Angus McDonald won the 2020 Archibald Prize ANZ People’s Choice award for his portrait of Behrouz Boochani. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
Angus McDonald won the 2020 Archibald Prize ANZ People’s Choice award for his portrait of Behrouz Boochani. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Behrouz has never entered Australia but left a profound mark

A great irony of Behrouz Boochani’s story is the fact his image has become so recognised in a country he has never been allowed to enter.

A portrait by Lennox Head artist and filmmaker Angus McDonald depicting Mr Boochani certainly resonated enough with the public to be awarded the People’s Choice in the 2020 Archibald Prize.

Mr Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and writer, reached Australia by boat in 2013 and was detained on Manus Island until he was able to leave for New Zealand in 2019.

There, he was ultimately granted asylum.

Mr McDonald’s work, Behrouz Boochani, has been his sixth work to be an Archibald finalist.

The art prize’s regional tour will begin with an exhibit of finalists at the Tweed Regional Gallery from this Friday.

Archibald Prize 2020 finalist Behrouz Boochani by Lennox Head artist Angus McDonald; oil on canvas, 160 x 230 cm.
Archibald Prize 2020 finalist Behrouz Boochani by Lennox Head artist Angus McDonald; oil on canvas, 160 x 230 cm.

Mr McDonald said he was delighted by the work’s success, which he associates with the public’s views on the plight of asylum seekers.

“Of course I was very happy about the painting I made of Behrouz, but I really feel the message that came through was the way Behrouz has an impact on people,” he said.

“He’s greatly admired and loved.

“He’s symbolised as something really human and really good.

“I believe that’s the main reason why that portrait won the People’s Choice.”

While his image is now part of Australia’s biggest art prize, Mr Boochani has never set foot on the Australian mainland.

But like other subjects in the Archibald, he has still had a profound influence, Mr McDonald said.

“Despite never setting foot on the mainland he’s become a very prominent part of our recent social history,” Mr McDonald said.

“I think that is significant especially when you consider the reasons for him securing that place in our history.

“It’s a very strong message about his determination, his resistance, the type of person he is.”

Behrouz Boochani is a striking work, with the subject gazing straight out of the canvas.

Mr McDonald, who will feature in a booked-out discussion with veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien on February 12, said it was great to have the exhibition come so close to home.

“It’s just another opportunity, as well, to keep talking about what Behrouz symbolises, what he fought against,” he said.

“The fact the Archibald comes to regional places and tours, it’s fantastic.

“It’s one of the best things about the Archibald.

“Really, it’s a prize for the people of Australia.”

As for Australia’s continued offshore detention, Mr McDonald said there was still a way to go.

“Until it’s completely over and until the policy’s, dismantled (decision-makers are) still not hearing it,” he said.

“But that’s not a measure of the effort that’s being put in to make them listen by so many people for so long, trying to fight very hard on behalf of those people to protect their human rights.”

Mr McDonald commended Vincent Namatjira, who became the first Aboriginal Australian to win the Archibald in 2020 for Stand strong for who you are, depicting Adam Goodes.

“That was also something that I think was very exciting about the Archibald this year,” Mr McDonald said.
Byron Shire artist Craig Ruddy was also a finalist in the prize with Dark Emu, a portrait of Bruce Pascoe.

The Archibald’s regional tour will be on show at the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre from January 22 to March 7. It is a ticketed exhibition; details here.