In June 2020 one of the world’s toughest COVID -19 lockdowns happened in the 9 towers of the Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates. Residents were given no notice, leaving many people without food and medicine. Community members spoke powerfully about how the heavy policing seemed to put security front and centre over health. Confinement lasted five days for most of the 3000 residents, but 14 days for those in the worst-affected tower.
This sudden hard lockdown and the unprecedented nature of the pandemic itself deeply impacted communities in Flemington and North Melbourne causing significant harm. At the same time we saw the community mobilise and come together in ways they may not have otherwise experienced prior to COVID-19.
Fast forward one year, as we emerge from our fourth lockdown in Victoria, recovery still seems a long way off but the process has begun. Over the past seven months many artists and residents within the nine towers have been busy creating new digital works for Shelter 2 – a second edition of MAV’s innovative commissions program responding to the unique challenges presented by COVID-19 for culturally diverse artists and communities.
Shelter 2 artists and residents have been part of a self-determined creative recovery process exploring their lived experiences and reflections on the impact of this cataclysmic event. With 20 new digital works spanning writing, music, spoken word, film and visual arts, Shelter 2 elevates community voices, uncovering themes of solidarity and support, the power of family and community, loss of freedom of movement, health and wellbeing, and the impacts of systemic inequity and injustice.
MAV would like to thank funders VicHealth, Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne, whose generous and timely support made this quick response program possible.
MAV would also like to acknowledge several residents of the nine towers, Reem Yehdego, Barry Berih and Awatif Taha, who played a vital and significant role in engaging local artists and residents in the Shelter 2 program. During a time when the community is still healing from this experience, the impact is still being felt and raw, engagement has not been a straightforward process. Some people despite their desire to participate, have found themselves without the energy and capacity to engage in new creative work. Some have expressed concern about their stories being misconstrued and fears of retribution for critiquing the lockdown and its management. Reem, Barry and Awatif generously shared with MAV, their time, expertise and connections, to build trust and a safe space for artists and residents to respond.
The works that have resulted reflect the strength, courage, creativity and diversity of the community that have created them. They challenge constructions of vulnerability and overplayed negative stereotypes, revealing very human stories, and the complex and nuanced identities of residents living in the nine towers.
MAV will be releasing several Shelter 2 new works each week from 16 June – 25 August 2021 on its website.
Image credit (l-r):
1. Haniyah Abdou Said, Shelter 2 artist, image courtesy the artist.
2. Ruth Eyakem, Flemington Sisters Project as part of Shelter 2, image by Deshani Berhardt (Wild Hardt)