Eritrean refugee plight captured by Werribee artist in Altona

When a boat carrying 500 asylum seekers sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa, it moved Michael Adonai to create the works featured in his Altona exhibition titled I did not choose to be a refugee.

Eritrea-born Adonai is a winner of his country’s top art prize. He has exhibited internationally, including at a United Nations-sponsored global art show in New York.

In 1977, aged 15, Adonai joined the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. Much of his early work centres on his experiences of war.

Adonai, who lives in Werribee, said that his latest works paid tribute to the 359 asylum seekers who died in the sea on October 3.

“In particular, the exhibition pays homage to an Eritrean woman, seven months pregnant, who prematurely gave birth to a baby boy while drowning.

”When rescue divers pulled them from the sea bed, the mother and baby were still connected by the umbilical cord.”

Adonai’s exhibition will be at Altona’s Joel Gallery from June 14-27. The Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre is $1000 shy of the funds needed to frame Adonai’s pieces.

Centre manager Jill Bilston said it was a coup to secure Adonai’s solo exhibition.

“He has had exhibitions in New York, Washington and several European countries,” she said.

“We are so proud to have this exhibition in Altona.

“So far, the centre has received two lots of funding totalling $1500. We need another $1000 to enable all his work to be framed to a high standard.”

The exhibition is supported by Hobsons Bay council and Multicultural Arts Victoria. Adonai now works with Wyndham council to share his skills with aspiring young artists.

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