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The purpose of redemption

By Suresh Ruberan - posted Monday, 1 May 2017

Eight human beings were executed on 29th April 2015.

Shot on an island, after midnight, the eight were singing a hymn together. I imagine the terrible loss of life fading away from those gunshots. Like streams of flotsam floating away from waves onto rock.

Of the eight, one life comes away the strongest - Myuran Sukumaran. His life is no more valuable than any of the eight. His life speaks deepest to me probably because his light shone the brightest, as his days became more numbered.


Like crashing waves to rock, each of their lives before prison were probably a train wreck waiting to happen. They were probably in the lowest ebb of their lives when they were caught and imprisoned. This is probably often the case when people are lost without a core purpose. Living without purpose often feels like an inner imprisonment, seeking the freedom to be alive. I can imagine this as I wandered for many years without a purpose. I am sure this is something many of us can relate to. Repatriating self with purpose and meaning allows these two states to align; for lostness to find purpose and for imprisonment to find freedom. That is the beauty of redemption.

Myuran's short and powerful life serves as a testament to what is possible in the human body and spirit. It is an extraordinary journey to go from facing bullying and racism at school, to dropping out of first year university, to being a drug user, to smuggling drugs for money, to being sentenced to death, to spending over ten years in prison, to finding meaning in art, to undertaking tutelage in painting and painting in every spare moment, to selling his paintings and using the money to build a studio for himself and others, to enrolling in a Fine Arts degree, to entering in the prestigious Archibald prize twice, to being conferred an Associate Degree in Fine Art months before his execution, to creating a prolific body of work that spoke of profound human resilience where 'humanity was screaming off the walls', to painting one of his last paintings showing a dripping heart of blood, signed by all the eight.

And yet as his life was deliberately drained that day, like the flotsam floating away from that island, there was an underlying stream attached to it. A deliberate current, a sense of purpose swaying out to the world from the tragedies of the day. The current stems from lights being turned on inside of himself between those ten years. They were the journey of his road to redemption. In those streams he struck upon his purpose, his way of dealing with himself, of being himself, of dealing with his transgressions and his situation. Even more, he found his purpose enabled his expression. Above all though, he found his purpose.

It is because he found his purpose and resolved himself to it daily that the flotsam from his life did not perish but flowed out into the world. That is why, the programs which he helped built or were involved in were continuing afterwards, that his why he touched the hearts of those who got to know him or those he reminded of the value of redemption. And that is why a collection of his work featured in an exhibition this year, 'Another Day in Paradise', is a powerful display of artwork against the death penalty, which had over 4000 people attending in its first week.

His work and fervour serve as a reminder that life is how you perceive, observe and respond with it. The repercussions of those responses become the flotsam life you leave behind perennially floating in the currents of what you did and who you affected. It is a powerful reminder for all of us who are affected by tragedy and for those of us who are affected by an imprisonment of the heart, of lostness and of the esteeming power of redemption.

Suresh Ruberan works in community development and is a Master of Social Work student.

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About the Author

Suresh Ruberan works in community development and is a Master of Social Work student.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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