A haunting portrait of the Kurdish writer and refugee Behrouz Boochani has been voted the fan favourite at this year’s Archibald Prize portrait exhibition.
The oil painting by six-time Archibald prize finalist Angus McDonald depicts Boochani’s piercing gaze.
McDonald first contacted Mr Boochani, a writer, poet, filmmaker and journalist, while creating a short film about Manus Island in 2018.
Mr Boochani was detained on Manus Island after seeking asylum in Australia by boat in 2013, only managing to leave for New Zealand in 2019. He was granted refugee status there this year.
He rose to prominence in Australia for his writing about detention and the treatment of refugees, finally writing a book by WhatsApp, the award-winning No Friend But The Mountains.
McDonald said in a statement that winning the people’s choice award was the “highest compliment …for me as the artist but I suspect even more for Behrouz, who despite never even setting foot on the mainland, has earned the respect, admiration and even the love of so many Australians for his writing, his art, and his tireless struggle against captivity”.
“I’ve depicted Behrouz directly engaging the viewer as a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived an ordeal and is now free. Despite all he has been through, Behrouz remains dedicated to his work and is open, gentle and kind.”
Mr Boochani said he believed the work resonated with the public “because people see it as a symbol of hope and resistance, especially minorities and refugees in the community or in detention”.
He said McDonald had spent time understanding the different layers of his story and that the two had a long conversation about injustice.
“He as an artist captured what was important to me with his deep insights and remarkable skills,” Mr Boochani said.
McDonald’s first attempt to visit his subject on Manus Island failed when PNG authorities seized his passport and escorted his group to a flight back to Australia.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said the portrait was the clear favourite among the 13,645 visitors to the exhibition who voted.
“Angus McDonald’s striking hyperrealist depiction of Behrouz Boochani’s piercing gaze captivated – and, I dare say, challenged – audiences from day one and is an important statement of what the public view as a significant human story,” he said in a statement.