Imagine having to flee your country, change your name and start all over again in a foreign place and all because of your sexuality.
Artist Renee Dixson and her partner, Tina, had to do just that six years ago and to this day still cannot reveal where they are from for safety reasons.
Renee is behind the exhibition Stories About Hope opening at the Museum of the Riverina which started out as an autobiographical reflection of her journey with Tina seeking safety.
“Before I came to Australia I found a LGBITQ NGO in my country and we worked successfully with them and we ended up here,” Renee said.
“When I arrived here I searched for ways to fit in and find myself because you have survivor guilt.”
“I have always loved art and back home I did a few exhibitions on human rights so I decided to do the same here.”
In 2014 Renee finished a photography course at TAFE and decided she would take on the challenge of showing the world there is more to refugees than the narrative of vulnerability.
“When they realise that I am a refugee, they can see only this,” she said.
“I started this because when I went to other exhibitions about refugees, they always portrayed them as victims.
“For people it’s very important to have access to agency, if we reduce people to this single identity it becomes a problem.”
Renee’s partner Tina is one of the subjects in the artworks.
“In Australia every time you mention that you’re a refugee there is an assumption of what that is like,” Tina said.
“That often comes down to even the gender and the sexuality of that person.
“Anyone can be a refugee and when people want to label you as a single character they erase your experience.”
There is one lesson Renee would like the people of Wagga to take from her exhibition.
“It doesn’t matter what happened with you in the past you can rebuild your life again,” she said.
“If you can wake up every morning, smile and find joy in your life you will be successful.”
Museum of the Riverina manager, Luke Grealy, said the debate on refugees often excludes the voices of people with lived experience and hence dehumanises them.
“Their stories are more common than you think and the exhibition shines an important light on the voices, perspectives and experiences erased from public conversation,” he said.
The free exhibition will be complemented by a comprehensive information program, including a panel discussion with Renee and Tina on opening night, and two advocacy and educational workshops. For more information click here.
Need to know more about things to do in Wagga? Check out the latest here: What’s On