Kim-Anh Nguyen fled Vietnam by boat with her family in 1977 when she was nine years old. Forty years later, and now a well-known artist, Ms Nguyen was at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) headquarters in Geneva this week to present a sculpture series to the High Commissioner.

“I’m honoured UNHCR accepted my offer. I’m ecstatic to have this artwork in a place where the story will be viewed and understood,” Ms Nguyen said.

Kim-Anh Nguyen with her sculpture series Boat People's Horizon, at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. ©UNHCR

Her striking sculpture, Boat People’s Horizon is a series of 12 porcelain paper clay boats, each one representing a story of maritime migration, displayed in front of a wall piece of a seascape. There is a small blue boat to represent the one in which Ms Nguyen and her family fled Vietnam, when she was a child. Other boats represent the First Fleet, and boats of asylum seekers who have attempted to reach Australia in recent years.

Ms Nguyen said the idea for Boat People’s Horizon evolved when she was working on a collection of vase-like sculptures called the Spinifex Series, which was about migration of the Indigenous people of Australia.

“I changed from the vase form, and began to make a different vessel – a boat. Then with the boat form, the story of me being a boat person started to come through,” Ms Nguyen said. “I began to research other boats that had arrived in Australia, and they become part of the series.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi accepts Kim-Anh Nguyen's sculpture on behalf of UNHCR. ©UNHCR

Ms Nguyen has been a strong supporter of UNHCR over the years, donating funds from an open studio event in 2014 to Australia for UNHCR. Indeed, the Vietnamese diaspora community in Australia has long been proactive in its support for UNHCR. In 2016 Carina Hoang, a former unaccompanied child refugee from Vietnam, who now lives in Perth, was instrumental in mobilising the Australian Vietnamese community to fundraise for Australia for UNHCR. As a result, $550,000 dollars was raised to support Syrian refugees.

Ms Nguyen’s artwork has been exhibited across Australia, and will now be permanently housed by UNHCR in Geneva, representing human movement across the years.

“I’m honoured UNHCR accepted my offer. I’m ecstatic to have this artwork in a place where the story will be viewed and understood,” Ms Nguyen said.

Ms Nguyen, who is temporarily living in Europe, presented her artwork to UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi in person. The presentation was attended by Australia for UNHCR National Director Naomi Steer and Australia for UNHCR Board Chair John W.H. Denton

Ms Steer said: “It was an honour to be present as this stunning piece of artwork was presented to UNHCR. It tells a powerful story, and it is especially meaningful that Kim-Anh, a former refugee herself, saw the place for her sculpture to be with UNHCR.”

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