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Q&A: An Australian artist delighted to use her work to help refugees


Q&A: An Australian artist delighted to use her work to help refugees

Edwina White jumped at the chance of designing New Year’s cards for UNHCR’s office in Argentina. She discusses her creations and her contact with refugees.
2 December 2009
'Red Sea' : One of the six cards designed by Edwina White.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, December 2 (UNHCR) - Even though she was busy preparing for a big opening in a Los Angeles gallery, Edwina White jumped at the chance of designing New Year's cards for UNHCR's office in Argentina. The New York-based Australian artist created six cards featuring stylish images of women and celebration. The cards have gone on sale in bookshops around Argentina and funds raised will be used to support programmes to help vulnerable refugee women, including those who have been resettled in Argentina. White talked about refugees and her work during a meeting with UNHCR Public Information Officer Carolina Podesta. Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you decide to help UNHCR?

I was delighted to be asked. Sometimes I don't feel very useful, making art in silence. And then there's this.

Please describe your work and tell us what inspires you.

It's playful and approachable and inspired by human odyssey. It looks old, because the paper is old; pages found from old books and publications. And I use very basic materials - pencils and ink and tea and collage elements - which are invested in multiple meanings for people. A friend of mine calls it visual haiku.

Australian artist Edwina White

Funds raised from sales of the cards will be used to help 'women at risk.' Does this issue have special meaning for you?

I think all women have some sort of understanding between each other. I was told once that women are born with a sense of honour and they are constantly reminded to retain that. I think there is that extra consciousness that is shared.

One of your pictures, which is not part of this set, is entitled 'Refugee.' Tell us a bit more about it.

It's a crouched, barefoot woman in an oversized man's blazer, making her look like a bird. There's a city on fire in her smoky hair. The thinking is that we are each our home and that, if circumstances are difficult, we need to fly. To leave things behind.

Did you know any refugees?

Only friends who were adopted as refugees. They are unsure of their roots, which makes them especially curious beings - ever searching. I don't live in my home country, but that is my choice and I am most welcome and encouraged to return any time. Most of my friends in New York are from somewhere else.

It connects us. We form essential familial relationships. Some of them cannot go home. I am lucky.

Do you think art can help refugees and, if so, how?

For self expression, absolutely. To expand language and comprehension, to communicate most deeply. And creative solutions to issues should be encouraged.

What do you think of Australian policy on immigration and asylum?

Basically Australia has plenty of room, but not much water to go around. The concentration of people is coastal. The government is notoriously unsure as to what to do with immigrants. There are some very crowded detention centres, perhaps to discourage people. They are most likely to be already suffering

a great deal. I cannot see the point of discouraging people who may well contribute to make your country truly great.