|Myuran Sukumaran (L) and Ben Quilty (R) in Kerobokan's art workshop.|
Quilty first met Myuran in early 2012 after a member of the Mercy campaign forwarded him an email from the Bali Nine ringleader, asking for technical advice about painting. Quilty says at first he was curious about this infamous Australian condemned to die in Indonesia. "I've always been interested, as part of my drive, to explain why young men sometimes behave so atrociously."
At first they just wrote to one another; Myuran asking questions about his newfound passion, Quilty trying to answer them as best as he could. "I sent him some tasks, to make self-portraits. I said, 'Do one a day,'" he explains. "At the end of two weeks [Myuran's lawyer] Julian emailed me and said, 'I don't know what you said to him but look at this photo.'"
It was a photo of the wall of Kerobokan prison. "It was absolutely covered from one side to the other in self-portraits," Quilty tells me.
"Australia hated these boys at first," says Julian McMahon, the barrister who stepped in to represent Myuran after he'd been sentenced to death for a third time in 2006. "First impressions were not great," McMahon admits. "We were dealing with relatively young punkish guys who didn't have a great sense of reality or where this was all going."
Over the next few years though, McMahon says he saw a change. Myuran—who'd been just 24 years old when he was sentenced to death by firing squad for attempting to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia—persuaded the governor of Kerobokan to give him a corner of the prison that wasn't being used. He started up classes: computer programming, t-shirt printing, English, philosophy, dance, and, of course, art.
Art became Myuran's release, even forming part of his legal defence. "We used the art that was being done as a major argument in clemency," McMahon explains. "Everyone could see that what was happening was remarkable." Under Quilty's guidance, Myuran emerged as a gifted artist.
"I said, 'You should escape,'" Quilty has stopped in front of a large self-portrait of Myuran. His loft is packed with them, hanging all around, some leaning against chairs and walls. And it's not just the self-portraits, there are pictures of Myuran's friends and family too. Above Quilty's desk is a giant portrait of Myuran's mum.
The plea came from Quilty when he went to visit Myuran one last time in Kerobokan, after he'd lost his final appeal. By this point the guards trusted him so completely, Myuran moved around the prison carrying a big bunch of keys. The two friends walked through the prison together, down some passageways, and into a small room. Four guards and tobacco smoke filled the space. Only two were armed.
"The next door is outside, it's Bali," Quilty recalls. "Myuran took me right through this room and the guards are like, 'Hi Myuran.' He gave me a hug—this is standing at the bloody door—and I said, 'This is the only hope.'
"He said, 'I thought about it... but if I did that, the life of my mates wouldn't be worth living.'"
Source: VICE, Angus Smith, July 5, 2016