When a noun can be used as a verb it often signifies the success of a brand, take "I'll Uber", "Let's Google it" or "I'll Facebook you" as prime examples. When I hear the word 'Nauru' I question how a noun becomes a taboo, that is, when a noun is considered unacceptable to say, mention or do: “Taboos are, per definition, non-existing topics” (1). Ironically etymology tells me 'taboo' in the English language derived from Captain Cook's visit to Tonga in 1777. ‘Taboo’ was adopted from 'Tapu', the Polynesian concept that something is sacred or holy.
An offshore detention centre for those unwilling or unable to remain in their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution (2), Nauru should be the noun of a safe environment for those seeking refuge in Australia. In 2016 The Guardian newspaper published The Nauru Files that uncovered the exact opposite. Over 2000's incidents written by staff based on the island, outlined cases of sexual abuse, self-harm, assault and inadequate living conditions. Difficulty to express or take action in this sense stems from those made voiceless – the political mechanism of silencing and the effect of trauma.
Invited to take part in the project All We Can't See: Illustrating the Nauru Files, artist Belinda Fox responded to a Nauru case file in which a woman carved the name of her husband into her chest. Whilst the woman remained on Nauru, separated from her husband the pain of the scar aimed to bring her closer to feeling his presence. Pain and suffering accompany resilience and determination, and fittingly Belinda employed the medium of glass, a medium which is strong but simultaneously fragile. Working with master glass blowers at the National Glas Museum in Leerdam, The Netherlands, Belinda sculpted a blue heart, encased in a transparent organic form. The work strongly resonates with the body.
Physical indents into the surface of the work create disruptions. With a heart at the centre, this physical disruption speaks to the barrier one builds to protect oneself. It further signifies the unsuccessful attempts of those external to reach the people at the centre and end their pain. Upon the surface, Belinda has engraved a delicate web-like pattern, one that is often seen in the artists’ work to symbolise connection. As light casts through the sculpture, the shadow of the pattern reveals scarification not only on the heart itself but across its surrounding environment.
Whilst a taboo is a means of societal regulation, the very act of being taboo means there is an underlying desire to break that which is considered taboo in the first place. To give voice to the voiceless, to expose the violation of human rights, ‘Nauru’ should never be an unspoken taboo. It does however remain Australia’s national shame.
Belinda Fox 6 Letters, 2018 is on view at Gementeemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands until 3rd February 2019.
Laura Thompson, 2018. Berlin.
(1) Heinschink, M & Teichmann, M.(2003) Taboo and shame (Ladž) in traditional Roma communities. Rombase. Austria. http://rombase.uni-graz.at/cgi-bin/art.cgi?src=data/ethn/belief/ladz.en.xml
(2) As cited in McDonald, A (2018) PHILOXENIA Episode 2 IMAGINE. RUNNING. - No One Leaves Home Unless Home is the Mouth of a Shark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dWDcWxaiU0&has_verified=1