Step inside one of the most controversial and outwardly hedonistic religious movements to arrive in Australia in Fremantle Arts Centre’s (FAC) provocative new exhibition, Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle.
Featuring newly commissioned multimedia works, including an absorbing virtual reality experience based around the group’s daily meditation practices – the exhibition investigates the legacy of the ‘Orange People’.
Dedicated to its leader Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990) – later known as Osho – this highly tumultuous movement grew to global prominence in the 1980s. Fremantle became one of the major centres worldwide as many devotees moved in and many locals converted. Recognisable for their orange-coloured clothes, disciples or Sannyasins, a term traditionally related to Indian religious discipleship, were typically well educated and wealthy.
The movement combined Western materialism with Eastern spiritualism, garnering intense public interest and controversy, particularly surrounding disciples’ sexual practices. The Orange People were a conspicuous and powerful element in the Fremantle community for a few years until they abruptly de-camped to the south – foretelling the upheaval, scandal and implosion of the international movement.
Curated by Fremantle Arts Centre’s Dr Ric Spencer and Sannyasin kid Sohan Ariel Hayes, Orange reflects upon the public confusion and fascination surrounding the Orange People and presents an insight into a tumultuous time in Fremantle’s social history from those within the movement. Alongside contemporary responses the exhibition showcases religious paraphernalia, archival material and interviews from Sannyasin kids, now in their 40s.
“It’s wonderful to see such a colourful and vivacious period in Fremantle’s history brought to life in FAC’s galleries, with newly commissioned work from local artists and contributions from the Sannyas community this will be a lively foray into the world of Osho and 1980s Fremantle,” said Dr Spencer.
Sohan Ariel Hayes grew up in Fremantle’s Sannyasin community from age five to eight, living with his Sannyas parents in the commune on Collie Street. For Orange, Hayes has drawn on his childhood memories of the movement to create Dynamic – a virtual reality work that explores the dynamic meditation practices undertaken daily by Sannyasins, including his parents.
This highly physical form of meditation often took place in a group where meditators wore blindfolds and a minimum of clothing as they screamed, hyperventilated and rolled around on the ground to reach a place of inner peace. The artist has also collected Sannyas memorabilia to create an intimate reading space which visitors will be invited to peruse in FAC’s Main Gallery.
“Much of Sannyas happened in ordinary domestic environments, in lounge rooms, in kitchens, in gardens, in bedrooms. The installation transforms the fireplaces in the Main Gallery into a shrine and sitting area populated with significant publications, objects and artworks relating to the movement,” Hayes said.
WA artist Loren Holmes will construct The explosive silence, stretching across FAC’s Hallway Gallery. This 2.4m long box features a mosaiced media wall filled with newspapers, magazines and archival material from the late 1970-1980s that explores the emergence and dissolution of the Sannyas movement. Set behind this public archive is a collection of intimate moments between Sannyasins and occasionally Osho, which can only be viewed through a series of peepholes.
Holmes will also present Where is Utopia? This visual reconstruction of Rajneeshpuram, the infamous Rajneesh city in Oregon, USA offers an aerial view of the place, with stories of the Orange city and its devotees interwoven through the work.
Established in 1981 by Osho and his followers, Rajneeshpuram grew into a fully functioning city complete with an airport, sewage system, retail outlets and restaurants. The guru was infamous for his consumerist hedonism, epitomised by his collection of 93 Rolls-Royces, earning him the title of ‘Rolls-Royce guru’ in the USA.
In a tongue-and-cheek reference to the dual lives of the spiritual leader, WA artists Dave Brophy and Bevan Honey will broadcast their own Rolls-Royce spirit radio. Featuring a colour-separated print of a model Rolls-Royce, viewers will hear recordings of Osho emanating from ‘inside’ the car’s radio.
Orange will explore the experiences of Fremantle’s Sannyas community through a series of collaborative and interview-based works, including: former FAC Print Award winner Poppy van Oorde-Grainger, Artist and practicing Sannyasin Naren Farquharson (WA), Joseph London and Joshua Webb.
These revealing excerpts from those inside the movement offer insight into Sannyas’ ideals of enlightenment, surrender and the master-disciple relationship. Osho’s principle of surrender as a state of no-mind, no ego and letting go is a key theme throughout the exhibition. Disciples were encouraged to embrace the moment, reaching a point of enlightenment where they released conscious control to respond in a purely intuitive manner.
By privileging the perspective of artists raised as Sannyasins, Orange offers rare insight into the inner workings of the enigmatic spiritual group. More than thirty years later, the deeply personal responses speak to the enduring, mixed legacy of the Orange People for both the individuals involved and the port city.
Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle
Fremantle Arts Centre, 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle
Exhibition: 1 April – 21 May 2017
For more information, visit: www.fac.org.au for details.
Image: Orange: Sannyas in Fremantle – photo by Diti