I started working on this project about the Sudanese diaspora in Australia after photographing a family for another project set in the suburbs. According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Sudanese community is currently one of the fastest growing groups in Australia. In the last few years many Sudanese migrants have moved into the area where I live and I’ve watched their integration into our (largely Anglo) community with interest.
After making my first portrait of a family who’d been in Australia for 4 years, I suddenly had many other families asking me to make portraits of them too. Throughout the process of photographing, I heard many stories as to how and why they’d arrived here. As a mother with my own family, I find it impossible not to be moved. Stories of immense courage and sacrifice but also of hope, for a brighter future in Australia.
Australia is a country that maintains a controversial record for embracing migrants; government policies are parochial at best and there remains an underlying racist tension which is deeply rooted in a traumatic and unacknowledged indigenous history. And so, I wonder how this community will settle and maintain a sense of their own identity? How will they integrate and contribute to the cultural future of Australia?
As I negotiate my engagement with the community, my aim with this project is to continue working on the series of portraits but to also evolve it into a larger body about identity, displacement and belonging as well as the process of integration and citizenship in the context of the Australian suburbs. In making this portrait of my new neighbours, I hope to find some measure of understanding that transcends culture and language and that I can share with my fellow Australians for the present and into the future.
Lee is a documentary photographer who lives and works in Canberra. She holds a degree in Anthropology and in 2010 completed a Master of Philosophy (Visual Arts) at the ANU School of Art.
Lee has exhibited at the Australian Centre for Photography (Sydney), the Monash Gallery of Art (Melbourne) and the National Portrait Gallery (Canberra) amongst others. She has been a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize, the Head On Alternative Portrait Prize, the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Prize, the Olive Cotton Award, Critical Mass 09 and Sony/ACMP’s The Projections 09 (which she won). Lee was also the winner of the prestigious Bowness Photography Prize in 2010.
A selection of her work was recently published in the Big City Press monograph Hijacked Volume 2: Australia and Germany.
Lee’s work is held in the National Library, the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery as well as numerous private collections and she has received grants from ArtsACT, CAPO/Singapore Airlines and the Australia Council.