Congratulations to Safdar Ahmed for winning both Book of the Year AND the Multicultural NSW Award at the NSW Premiers’ Literary Awards last night. Safdar was a very recent guest at our Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2022 this last weekend, teaming up with his friends Jin Hien Lau and Meg O’Shea to do a special panel on autobiographical comics and how they are made, explaining how graphic storytelling can be applied to everything from reportage to memoir and human rights imperatives.
All three demonstrated how they create stories visually; how they play with perspective and focus; their use of humour alongside confronting truths and a wonderful eye for intimate details related to their multicultural backgrounds; and their different ways of opening up the whole nature nature of storytelling itself within their chosen medium.
Safdar’s award-winning book is called ‘Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System’. Boldly published by Twelve Panels Press; we say ‘boldly’ because they recognised both the necessary content of the work and the artistic vision Safdar marries it to. He makes use of everything from horror and heavy metal comic techniques to his own experiences volunteerring for 10 years with the Refugee Art Project, a community art organisation that Ahmed co-founded in 2010.
After winning his awards, Safdar told ABC News, “In a restrictive environment like Villawood where, at the time, there were no cameras and no mobile phones with recording capability, [and] no journalists allowed to go in there, [making art] felt like the best way to record what was going on.” He also explained that “Refugee Art Project was about using art to form community and to enable friendships and to help people process things in their own way and on their own terms.”
It’s this same dedication to community – and to art – that brought Safdar down to Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2022. Sharing his process and vision along with Jin Hien Lau and Meg O’Shea, his cartooning and graphic artist friends – his creative community – and bringing all those interested into their multicultural world. Even demonstrating a little bit of how-to along the way for those in need of inspiration and empowerment. More power to all of them and their work. And to Safdar in particular for such an achievement.
PHOTO CREDITS: Main image – Safdar Ahmed at NSW Premier’s Literary Awards with Sheila Ngoc Pham, Co-Artistic Director of Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2022 (ARWF2022). Centre image – a sample of panels from Still Alive. Bottom image – Jin Hien Lau, Meg O’Shea and Safdar Ahmed conducting their panel here at ARWF2022 on Saturday; photo by Juno Gemes.