Stasis is a series of data portraits created by artist Kenneth Lambert in collaboration with STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors). The artworks are abstracted video sequences, created from digital material derived from the audio and video footage of 8-12 interview subjects, recount the untold stories of young people (aged18-25) who identify as refugees living in NSW. The project will focus on three specific communities, the Uyghur, Hazara, and Syrian communities who have experienced mental and physical trauma, incarceration, torture, being socially disadvantaged and geographically displaced. Stasis creates a safe opportunity for those underrepresented in our community to share their story, contributing positively to their mental health and promoting empathy around their stories and places of origin.
The artistic intent is to generate an empathic insight into the experiences of refugees, utilising technology as a principal storytelling vehicle. The work also provides the participants anonymity to ensure their safety from further persecution and shame, which might be associated with sharing their stories within their communities and countries of origin. The artistic process embraces a recognised clinical approach, Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), which utilises storytelling as an effective tool to contribute to the recovery and well-being of the participants. At the intersection of data translation, film and art installation, Stasis’ experimental approach is a unique form of storytelling presented as an art form.
The project is supported by Amnesty International and UNCHR. Both are organisations recognised for their continuing support and advocacy on behalf of refugees worldwide. Both organisations plan to participate in an advisory role at critical points as the project develops. STARTTS specific clinical experience and geographic locations across metropolitan Sydney and regional NSW create access for the artist to engage with particular groups such as the Uyghur community from China or the Hazara community from Afghanistan. Additionally, STARTTS clinical experience in this area will also ensure the safety of participants by providing guidelines, ensuring the artistic process has the necessary safeguards to conduct interviews.
The first outcome will be presented as an immersive cinematic video installation, delivered in 4K resolution accompanied by 5.1 visceral soundscapes. Further, the exhibition will be supported with an online presence, providing additional content, including original interview transcripts and artist process and relevant curatorial essays.
“The subjects’ stories echo my own experience, born in South Africa into apartheid, migrating to Australia in 1982 and settling in the western suburbs. Entering adulthood is a vulnerable time for many young people, and typically, there is growing anxiety around identity and the future. By showcasing these universal stories, we create the opportunity to shift perceptions, create positive change and promote tolerance within our society.
“Working with this subject matter requires sensitivity, which the artist has demonstrated to date. We are actively in the process of working towards realising this project in collaboration with the artist. We see great value for these stories to be shared and in turn, enrich our society. Our mutual objective is to help those who have endured inhuman treatment at the hands of external forces. We feel this project is essential not only as an art piece but also to those who participate in this project who will benefit from having their story witnessed.”
Clinical Services & Research Coordinator
Why are STARTTS supportive of Stasis?
Many of STARTTS clients have a strong desire to share their stories and to have their stories heard. All trauma, but especially interpersonal trauma, has the outcome of silence; silencing victims, silencing survivors, silencing their families, their communities and entire nations (reference Judith Herman 1998). These traumatic events are often too painful to articulate, let alone allow into conscious thought. Who benefits from this silencing? Only the perpetrators, and those who benefit from their control or power. Unfortunately, survivors are caught up in disabling tension; they continue to experience unwanted reminders, triggers and nightmares of the very memories they are so desperate to escape. These experiences are even more prevalent for people from a refugee background who have experienced torture, organised and collective violence in the effort of perpetrators to destroy their selves and their communities.
As a result, psychological interventions that focus on the constructing and reclaiming of the personal narrative have been found to be extremely effective in promoting the recovery of people from a refugee background in several contexts. This process of narration, in a safe and supportive environment, seems to be particularly powerful. For example, Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET; Schauer, Neuner & Elbert, 2011) has been shown as an effective treatment option for children, young people and adults from a refugee background across several contexts (Hijazi et al., 2014; Lely et. al., 2019; Ruf, Schauer, Neuner, Catani, Schauer & Elbert, 2010). The novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy involves a powerful scene of this process as a protagonist Pierre narrates the traumatic violent scenes he witnessed during the French-Russian war to his friends and describes the intense but cathartic impact this has. In the case of NET, it has been found that the aspect of being witnessed and the opportunity for ones story to be used in a capacity of advocacy or legal testimony has compounding benefits for survivors, who feel empowered to stand up for themselves and their community and see justice brought against the perpetrators.
As beneficial and the processes of narration, witnessing and subsequent advocacy are, they are not accessible for all people from a refugee background. In many communities, there is pressure for survivors to remain silent and not share their stories. The first reason is that most survivors have family or community members who remain in danger either in the country of origin or a transit country. In these cases (such as the Uyghur community from China or the Hazara community from Afghanistan), the danger posed by sharing their story publically is simply untenable, and despite a strong desire for the World to know and to witness the suffering of their community, it is not safe to share. In other communities, there is deeply felt hurt and shame that vulnerable members of the community could not be protected. This is common in cases where perpetrators (such as ISIS or Daesh) systemically took women and girls into sexual slavery as a weapon of war and genocide. Even if some members of the community want to share this story, the perceived shame it would bring to their parents, guardians and community is unbearable for them and result in their continued silencing.
Stasis, through its artistic processes of creating an abstracted digital image from the interview, allows the participants to share their stories on a significant platform whilst retaining the option of anonymity. They can benefit personally from the process of narration and witnessing, breaking the silence of the trauma, whilst also protecting their family and community from danger and hurt. It is not the opinion of STARTTS that every survivor of torture and refugee trauma would feel ready to participate in Stasis, however, there are likely individuals who would benefit from the opportunity to share their stories anonymously in this unique art form. There may be participants who wish to identify themselves as well, which would also be supported.
STARTTS is the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.
is a specialist, not-for-profit organisation that was established in 1988. It provides culturally relevant psychological treatment and support, and community interventions, to help people and communities heal the scars of torture and refugee trauma and rebuild their lives in Australia. STARTTS also fosters a positive recovery environment through the provision of training to services, advocacy and policy work.
Why does STARTTS exist?
A large number of the refugees coming to Australia have been exposed to traumatic events, and most will have experienced multiple traumas, including war and violence, deprivation, and the death or disappearance of loved ones. Many will also have been subjected to torture or severe human rights violations. The physical consequences of torture and trauma are many, ranging from chronic pain to heart problems. However, it is the psychological and social effects that are often the most distressing and difficult to deal with. They can range from depression and anxiety to family conflict and breakdown. This comes on top of the demands associated with leaving behind a familiar environment and coming to a country with a different language, culture and systems. In addition, people from refugee and refugee-like backgrounds are coping with the normal ups and downs that all human beings face. Despite the amazing resilience of people with refugee experiences and the many contributions they make to Australian society, they will often need specialised assistance to overcome the effects of their experiences. With some help, people who have experienced torture and refugee trauma are more likely to live fruitful and fulfilling lives.
Refugees often experience multiple levels of trauma which impact across all areas of their life and community. In recognition of this, STARTTS provides a holistic range of services which have evolved in response to the needs of our clients. Our range of services includes:
• Culturally appropriate counselling and therapy (for individuals, families and groups)
• Group work, including self-support groups, health education and other activities
• Psychiatric assessment and treatment
• Physiotherapy, therapeutic massage and acupuncture
• Pain management and exercise groups
• Activities for young people, including camps, excursions and capoeira
• Referral and case management
• Community liaison and consultation
• Community development projects
• Training of mainstream service-providers in awareness of refugee issues and strategies to work with this client group
• Research and evaluation
From the outset startts has employed a multidisciplinary and multicultural team with strong community links. We are committed to providing services appropriate to the many different cultures which comprise our client group.
We consult regularly with refugee communities about needs and the development of appropriate services. STARTTS provides a very client focussed service which is constantly changing to meet client needs, and which recognises the need for different approaches and services for different individuals and communities.