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SHAHIN SHAFAEI is a writer, actor, Iranian refugee and former detainee of Baxter Detention Centre. He is currently a postgraduate student at Victorian College of the Arts.



17 Nov 2006

What does it take to travel from sanctioned public acts of divisiveness toward interpersonal acts of mutual recognition, respect and affection? Shahin Shafaei takes those aboard on a confronting and revealing journey.
Were you there? What was it like?

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I give Shahin a grainy introduction: his being a performer, his refugee status, his time in Baxter. He is going to take us on a little journey. He responds dryly “thanks for that full-on introduction”. And he commences dividing the tram into dark-haired people on left side of the tram, fair and brunette on the right side. “I am the boss and I set the rule here”. “Why don’t you like it?” he’d enquire. People do dislike it, feel uncomfortable, yet some are willing to play along with it, and start to get the idea. A large range of responses are constantly resonating as people move on and off the tram. Shahin instructs all aboard: “anyone who gets on, you must tell them that if you have dark hair, sit on the left side, and blonde/brunette. on the right side. This is the rule here”.

A blond teenage boy is willing to go along. “They are different” he says. And later a blond man in his 50’s who is avidly photographing the tram gets pursued. He wants to participate just enough so that he can be released from Shahin's focus, but Shahin persists in engaging him. This Aussie knows alls about being a good sport, but he still wants to get the microphone away from him! So much so that he keeps standing closer and closer to the tram’s speakers so that the microphones cause disturbing feedback noise, but Shahin changes the mike directions and manages to work with it.

What started as a public, shared exercise based on racial stereotyping and heard throughout the tram, shifts into an increasingly quiet, singular encounter. The man in his 50’s walks beside the blond boy, lowers his head and says: “any similarity?” Shahin doesn’t get it at first, but then clicks. “Ah, he is your father?”

The tram reaches Fed square. I decide that the event does not need an announcement to mark its ‘end’, but that its end has been a shift from the public to the private, or from overt 'institutionally' imposed rigid divisiveness to open inter-personal engagement and connection. Shahin stays on for another lap with the tram, talking to the father and son. Halfway through the lap, in the corner of my eye I witness Shahin and this man in his 50’s exchanging a heart felt hug before departing. I’m touched.

Mick Douglas
Thursday December 07