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The first time I had a strong sense of ‘being an Australian’ was when I went overseas. I was fresh out of my teens and backpacking around India. Maybe my awareness was born from having to recite my passport number so often and the necessity of learning how to talk about cricket. Just as I was beginning to identify with this assumed and unexamined fact of my existence – a chance conversation forced me to consider what this really meant. It started the usual way – introducing myself to the Indian traveler sitting next to me on the bus. After asking me where I was from our conversation progressed to the weather. He commented that it must be very cold in Australia at this time of year. It was December, so I smiled and replied in the negative. The man looked at me strangely, “I don’t understand – if Australia is a hot country, then why are Australians white?”
It’s difficult to examine ideas of belonging without acknowledging its shadowy other; exclusion. Cultural identity is a strong theme in My Tribe and the exhibition is rich with both affirming and challenging stories.
Recently uploaded is a audio documentary called La Voce Della Luna (the voice of the moon). Excavated from the troves of Radio National’s Into the Music archives, this is a warm documentary about the Italian women’s choir. Woven among the earthy music tracks are stories of immigration, feeling dislocated and then found in the deep pocket of the Italian community in Melbourne. It seems that feeling grounded in our own community gives us the strength and confidence to reach out to the people of another.
Move a quarter of a century into the future and check out the video ‘My Asian Tribe’ – a fresh and playful student work celebrating being Asian and the adhesive power of shared cultural experiences like having ‘the same bowl hair cut as a child’.
Culture and genetic heritage calls even when you grow up and live removed from it. Contributor Mercedes takes us on a journey to understand her Italian and Maltese heritage in ‘The all together Australian Tribe’ – while Lorriane shares insights about her Kenyan homeland in her work ‘My Tribe’.
The dark side of cultural identity is eloquently explored by JNT in ‘Gazing at chicken village’. A tourist takes a snapshot in a Vietnamese village and wonders just what she is shooting and why. A particularly thoughtful exploration of the notion of the other is a series of works called ‘Muslim Woman’ by contributor Susan Dirgham The series explores stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women through audio, image and text. And for a work that tackles racism head-on, check out the multimedia work, ‘Violence against International Students’.
Perhaps the sharpest betrayal is the one that comes from within your own tribe. In ‘My [errant] Tribe’ contributor Jeff Lowenstein, a 67 year old Jewish Australian, explores his split with the Jewish community over the issue of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
All rich pickings from the hot pot of My Tribe