‘Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, poet, filmmaker and journalist who was held by the federal government for over six years as a refugee on Manus Island,’ says Angus McDonald of his portrait subject. ‘We first made contact in 2018, while I was creating a documentary about Manus. Boochani recited in Farsi a poem he wrote about the detention centre for the film’s closing sequence. My first attempt to visit him on Manus in 2019 failed when the Papua New Guinea authorities intervened, seizing my passport and escorting me and my two companions onto the first flight back to Australia. After Boochani arrived in New Zealand last year I visited him for five days when he sat for the portrait.
‘I’ve depicted Boochani directly engaging the viewer as a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived a brutal ordeal and is now free. Boochani doesn’t view himself as a victim. Through his work he tirelessly struggled for years against the system that tried to humiliate him. In my view, it was he who humiliated them.’ The New Zealand government granted Boochani refugee status in July 2020, permitting him to live there indefinitely.
Born in Sydney in 1961, McDonald has studied at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney and the Florence Academy in Italy. This is his sixth time as an Archibald Prize finalist. His award-winning short film Manus was released in 2019.