The belief that Australia is a lucky country with an easygoing lifestyle and a welcoming community is real for many people who live here or visit. This ideal is promoted beyond our shores by our tourism industry. Nonetheless when entering the country—even as an Australian resident—the first steps off a plane are less than welcoming. The border security process to gain access is cold, formal and is an adverse experience for some people. It can be intimidating, confusing and extremely unwelcoming.
One might be forgiven for thinking the first impression of our country should be inviting: that it ought to reveal something about who we are and reflect the diversity of our cultures, at the same time acknowledging and celebrating our First Nations people. It should be expected—as a democratic, innovative, first world island nation—that we consider how people feel in those first moments as the plane touches down. Particular consideration should be given to people visiting for the first time or migrating from another country: they will have travelled vast distances to get to our beautiful country, and many people will be far from home and their loved ones. A Welcome / Un-welcome lei is a reflection on the uninviting Australian border experience. Unlike other traditional handmade island garlands that are colourful and kind spirited—including the widely recognised Hawaiian lei where a wreath of flowers is presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection—this lei responds to the unwelcome reception visitors encounter as they enter our country. The word ‘welcome’ is engraved in different languages on the surface of the handmade blackened gum leaves threaded together, so the greeting is hidden. In this way, Welcome / Un-welcome garland is ominous rather than welcoming, devoid of celebratory ritual, emulating the current reality experienced by arrivals to our shores.
Materials: 2018, porcelain, oxidised, sterling silver, steel and nylon thread
Represented by Pieces of Eight, Melbourne and Charon Kransen, New York