Illustrating the Nauru Files in ‘All That We Can’t See’

In August of 2016, The Guardian published The Nauru Files, a damning insight into the conditions at one of Australia’s off-shore detention centres.

The lack of media access to the island meant that the Australian public, and the world, were largely kept in the dark when it came to Nauru and its inhabitants. But the 8, 000 pages of leaked incident reports from employees stationed within the camps between 2013-2015, left little to the imagination. The files detail 2,116 individual cases of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm, child abuse and abhorrent living conditions endured by asylum seekers in the care of the Australian Government. Over 50% of recorded incidents involved children, such as this incident from 2015 involving a young girl:

“She reported that she has been asking for a 4-minute shower as opposed to 2 minutes. Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”

In an attempt to humanise these records, over 35 artists have gathered to create All That We Can’t See, an exhibition attempting to personalise and educate the public on these injustices, through art. Curated by Sydney artist Arielle Gamble and Daniel New, the phenomenal lineup of Australian artists includes the likes of Ben Quilty, Mark Whalen, Penny Byrne, Abdul Abdullah, Marisa Purcell, and Jamie Preisz, as well as Iraqi asylum seeker Abbas Alaboudi and work created during his time in detention on Nauru.

Each artist has created a visual response to an incident file of their choosing, calling to account the human rights abuses that the Australian government allowed to happen on their watch, and of which many Australians still do not know the true extent of. But the purpose of the exhibition reaches far beyond the gallery walls and the roster of artists involved, asking that members of the public submit their own artwork (you can take part here) in response to a file of their choosing, such as this piece by Annabelle Hale:

On morning bus run [REDACTED] showed me a heart he had sewn into his hand using a needle and thread. I asked why and he said “I don’t know.”

Annabelle Hale

All That We Can’t See runs from February 2-10 at The Yellow House Gallery, Potts Point, Sydney. Head to for more info, or to submit your own artwork.

Alex Seton
Sam Harrison
Ben Quilty
Janet Laurence
Mark Whalen
Abdul Abdullah (artwork submitted online)
Hugo Muecke (artwork submitted online)
Holly Greenwood (artwork submitted online)


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