Emmanuel Asante aspired to be an artist from an early age but it seemed a far-fetched career until he joined a program designed to promote the work of those from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
"It was one of the best things that ever happened to me," says the western Sydney-based painter who joined the not-for-profit Refugee Art Project five years ago.
"When I am there, I feel I am in a family. I feel they are my brother, I feel like they are my father when it comes to life and art. Whenever I go there, I feel at home."
The 26-year-old says he draws on a range of cultural settings, including his own experience as a Ghanaian migrant, having arrived in Australia in 2015.
"I use diverse materials including watercolours, pens and pencils, acrylic paint, coffee grounds and African printed fabric," says Mr Asante, who teaches children art at the Opera House once a fortnight and also paints murals for Sydney councils.
The Refugee Art Project is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2010 by academics and artists to promote creativity and freedom of expression among asylum seekers and refugees.
It has a stated aim of challenging misconceptions in the community towards refugees, while also giving a voice to people who have undergone hardship.
Mr Asante says he was lonely when he arrived from Ghana to Australia as a teenager because he did not easily fit in.
"I told my teacher at school what I was going through. My teacher suggested instead of taking all the pain on your body, why don't you take it on a canvas?"
"It actually changed my life.
"Art serves as a form of therapy for me. It's very peaceful. The tranquillity I get from painting is massive. The reaction I get from the audience brings joy to me."
Refugee Art Project co-founder Safdar Ahmed, who started running workshops for asylum seekers in the Villawood detention centre, says art can aid healing.
Earlier this month, Mr Ahmed won a major prize at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards for his graphic novel, Still Alive.
His work was commended as an example of "brilliant storytelling created with and through community, labour of generosity and love".
"Art and storytelling allow trauma to be visualised, externalised ... art can help us process our experiences on some level to provide a new sense of control over our story and how it should be told," Mr Ahmed says.
Australian Associated Press
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