Direct provision: ‘Ghosts’ and ‘spaces’ depicted in exhibition

Asylum Archive opens at Galway Arts Centre combining photography and video works

Unknown: Waterford, 2012 from Asylum Archive produced by visual artist and researcher Vukasin Nedeljkovic. The exhibition runs until March 20th

Unknown: Waterford, 2012 from Asylum Archive produced by visual artist and researcher Vukasin Nedeljkovic. The exhibition runs until March 20th


Imagine a photographic exhibition of people’s lives, with no individuals captured in the images.

Dublin-based Serbian artist Vukasin Nedeljkovic took a conscious decision to depict only places, objects and structures for his interpretation of the direct provision system. It has just opened at the Galway Arts Centre.

Nedeljkovic (39) knows a thing or two about direct provision, being a former asylum seeker himself. He was a teenager living in Belgrade when Yugoslavia, as it was then, began to tear itself apart in a brutal and bloody civil war.

Protests which he and fellow students participated in against the policies pursued by Slobodan Milosevic and his successors landed him in trouble, he says, and extreme nationalism “dragged me and so many of us down for many years”.

He did a BA in photography in Belgrade and says he was visiting Ireland in 2007 when he criticised the government’s then information minister Alexsandar Vucic, who is now prime minister.

“I was advised that it was not safe to go back home, so I stayed and sought asylum here,” he says. He stayed in four direct provision centres in Dublin; New Ross, Co Wexford; Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo; and Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

“I suppose I began recording for what is now the Asylum Archive from the beginning,” he says. He was granted “leave to remain” by the State in 2009 and applied for citizenship two months ago.

Now married with a family, he did an MA in visual art practice at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and was a successful exhibitor at the Claremorris Open Exhibition in Co Mayo. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

He was in Ireland, still in the system and unable to travel, when his mother died in Serbia five years ago. “She was just 58 years old, but she never recovered from the Nato bombing of Belgrade,” he says. “I was in Ballyhaunis when I last spoke to her and her health had deteriorated. She begged me not to come back . . . she was worried for me . . . but it is a kind of sadness for me.”

Individual presence

Maeve Mulrennan

At one point, the artist visited Lisbrook, a former Ibis hotel in Galway used as a direct provision centre before protests led to its closure. He collected burst balloons from a children’s party which were lying on the floor. “I felt they represented the uncertainty of these children’s lives, as they were separated from friends and had to move schools when Lisbrook closed,” he says.

Another piece is a series of brass plates he made to represent the people who died here while in the asylum system, which numbered at least 55 when he created it.

The total number of deaths between 2002 and 2014 was 61, including 16 children, according to a Dáil reply by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on January 21st.

“The human presences absent from these frames seethe at their edges,” says Dr Charlotte McIvor of NUI Galway, who has written a text for the exhibition. “Their inability to be seen, however, is not just an act of forced disappearance, but a defiant dissipation.

“By haunting rather than inhabiting, the asylum seekers not pictured in these frames refuse to perform from familiar repertoires of the bureaucratic performance of refugeeness.”

Panel discussion

The discussion panel will also include artist Vukasin Nedeljkovic; Dr Anthony Haughey; Dr Anne Mulhall of UCD’s school of English, drama and film; and independent curator Megs Morley. Asylum Archive runs at the Galway Arts Centre, Dominick Street, Galway, until March 20th.