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'They tried to bury us, they didn't realise we were seeds.'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

‘It’s a real shame that we don’t think of the word ‘refugee’ for what it is-a transition, a terrible chapter in what is ultimately a much bigger life,’ said journalist Tracey Barnett, curator of ‘Transplanted: Refugee Portraits of New Zealand, a photographic exhibit and unique refuge ‘talking space’ opening at The National Portrait Gallery in Wellington, October 27 (opening night)- Nov 5th.

‘Until we start disassociating the word ‘refugee’ from ‘terrorist’ and ‘illegal’, and sit it alongside the reality-of teachers, builders, lawyers and students, we will never see the truer dimension these lives deserve. These portraits are us, ‘transplanted’ lives, Kiwis whose stories are ours now too.’ 

The National Portrait Gallery will become a ten-day refugee issues ‘talking space’ featuring speakers Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Oct 27), a discussion with the Ambassadors of ‘Hot Spot’ countries like Italy and Turkey (Nov 2), multiple sessions with outstanding young refugee voices (Oct 28, Nov 1, Nov 4) and interactive weekend ‘Human Library’ sessions (1:00pm Oct 28-29, Nov 4-5), where patrons can simply sit down to talk with former refugees one-on-one to exchange views, tell stories and let the conversation flow, one of the exhibit’s highlights. 

The stunning, two-metre tall, black and white close-up portraits by award winning photographer Alistair Guthrie underscore the power of the narratives they represent-from ship wrecks in raging seas to multiple attempts to escape concentration camps to get children to safety against all odds. 

Community groups are also invited to get personal docent tours of the exhibit to hear these narratives and participate in speaker-led discussions on the issues they raise for New Zealand. ‘Transplanted’ is about renewal, says Barnett. ‘You can’t help but hear these stories, lives that have been rebuilt from scratch and not have tremendous respect for the mountain climbed to get here.’ 

A line of Greek poetry is the exhibit’s theme, ‘They tried to bury us, they didn’t realise we were seeds.’

Opening night is October 27th, 6:00pm, at The National Portrait Gallery, 11 Customhouse Quay.

Find the full programme here:               

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