“Speaking on a smuggled phone from inside the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, Abdul Aziz Muhamat related an anecdote about his day. He’d been standing near the gate when a security guard had called someone’s name three or four times. The man was standing nearby but he didn’t reply. Aziz told the guard to call his ID number instead – the man responded immediately. ‘Look, man, no one is pretending here. Why should he pretend?’ Aziz told the guard. ‘We forgot our names.’”
They Cannot Take the Sky: Stories from Detention (2017)
how are you today
Since 2013, nearly two thousand men have been indefinitely detained on Manus Island, PNG, by the Australian Government – after arriving in this country seeking asylum. When the Manus Regional Processing Centre was formally closed on 31 October 2017, after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, the men still detained there were ordered to relocate to new, smaller detention centers in Lorengau, the major town on Manus. The authorities eliminated provisions and removed the diesel generators powering the facility, but the men refused to leave: the culmination of years of organised resistance against their involuntary and indefinite detention. Eventually, they were forcefully evicted.
The work commissioned for Eavesdropping is a collaboration between some of these men – Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani, Samad Abdul, Shamindan Kanapathi, Kazem Kazemi and Abdul Aziz Muhamat on Manus – and Michael Green, André Dao and Jon Tjhia in Melbourne. Every day for the duration of the exhibition, one of the men on Manus will make a sound recording – of anything they like or nothing much at all – and send it ‘onshore’ for swift upload to the gallery. No doubt the vagaries of weather, blackouts and technology, along with changing personal, political and legal contexts, will intervene along the way.
how are you today opens a channel for a form of speech at a moment when words seem to have been exhausted. It is at once an extremely intimate work – a rare opportunity to listen to these men listening, only very recently, some four thousand kilometres away – and a highly political one. It introduces the Manus soundscape to the gallery not just for the sake of the sounds-in-themselves, not just as a matter of curiosity (though the work will surely produce an archive of real historical value), but in a way that directly implicates the listener and demands that we attend to the politico-legal contexts that produce and frame them.
Abdul Aziz Muhamat is a 25-year-old man from Darfur, Sudan. He is from the Zaghawa ethnicity, and with his family, he fled his village to a refugee camp. He arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 and was taken to Manus Island, where he remains. He has become one of the primary public voices among the men there, including through the multi-award winning podcast, The Messenger.
Farhad Bandesh is a 36-year-old Kurdish musician, painter and poet who has been detained on Manus Island for over five years. Before seeking asylum, he worked as a guitar maker, and has no formal art training. Whilst in detention, he has produced solo and collaborative works of music, art and writing. He loves nature and is a keen gardener; his sisters now look after his plants.
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. He was writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya. He writes regularly for The Guardian and several other publications. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, and author of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. He has been held on Manus Island since 2013.
Kazem Kazemi is a 36-year-old Kurdish musician, heavy metal and rock songwriter and poet. Before seeking asylum in Australia, he lived in Khorramshahr, Iran, and worked as an electrician.
Shamindan Kanapathi is a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee. In Sri Lanka he was a marketing executive and a student.
Samad Abdul has been detained in an Australian run offshore detention centre on Manus for the last five years. He loves cricket and his only dream was to be a professional cricketer but politicians have taken his dream and used him as a political prisoner. Although his five years will not come back, he now wants to be a social worker to help those who are in pain.
Michael Green is a writer, radio-maker and producer. He is the host of The Messenger podcast and his work has won many national and international awards, including the 2017 Walkley Award for Radio/Audio feature. He has travelled to Manus Island twice.
André Dao is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He is the co-founder of Behind the Wire, an oral history project documenting people’s experience of immigration detention, and the deputy editor of New Philosopher. He is also a qualified lawyer, and has worked with asylum seekers and refugees in a legal capacity.
Jon Tjhia is a radio-maker, musician and writer. As the Wheeler Centre’s senior digital editor, he led the Wheeler Centre’s collaboration with Behind the Wire to produce The Messenger. He’s a co-founder of Paper Radio and the Australian Audio Guide.
Kazem, on Monday, cleaning the oven and making coffee
Kazem, on Monday, cleaning the oven and making coffee
Aziz, yesterday evening, replying to phone messages and organising for sick people to see doctors
Farhad, yesterday, trying to wake himself up by listening to music
Shamindan, yesterday, discussing recent suicide attempts in the camp
Behrouz, on Monday, speaking with visiting refugee advocate Ian Rintoul
Samad, the night before last, watching 'Home Invasion'
Kazem, on Monday, making a capsicum, mushroom and chicken pizza
Aziz, yesterday, with Behrouz and visiting refugee advocates Ian and Nicole
Farhad, a couple of Saturdays ago, taking the bus to the market and music hall
Shamindan, yesterday, on a boat to Rara Island
Behrouz, the day before yesterday, speaking about his book to an event in Sydney
Kazem, on Saturday, taking a shower
Samad, last night, celebrating a friend's impending resettlement to the United States
Farhad, walking through Lorengau's town centre on Manus Day – last Monday
Aziz, last weekend, making a speech to a protest in Melbourne via phone
Shamindan, last night, waiting in the mess for dinner
Behrouz, late last night, having a discussion with Mansour the duck man
Kazem, on Tuesday night, walking around the East Lorengau compound
Samad, on the weekend, going for a walk
Aziz, on the weekend, speaking to Nurann who is on hunger strike
Shamindan, yesterday, on the local bus to town
Farhad, on the weekend, taking his first trumpet lesson with 'Sky', a Manusian musician
Behrouz, yesterday, speaking at Macquarie University via WhatsApp with his translator
Shamindan, yesterday, sitting in his room and listening to a classic song
Kazem, on Sunday, buying electric guitar strings
Aziz, on the weekend, cooking kebabs for his friends
Samad, this morning, listening to rubab music
Farhad, a couple of days ago at the beach with friends (and Shalan, their dog), talking to a young Manus man
Behrouz, yesterday, practicing singing at a place beside the camp
Kazem, on the weekend, shopping at Lorengau market
Shamindan, on Sunday, at church
Aziz, the day before yesterday, playing cards and listening to music from Sudan
Farhad, on Friday, trying to do his washing – and waiting
Behrouz, last night, practicing singing with his Kurdish friend Arin
Samad, yesterday at three in the morning, listening to the creatures in the jungle
Kazem, at the start of this week, playing guitar in the laundry room of the East Lorengau camp
Aziz, the night before last, listening to bird sounds on his phone to relax his mind
Samad, last week, listening to waves and trying to relax
Farhad, a couple of days ago, speaking with a local Manus man
Shamindan, a couple of days ago, at Lorengau market
Behrouz, the night before last, sitting by the fence near the jungle
Kazem, two days ago, donating blood at Lorengau General Hospital
Samad, last week, at boxing practice
Aziz, the week before last, consoling his Somali friend with some Somali music
Kazem, a couple of days ago, talking to Mansour in the East Lorengau camp
Shamindan, last week, speaking with Srirangan while he cooks fish curry
Behrouz, the day before yesterday, walking in the jungle in the morning
Farhad, last week, playing music, making tea and listening to songs
Samad, a couple of weeks ago, listening to slow music
Aziz, last week, watching the World Cup final with the guys