The Australian artist Ben Quilty, Sukumaran’s friend and mentor and the co-curator of the exhibition, which will be held at Campbelltown arts centre in January, said he hoped the show would reignite public debate about human rights for prisoners.
“[Sukumaran] really deeply wanted the abolition of the death penalty worldwide,” Quilty said. “No one deserves to be shot in the chest ever, for anything. And he wanted that message spread as widely as he could.”
More than 100 of Sukumaran’s works will be shown at the western Sydney centre. The exhibition also features commissioned pieces by seven other Australian artists alongside Sukumaran’s work, including Matthew Sleeth, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, and Jagath Dheerasekara, who have all responded to the issues of the death penalty, justice and human rights.
During the exhibition period, the arts centre will also stage three symposiums focusing on human rights and capital punishment.
Quilty believes drug abuse, recidivism rates among offenders, and the retributive model of justice need to be debated in Australia and abroad.
“The uncomfortable truth is that a huge proportion of the population deals drugs, uses drugs, and quite often the dealer and the user are the same person.”
Quilty said that over the past decade Sukumaran had become “a beautiful, compassionate, caring 31-year-old man who looked out for his family, who worked really hard”.
“Taking away someone’s liberty is very different to taking away someone’s dignity, and if you destroy someone’s dignity then you can expect insanely high recidivism rates,” Quilty said. “It’s as simple as that. And we don’t seem to learn. We haven’t learnt from when we were locking people up in rough-hewn sandstone prisons on the shores of Sydney. And we still do it, we still treat people really badly when they’re in prison. We’re trying to punish them rather than rehabilitate them.”
Sukumaran was arrested in 2005 and was sentenced to death in 2006. “Myuran wasn’t the first and will not be the last to do something so self-indulgent and dangerous, and he went on to become a great young man and left an amazing legacy,” Quilty said.