At thirteen years old, Lachlan Petras did not grasp the impact of Bobby Despotovski’s three-finger salute.
In May 2001, in a game against the Melbourne Knights, the Perth Glory star striker subtly held his fingers to his chest in a gesture that triggered a riot. At the time, the Melbourne Knights’ supporters were predominantly Croatian Australians, and Despotovski’s three-finger salute symbolised Serbian nationalism. This event marked Despotovski’s career and a turning point in Australian soccer.
Thirteen years later, Petras is an artist. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Monash University, Petras’ previous work focuses on science and art with sci-fi sculptures and videos; never history or storytelling. But now, Petras is working to bring his artistic practice to his interpretation of this event that was so vividly imprinted in his memory as a young soccer player.
“I was a juniors player who was aware of the incident [of Despotovski’s three-finger salute] as a young person, and the idea for this art project developed as I grew up and understood it” says Petras.
The symbol and commotion it caused sparked a wider conversation about soccer and migrants within Australia. In an attempt to translate and interpret the incident, Petras is creating a unique art exhibition that examines soccer’s place in Australia’s rich migrant history.
“I am interested in the perception of the migrant,” says Petras, “and exploring sport as an avenue for migrant populations in Australia, because soccer is international.”
Supported by Sports Without Borders, the exhibit will include three sculptures that represent the three stages of the development of the Serbian three-fingered salute. From a sculpture that incorporates a cast of an authentic Balkan helmet to works that include photographs from the Immigration museum, Petras’ work embodies soccer, culture and migrant history.
To truly immerse himself in the event, Petras is in Serbia playing with Despotovski’s former teams.
“I’m playing for the Red Star Belgrade Reserves and Dynamo Pancevo, just as another player. The idea is that its not unusual, I am just playing, nothing special, and its just about participating,” says Petras.
Art is a powerful tool of evaluation and examination, and sport is a perfect theme to explore. So linked to our daily lives, and how we identify ourselves, sport offers a window into how we define ourselves, and our communities. Petras is tapping into this by creating a visual historical interpretation of Despotavski’s three-finger salute and the cultural nexus that lead to its uproar.
The Basil Seller Art Prize, recently exhibited at the Ian Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne explores the theme of sport in any artistic medium and explores Australia’s obsession with sport.
Sports Without Borders is proud to be supporting this medium of expression that captures a moment in history where sport, culture, and ethnic identity clash.
Petras aims for the exhibition to be on complete in 2015. If you are interested to know more about Petras’ work, please visit http://www.lachlanpetras.com.