Culture

A Melbourne Artist Has Been Sneaking ‘Unwelcome’ Mats In Front Of Government Buildings All Week

If the government thought Melbourne was annoying, they should meet its artists.

Last Friday, the government saw the full might of Melbourne as its citizens turned out in droves to protest Operation Fortitude: a painfully ironically titled inter-agency initiative that folded within a few hours of its own announcement. Now, they may have another problem: its artists.

Melbourne Fringe Festival kicks off in a little over two weeks and the city will soon be flooded with work from hundreds of people who have this year been given every reason to make their views heard.

But in light of recent events, one artist has already sprung into action. Participating in the recurring Uncommon Places exhibition in which 18 artists create small, site-specific works around the city, Tania Cañas has extended her artwork from the Immigration Museum and the homewares and gift store Third Drawer Down to include state Parliament House and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

In the past week, she’s placed an “Unwelcome Mat” outside of each of these buildings.

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The Department of Immigration and Border Protection on Lonsdale Street

Speaking about the project in general terms in the Fringe program, Cañas described her work as “a commentary on our militaristic paranoia around ‘border control’, our dehumanising policies and mono-cultural ideals”. “By juxtaposing a welcome mat with an unwelcome phrase, this artwork raises questions about ownership of national space in Australia,” she said. “Who decides which people are ‘welcome’? Who gets to do the ‘welcoming’?”

This is an issue which Cañas continues to explore in other ways too. As well as being a practicing artist and theatremaker, she also works as the Arts Director at RISE — an advocacy organisation for refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees. Last year, she worked with North Melbourne Institute of TAFE to deliver a series of workshops for young migrants and refugees.

Considering nearly all of her mats were politely removed by the artist shortly after being placed, this work may not be quite as lasting as all that, but it’s certainly interesting. It’s in the same strain of ongoing guerrilla protest that led Peter Drew to travel the country with his Real Australians Say Welcome project earlier this year; a tour that ended with a cheeky poster on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Canberra.

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Parliament House on Spring Street.

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The Immigration Museum on Flinders Street.

Having already arranged it with them ahead of time, that last mat at the Immigration Museum will be left there until the end of the festival. It’s a lovely gesture, but now I can’t help but feel suspicious they’ve been screwing with us all year: