• What's the one item you would take if you had to flee your homeland? (SBS)Source: SBS
In a new interactive installation, six refugees share their stories, one item at a time.
By
Caitlin Chang

15 Mar 2018 - 11:12 AM  UPDATED 27 Mar 2018 - 2:35 PM

If you had to flee your homeland for an unknown country, what's the one item you would take with you? That's the question being asked in Belongings, a new interactive installation being launched at the Biennale of Sydney.

A documentary piece to compliment Ai Weiwei's artwork Law of the Journey, Belongings brings personal stories and voices to humanise the politicised topic of refugees and asylum seekers. Six refugees now living in Australia share how their treasured belongings have been a source of strength, hope and a reminder of home.

R.H., 48, Bangladesh

“I brought the embroidery work of my mother because I could not bring her. She is the most important thing I have in the world but I had to leave her alone in my country. The embroidery is a small piece of her presence that I can feel everyday. It connects me to her every time I see it and touch it. It’s the most valuable thing to me now and I keep it with me all the time. I miss my mother so much and I love her more than life itself.”

Parastoo Bahrami, 21, Afghanistan

"Before I lived in Australia, I was a refugee in Indonesia for about 11 years and during that time my mum taught me how to do beading. When I do beading it gives me a positive energy, a positive thinking that one day I will move from Indonesia and I will be able to use this, my collection, in my own house. 

"Beading is something I did back home. I could not bring any of my beads with me but now I have a lot of beads here and it makes me happy. Putting the beads together to make something has allowed me to look after my emotional well-being. By making these objects I feel happy and it helps me avoid depression and mental health issues. When I am making these objects, I always think that I will have a bright future and I forget a little about my difficult past in Afghanistan. I always carry beads. Always.”

Sabina Krusevljanin, 55, Bosnia Herzegovina

"This is my rainbow rucksack. This is one of the most precious things in my life. Why? Well, first that was on my back when I was escaping from Sarajevo’s war, through the tunnel under Sarajevo’s airport in 1994. It was on my back again when I came to Sydney, Australia as a refugee in 1995. All my life fitted in this rainbow rucksack then. There are a lot of memories in this rainbow rucksack. It was a lot of tears, a lot of fears, a lot of dreams to be fulfilled. But also a lot of hope, faith and trust that I’ll do my best for myself and for Australia, and for mother Earth and all her citizens.

"Those glasses used to belong to my husband who was killed during the war in Sarajevo. I feel as if he is with me."

Damon Amb, 38, Iran

"I came from Iran in 2013. There’s no space for me there. They don’t want me, they don’t like me. So I had to leave. This purse is an old purse from my great grandma. She gave it to me before she died. It means a lot to me. I love this purse, because I loved her so much. I still can smell her when I smell this purse. I belong to the earth. Anywhere I may roam, where I lay my head is home. Sometimes I’m so sad because I see my family are sad and when they’re sad, I cannot be happy. And when they’re happy, I’m so happy. I have a message for them. I want to tell them I love them all, I love them so much."

Lizzy Samba, 34, Papua New Guinea

"I had to live my country because if I was there, I would have been killed. As a transgender person, it’s not accepted in society. I’m holding a necklace, and this necklace was made by my mother who gave it to me as a protection. This necklace means a lot, it acts as a protection for me, and also it brings my family closer to me. It’s very hard to be transgender it PNG, because our society and culture doesn’t accept that. 

"Being transgender is something refugees don’t talk about. It’s hard. My necklace is a sign of strength to empower me to speak out. I left with it and it's all I need sometimes to feel alive."

Amou Job, South Sudan

"I escaped war from South Sudan, in 1984, because of war. The war happened, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon where the shooting was happening in front of the house, and my mum just grabbed me with my grandmother and younger sister and we had to leave. People were killed behind us, and we had to leave. I couldn’t take any belongings, it happened so quickly, you couldn’t take anything at that time. The only thing that belongs to me, is me. Only me brought myself out from that danger and my safety and myself is important. So that’s the only thing I brought. Just me."

Created by SBS's Digital Creative Labs and using technology developed by Google’s Creative Lab, Belongings brings stories of displacement and hope to life in an interactive installation on from Friday 16 March until 11 June at the Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Building 153.


Thriller Safe Harbour airs over four weeks, exploring issues facing asylum seekers once they settle in Australia. All episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #SafeHarbour. Watch episode one now: