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Wall painter sheds light on juvenile detention

Visual artist Tim Guider’s confrontational mural depicting the debate over young Indigenous Australians held in detention has highlighted the attention of motorists in inland Sydney for the past month.

The work shows an Aboriginal youth trapped in a television, symbolizing skewed and racialized media coverage, with a hand sticking out of the old box and holding a telephone to signify the power of social media.

“One of the big problems in that mural is that 50 per cent of the children in prison are Aboriginal and yet only 3 per cent of the population in Australia is Aboriginal,” said Mr Guider.

“That is unheard of and it is an international disgrace”.

The former bank robber, 68, is highly qualified to comment on the number of incarcerations after spending six years in Long Bay, one of the country’s best-known prisons, in his 20s.

Mr. Guider charts a traumatic personal journey marred by molestation as a youngster, while also keenly attuned to the horrors of his incarceration as a child and the long-term damaging consequences it can have.

“Children’s prison hardens you, it makes you cruel,” he says.

“The worst thing they do when they put a kid in a child’s prison is they take it away from the only people who love them.”

But his experience at Melrose Boys Home in Sydney, which he says later translated into a life of crime, didn’t detract from his love and passion for making art for more than three decades.

Trained at the National Art School, Mr. Guider has not followed the traditional path of renowned artists who exhibit in galleries.

However, his work has attracted international attention, including a gold medal for two major light installations that he exhibited at the 2017 Florence Biennale Contemporary Art Award.

But he prefers the public to engage and interpret his outdoor paintings, which are socially conscious at their core.

“The response from the public is my recognition,” he says. “It’s my lifelong love, making works of art.”

While in ‘The Bay’, Mr. Guider begged his jailers to allow him to paint four huge murals on the prison walls using scaffolding.

Nearly four decades later, the ethereal and colorful works he created between 1986 and 1988 are still under heritage orders.

“There are images of freedom in it,” he says, describing the naturalistic and futuristic elements of the Aboriginal resistance, from flying robots to towering trees.

Mr. Guider’s artistic and political journey clearly distinguishes him from his half-brother Michael Guider, whom he has publicly condemned after convictions for pedophilia and manslaughter.

Elsewhere, he has a special interest in the social construction of language and the “derailments” by politicians.

Showing off his latest mural in Petersham, Mr Guider points to the text on the wall – “The subtle violence of social silence” – as a call to arms to ask how language is purified when it comes to incarceration.

“Children’s prisons, for example, sounded really bad, so governments changed it to use detention centers or detention, like in school,” he explains.

“And then they changed the word youth because that was too painful too and now they’re juvenile detention centers.

“You can call it as much justice as you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re putting kids in jail.

“That’s the reality and through words, socially, we hide the pain of that reality from ourselves by changing these words.”

Mr Guider, who was active during the sweeping global Black Lives Matters protests following the death of African-American George Floyd, believes it was a time of social change that has rocked communities under pandemic lockdown.

“What I do… in a little way, where I put things on the wall, is people start asking questions,” he offers.

His concerns come in the wake of an agreement between the Australian Attorneys General to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years.

The decision last November was in response to pressure from more than 30 United Nations countries.

A few weeks later, the First People’s Assembly of Victoria wrote to State Attorney General Jaclyn Symes urging her to raise the age to 14.

The ACT government has moved at 14 years, while the same change is planned for Tasmania and South Australia.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge also introduced a bill late last year calling for the age to be raised to 14 and to consider alternatives to prison for those under 16.

“At ages 10 and 11, kids are still losing their baby teeth. They don’t have a pen license, let alone a driver’s license,” he said at the time.

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