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The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Myuran Sukumaran's death-row paintings come to Bendigo

Ben Quilty with Myuran Sukumaran's paintings.  Photo: Daniel Boud
The portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo faces the wall; its outline, lit from behind, frames the artist's signature and a simple inscription: "People can change."

Myuran Sukumaran was executed on April 29, 2015, for attempting to smuggle drugs out of Indonesia. But his message remains very much alive.

The anguish, guilt, regret and horror of living with a death sentence in a foreign prison is laid bare in an exhibition of more than 100 of Sukumaran's paintings which comes to Victoria for the 1st time this week.

"[The exhibition] brings up a lot of memories," says Archibald Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty, who taught Sukumaran to paint while on death row. "But it's a positive memory, really, of how much the work meant to Myuran and how much he hoped that people would see his work and continue to talk about the senselessness of the death penalty.

"We discussed that in depth and I promised to do my best get it out there ... I've posted the [exhibition] catalogue around the world to different leaders who I thought needed to see it. They don't respond. I sent one to [President] Jokowi."

The context in which Sukumaran's art was produced is a visceral thread throughout the exhibition, which premiered last year at Campbelltown Arts Centre as part of Sydney Festival. Many of the works contain overt references to their creator's imprisonment and impending execution.

"I can't think of a more powerful anti-death penalty image made in the history of humankind," says Quilty. But, he argues, the works hold their own.

"I think I probably underestimated how good the work was. It wasn't until I opened the crates [of paintings] in my studio that I realised the possibility of how big a show this could be.

"People were saying [Sukumaran's interest in painting] was made up to try and gain sympathy, to try save his own life. It's such a load of crap. You can see in the exhibition how much work he did and how he was obsessed with his own art practice, like I am obsessed with my own art practice."

Quilty's influence is apparent Sukumaran's paintings. But Campbelltown Arts Centre director Michael Dagostino, who co-curated the exhibition with Quilty, says Sukumaran was clearly beginning to establish his own style in the last 6 months of his life. The pieces produced in his final hours - as he painted all through the night - are the most powerful.

"About 20 works were painted in his last 72 hours, the majority of them self-portraits," says Dagostino. "It's kind of weird, [this selection] doesn't feel rushed, it doesn't feel unfinished. They are quite settled as paintings and there is a real sadness to them, because he's always looking back at you."

The exhibition also features works from other artists responding to Sukumaran's story, including Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Megan Cope, Jagath Dheerasekara, Khaled Sabsabi and Matthew Sleeth.

Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise is at Bendigo Art Gallery from Saturday until September 16.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Hannah Francis, July 4, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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