Artists aren’t exactly known to abide by the rules. They bend and break the social norms set around them to suit their own creative outlook and vision. Some artists, however, take their rule-breaking to extreme, life-threatening levels.
A key example can be found in Myuran Sukumaran. This Australian drug convict made his claim to infamy through his membership in a group of drug smugglers who became known as the Bali Nine. Forming a partnership with Andrew Chan, the pair recruited seven others to smuggle eighteen pounds of heroin from Indonesia to Australia, an attempt which failed.
This led to Sukumaran’s 2006 criminal conviction and incarceration in Kerobokan Prison, where he has spent ten years awaiting execution. Most people would understandably spend such time resigning themselves to such a fate. Sukumaran, however, has instead designed to devote himself to the outpouring of his own abundance of artistic talents.
These talents demonstrate themselves in the bleak brilliance of Sukumaran’s oil paintings, most of which reflect the haunting backdrop of his existence on death row. Many of these paintings have been exhibited at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre.
One of the more notable examples includes Self Portrait (date unknown), featuring the profile of what is assumed to be Sukumaran’s face, though what makes it difficult to know for sure whose face is depicted is the fact that the features are blurred and smeared in a variety of colours. This may reflect Sukumaran’s feelings of losing his identity since his imprisonment, a bleak suggestion enhanced by the piece’s black background.
Another piece worthy of comment is Grandfather, the Last Day (date unknown), representing a grandfather just before his demise. The painting is similarly blurred and obscure, and yet they are still in clear enough definition to portray the anguish felt by the man in his final hours of mortality.
True genius perseveres in the face of bleak circumstances. Death awaits us all, whether enforced by law or by nature. Our time in life has its limits. Why not use our time, then, to share whatever talents we possess with the world, just as Sukumaran has done?
—Luke Mayo, Correspondent (Art)