Exhibition highlights incarceration of First Nations peoples

The ACU Gallery in Melbourne is hosting an exhibition of paintings by Malcolm Morton, a proud Arrente man indefinitely detained in the Northern Territory.

The exhibition, Circles, puts a spotlight on the incarceration of First Nations people with cognitive impairment who are unfit to plead and indefinitely detained.

Up to 30 per cent of people with cognitive impairments who are indefinitely detained in Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Malcolm Morton was born with a cognitive impairment and as a juvenile, committed a violent crime that resulted in his uncle's death.

He was found mentally impaired and unfit to plead. He has been indefinitely detained in a maximum-security prison in Alice Springs.

ACU Dean of Law Professor Patrick Keyzer has been part of Malcolm’s legal team for more than a decade.

Professor Keyzer said the United Nations had requested that Australia dismantle its system of indefinite detention. The issue has become a lightning rod for legal and disability advocacy.

“Until recently, people with cognitive impairments in the Northern Territory who had committed a serious crime were always detained in jail,” Professor Keyzer said.

“I’m a keen advocate of a future where detention is a last resort, where people are supported in their communities and where their culture is respected and part of the solution.

“Human rights for people with a disability needs to be and remain on the political agenda.”

While detained, Malcolm began working on a series of paintings, which will go on display at the ACU Gallery in Fitzroy from 10 - 26 June.

Malcolm started off using recycled timber and paint from the local tip shop and progressed to working on large-scale canvases.

His bold, powerful paintings feature circles as a recurring motif.

Uncle Leo Abbott, from the disability support team in Alice Springs, said the exhibition was a celebration of Malcolm circling back to belonging, family, community and country.

“For Malcolm it has been a really long time to have connection back to country and to family and to be able to communicate in his own language,” he said.

“What I see now is a very happy time for family and community and for Malcolm to move forward with his life.”

ACU Gallery Director Associate Professor Catherine Bell said the exhibition was also an opportunity to celebrate the power and potential of the creative arts.

“This exhibition is a window into Malcolm’s world, and for him, art has been a way for him to find peace and provided an invaluable means of self-expression,” she said.

“Malcolm's exuberant paintings depict the circle as a dynamic and expressionistic emblem.

“Like a spinning coin, the circular form appears as a hovering, halo-like outline, or is captured in motion whirling across the canvas.

“The impressive series of colourful abstract works sing, exuding energy, and confidence."

Circles, 10 – 26 June, ACU Gallery, 26 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

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