New We Bleed the Same photography exhibition highlights Australians’ experiences of racism
Ernie Friedlander was only seven years old when he and his mother were taken to a gas chamber in Nazi Germany.
“We walked for about four or five hours, it was winter, it was 1944 and it was getting dark,” he said.
Towards the end of their trip, a German soldier approached the couple and whispered something to Ernie’s mother. A few minutes later, she offered to stop Ernie to help him tie his shoelaces.
“As I was going down to mend her shoelaces, she grabbed me and we rolled down the side of the road,” he said.
At 15, Ernie traveled to Australia and dedicated his life to educating young people about racism, promoting respect for diversity and an inclusive society.
Now, the Holocaust survivor’s journey is just one of many stories being shared as part of a new photography exhibition at the Australian National University (ANU), titled We Bleed the Same.
Over 30 striking portraits were made for the exhibition and each tells a different and deeply personal story about experiences of racism, intolerance and flight from persecution.
“If I used my name, I was beaten”
A closer-to-home example of racism featured in the exhibition is portrayed through a portrait of James Michael ‘Widdy’ Welsh.
Uncle Widdy is a Stolen Generations survivor who was part of the Kinchela Boys Home – used for over 50 years to house Indigenous boys who had been forcibly removed from their families.
“If I used my name, I was beaten, abused, treated less than an animal.”
Now an adult, Uncle Widdy said he lost “his culture, his identity and his family”.
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to drink away my pain, suffering, inside and outside of prison for 45 years. I’m still learning about my heritage and trying to heal,” did he declare.
The father of 10 is now the treasurer of the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation in Sydney, which is committed to providing peer support to fellow survivors and their families, as well as rebuilding and strengthening identity , family structures and services.
Exhibition inspired by personal experiences of racism
Curator Liz Deep-Jones has worked on the exhibit for over 20 years, spurred on by her own experiences of racism in Australia.
“My parents were immigrants and we grew up experiencing racism,” she said.
Ms Deep-Jones said her father “constantly faced extreme forms of racism”, but always stood up for himself. She said he had a real sense of belonging to Australia, but it took him a bit longer to reach the same level of self-acceptance.
“I had a hard time crossing the two cultures. I felt like I didn’t look like an Australian – I don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, I spoke Arabic,” he said. she stated.
“I was embarrassed to speak my language in front of my friends, I was ashamed.”
But in the years since, Ms Deep-Jones has dedicated herself to raising awareness of the effects of racism and intolerance.
A number of immigrants, refugees, First Nations and people from diverse backgrounds have volunteered their time for the project, which will be featured at ANU for at least the next six months.
Exhibit photographer Tim Bauer has been in the industry for over 40 years and said he jumped at the chance to capture real people with real stories.
“I’m definitely the most proud of that [project] from afar.”
Reflect Australia’s diversity
A prominent symbol of Australia, a Hills Hoist clothesline, stands amidst the artwork – an invitation for visitors to share their own stories as part of the exhibition.
Hanging from red strings, Ms Deep-Jones said the strings of photos represented “the ties that bind us together”.
“[It] reflects the diversity of Australia,” she said.
There are also 37 vials of fake blood that greet visitors as they enter the exhibit, each symbolizing one of the attendees who shared their story.
After more than two decades of preparation, it is this message that Ms Deep-Jones hopes her exhibition will convey, and that it will engage visitors in ongoing conversations about racism in Australia.
“I love the idea that it’s going to affect them, move them and make them say, ‘I want to do something, I want to stand up with these people and be a part of this and make a difference,'” he said. she declared.
We Bleed the Same is currently on display in the ANU School of Social Science Research building.