sort of makes you wonder who you are.

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  4. There is a reason children who have been traumatized are given paper and crayons to express themselves. Sometimes words are inadequate.

    Given the small examples you have provided, this exhibition must have been very emotional. The painting that struck me the most was ‘Mudslide’. I can’t imagine what it must do to the psyche when you feel like you have no voice and there’s no one to listen.

    Liked by 3 people

    • There were some that just made you stand transfixed trying to get your head around the level of pain and anguish evident in the artwork. I wish I’d had more examples but I didn’t go thinking about the blog. I was there to experience it and only afterwards realised I could share it this way. (I also have an aversion to photographing art that I can’t explain.) Grateful to my friend Elly for her photos.


      • I have to admit, it wouldn’t necessarily occur to me to photograph art. Statues, yes. Exhibits, yes … but for some reason, I wouldn’t think of paintings, sketches, etc.

        It obviously left its mark with you … especially since this is a topic you are rather sensitive to in the first place.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you. I really like to take pictures but in some situations it is more important to just look and feel and be in the moment and for that you sometimes have to put the camera down.


  5. “Screaming Freedom” stood out for me as the anguish of being captive, especially when there’s nothing to do. I can’t imagine this for anyone, so I am thankful today for my freedom and ability to be create. All of the artwork is amazing and this was a very special exhibit. Are the volunteers continuing to supply art materials to asylum seekers or was this a one-time project?

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  6. I am left with shivers at the end of your post Heather. It is hard to imagine these people being cut off from the world. We spent Saturday with our family who has come from Syria via Jordan. What a difference to see their new lives and the freedom they now have.

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    • Sue, it’s so hard for us to see how welcoming Canada has been to those needing safety when our own country is sinking to ever deeper levels of cruelty and exclusion. It must be so wonderful for you to see the changes in the lives of your Syrian family.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It must be very difficult to see Heather. Don’t get me wrong in that the family here has many challenges ahead but the joy of small things overshadows this. I am hopeful a resolution can be found in your country.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hope so too. We have an election in less than two weeks but as both major parties have been on a race to the bottom in regard to asylum seekers I’m not overly hopeful of change. But perhaps someone in a position to make change will have a conscience strong enough to make it happen.

          Liked by 2 people

    • When I was thinking about how to respond with this post, that was the thing that struck me most. Muhammad’s words about not being able to do anything and all you can do is think which naturally leads to negative thoughts, really hit home to me. The thought of not being able to express myself creatively….

      Liked by 1 person

      • I realize the context makes it different because a detained person is not allowed to make most choices anymore (when/how/where to eat, sit, sleep, stand, talk) and a painter with a broken hand can still exercise those choices. Nonetheless, do you think people who lose the ability to create due to illness, physical injury, neurological/cognitive deterioration experience similar unease, frustration, etc? A painter might learn to use the non-dominant hand; any visual artist who loses her sight could still find another outlet, yet it can’t be that simple.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think anything that removes a way you are used to expressing yourself would be difficult. I guess the difference in circumstances is, as you’ve already suggested, that the opportunity would be there to find another way to express yourself creatively. For those in detention, there is no other way. Here, detention is also indefinite so they have no idea how long they will have to live like that. Some have been held in detention for several years. It’s hard to imagine what that must be like.

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  7. I can barely imagine what not being able to do anything would do to my psyche. These are incredibly powerful works. Do you happen to know how long the exhibition runs for? I’m hoping to be in Melbourne in the next few weeks and would love to visit it.

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      • That makes me want to cry and rage! For artists, seeing how others’ respond to their work is a huge part of the process. It’s not a vanity thing; artists really gain from the interaction and from being in a moment of genuine community. But I suppose it is easier to keep demonising detainees if no-one gets to meet them and talk to them. Oh how I hate the world sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I read a thesis once that literally mapped sectarian violence and division in Northern Ireland. Unsurprisingly, the areas that were the most segregated by religion were the least tolerant. If we don’t meet people different to ourselves, we find it easy to regard them as “other” and justify inhuman treatment. Isolating detainees stops people from meeting them and seeing that really, we are all the same.

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  8. The job done by volunteers is wonderful and shows what can be achieved. Australia’s stance by the major party is shameful. I wrote this on the ABC ‘The drum’ yesterday.

    “In Europe; Italy, France, Spain and Greece do try and save refugees at risk from drowning. They have boats and aeroplanes scanning the seas and help those reaching safety.

    Here they are given an orange boat or are pushed around back to Indonesia or Sri Lanka.

    People smugglers are painted as criminals but they offer a service for which the demand is enormous. The refugees take that risk. They feel they have nothing to lose. Climbing Mount Everest, surfing the seas or clearing lobster pots is probably more hazardous. Yet, we don’t stop those activities.
    Who are we, to so sanctimoniously take this fake moral stance in ‘saving lives’ while treating refugees to the point of self immolation.

    Shame on Australia, shame on Turnbull, and shame on all of you that take this inhumane and phoney stance.”

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    Liked by 1 person

    • The trouble is that both major parties are as bad as each other. How can we achieve change if whoever is in government continues these appalling policies? I am beginning to think that all we can hope for is an upper and lower house filled with independents and minor parties. Maybe they’ll be able to inject a little compassion? (Depending on which ones get in, I guess.)


  9. Pingback: Freeing The Captive Creative Soul — Master of Something I’m Yet To Discover | Therapy-cooking

  10. Art is very helpful when we can’t put into words our chaotic thoughts. It’s one of the best therapies to express oneself.. 😊
    I appreciates all of these abstract paintings because i know behind these artworks tells alot of meaningful stories. Thank you for sharing MSY! 😚

    Liked by 1 person

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