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The Connecting Hearts Project

The CONNECTING Hearts Project

In April 2016 I began The Connecting Hearts Project as part of my MFA at National Art School, Sydney. The project involves making and showing 1468 small terracotta human hearts, one for each person currently detained on Nauru and Manus Island as part of Australia’s policies on people seeking asylum.

More than 45 workshops of up to 20 people at a time work for a morning or afternoon to make the hearts, following a simple six-step process. While each heart takes a familiar form, they vary according to each maker who, as a final step, may inscribe a message onto the heart.

More than 400 people have been involved in making the hearts. The heart making workshops also involve each person talking about how the issue impacts on them and what their own connection is to the issue. While each person’s story is different common themes include expressions of anger, shame and powerlessness about Australia’s current treatment of people seeking asylum. They also often talk about Australia’s past policies that have made people welcomed, often mentioning their families’ arrival here.

Installations of the hearts have been designed to also invite participation and reflection. They include: Open Hearts, Heart Awakening and Opening Hearts. Each installation creates a space for viewers to step into the work and pick up a heart, feeling its fragility and weight. 

Opening Hearts, an installation of all 1468 hearts, took place on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2016, at Circular Quay, Sydney. The wrapped hearts were placed  in a spiral on the lawn. The public were invited to walk into the work and unwrap a heart as a symbolic act of welcome, and to write a message on the cloth.

If you would like to be involved in the project, you can find it on Facebook ('Penny Ryan Connecting Hearts') or Instagram #connectingheartsproject


Many cloth messages have been made by people visiting installations of the Connecting Hearts Project during 2016 – at Heart Awakening at the Chippendale New World Art Prize in June and at the Seeking Refuge exhibition at Tuggeranong Art Centre in October, and at Opening Hearts at Circular Quay in December.

People in detention on Manus Island and Nauru participated in the Connecting Hearts Project by writing messages on muslin and sending them to the artist. These messages were published in the Guardian on-line.

The messages are being made into a large installation which will be shown during 2017.