Refuge in art

AN Iranian photographer detained on Manus Island has used his mobile phone camera to showcase “the beautiful corners of my prison” for an exhibition at the Perth City Arts Space.

Still imprisoned indefinitely and unable to attend his own exhibition, he will try and Skype the opening night on Wednesday June 20.

For most Australians the words “Manus Island” bring to mind pictures of barbed wire fences, protests and desperation, but ‘Kaaveh’ Maleknia’s works are of wide open skies mirrored in glass-like waters.

The Voice spoke with Mr Maleknia on the phone from Manus Island.

“I really like clouds because it kind of represents freedom for me, being in the sky and flying,” says the 34-year-old who had a gliding licence back in Iran.

“My main message is please set me free, don’t kill me. Please set me free, I am human.”

• ‘Kaaveh’ Maleknia dedicates his photographic works to all Iranians who lost their lives seeking freedom. Photos supplied

Stuck on Manus since August 2013, Mr Maleknia has found beauty in his “Australian-made hell”.

“We need some beautiful, transient distractions to help us tolerate continuous tortures.”

He says photography was a hobby of his, but Australian guards confiscated and broke his camera.

“The three first years we were forced not to have any picturing devices so I was using simple cell phones to capture all aspects of my prison and imprisonment.”

Mr Maleknia worked as a logistics manager for a Chinese oil company in Iran.

“I had one of the highest paying jobs in Iran, but it was nothing compared to having freedom. Iranian citizens doesn’t have personal freedoms. You cannot wear the clothes you like, you can’t go outside with your girlfriend, you can’t be happy outside.

“If you meet with a girl in your car and if the girl is not your wife and you can’t prove that she’s your wife, you will both be arrested and they will bust your car.

“Police arrest you for having fun,” Mr Maleknia said.

He describes being “kidnapped and smuggled” to Manus Island less than a month after arriving at Christmas Island by boat and being detained there.

He says he spends every day in his bedroom as Australian guards and local police have threatened to kill him.

• ‘Kaaveh’ Maleknia.

Twelve men have died in PNG and Nauru under the policy of offshore processing since 2012, including the 2014 killing of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati. Two people were convicted of his murder, one a security guard.

Without a policy change, Mr Maleknia won’t ever be able to settle in Australia.

“My only aim is to set free from here, but all the world seems against this, me as an Iranian being free.”

The exhibition, organised by Refugee Rights Action Network WA and Paper Mountain, runs till June 27, 10am to 4pm daily at Perth City Arts Space (Northbridge Piazza, corner of James St and Lake St).

Mr Maleknia’s works are available for purchase at

He’s not the only Manus detainee turning to art to cope, with fellow Iranian refugee Mohammed Ali Maleki publishing a poetry book that will be launched in Fremantle at Saga Bookshop on June 22.


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