Island Welcome - | Mel Young
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Mel Young

Island Welcome

Mel Young


This lei is a visceral reaction, from the heart, to Australia’s refugee policy. In this lei are strung many thoughts, which I will endeavour to entwine.

I was struck by curator Belinda Newick’s introductory statement to the exhibition in which she spoke of the ‘island welcome’ of the shell lei, a welcoming gift for arrival. I have been collecting discarded shell lei for many years, mostly from hard rubbish piles on the side of the road in Sydney’s urbane inner city suburbs. It both saddens and angers me that the (anonymous) backbreaking labour and skill required to make these shell lei are so undervalued that they can be tossed aside on the return from a holiday.

My collection of disregarded treasures has formed the basis of this piece. The undervalued skill represented in the discarded necklaces and their rejection has become for me a metaphor for the treatment of refugees in this country. Along the streets where the shell lei have been rescued an (introduced) icon of leafy suburbia grows. Synonymous, in Sydney at least with the Liberal heartland of the North Shore, the jacaranda’s downy lilac blooms form a spectacular aerial canopy, yet when they fall they create a treacherous slippery carpet, not unlike the image and reality of the promise of a new life on Australia. The jacaranda appears in this lei (along with other flowers) sharp and black, cast in silver from deconstructed plastic flowers (again made by anonymous workers), the beautiful and soft rendered hard and unyielding.

This is an uncomfortable lei, it weighs heavy on the shoulders of the wearer and I hope it provides a moment of thought, a pause to reflect on the value of human life, skill and the importance of valuing and preserving a warm welcoming gesture.

Materials: 2018, shells, sterling Silver silk thread