Digital photograph of Aung Saw Lim's (Man Man's) display of crochet crafts he made while detained on Manus Island, circa 2017.
Aung Saw Lim (family nickname Man Man) was a refugee from Myanmar, detained on Manus Island from 2010. Refugee advocate, Jill Parris, started a friendship with Man Man on Facebook when she admired and 'liked' the landscape photographs he had posted. As a photographer of everyday life on Manus, Man Man uploaded pictures that documented life on Manus including views of his living quarters, the landscape and fauna on the island, views of the New Lorengua Camp, the West Lorengua transition centre, and food and medical supplies prepared for blockades on Manus.
These photographs are published by Jill in the book she co-authored and self-published with Man Man: 'Man Man: Making Meaning on Manus.' The book contained Man Man's photographs and his philosophies on coping with life in detention. In 2018, Man Man was accepted for asylum in the United States, as a part of the intake of refugees from Manus negotiated between the Australian and United State governments.
Colour digital photograph
Statement of Historical Significance:
Man Man's crochet work, experience as a detainee, and friendship on Facebook with Jill Parris speaks to the cultural and historical changes in contemporary Australia. Manus and Nauru have become a part of Australian immigration history as indicative of a time when Australian immigration policies changed significantly. Man Man's friendship on Facebook with Jill Parris represents a history shift in the culture of activism and public involvement as an Australian citizen in protest and support of asylum seekers in Australian contemporary immigration history. Their stories are of contemporary local and global significance as the Australian public actively engage stories and experiences of detainees of Manus and Nauru seeking asylum in Australia. International human rights monitors and countries all over the world are considering Australia's model and leadership in highly protectionist immigration policy. The fact that Man Man has since been accepted to America ties the story to the global scope of influence of these life stories and their impact on national and international Australian immigration politics.
Man Man's friendship and story with Jill Parris encapsulate the historical changes in cultural and political everyday life and history of activism in Australia. The objects and their friendship on Facebook speak to changing expressions of gender and friendship in modern Australia. Man Man is a man who crochets, a craft which is a traditionally a feminine expression of preoccupying the mind and deterring dire outcomes in waiting or captivity. This feminine archetypal craft goes back to the vision of Penelope weaving burial shroud while waiting for return of her husband in Homer's Odyssey. While Man Man is not crocheting as an act of fidelity to a partner, he certainly is doing it to preoccupy his mind in captivity and trying to ward off more dire outcomes.
Another aspect of the cultural significance of everyday cultural and political histories of Australian life is their friendship on Facebook. Jill and Man Man begin and continue in friendship through mutual admiration of their photographs on Facebook. Jill speaks about how his photographs inform her own work and that it was not with intention that she get to know his circumstances or status in detention. What evolves is a friendship between an older white Australian woman with a young Myanmar man via Facebook. Facebook as a social media facilities this friendship and their real life connections, a contemporary phenomenon that has not been highly historicised. Social media's role in the history of contemporary migration in terms of access for the diaspora living in displacement and its users in captivity or detention also informs Australian public consciousness and activism. In the history of activism, social media has informed Australian public of conditions otherwise not known and created friendship and networks of support that become a part of refugee and migrants lives in Australia. Man Man and Jill's friendship is situated in this contemporary cultural history.
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