By Amy Conley. This article is part of our July 2013 focus on “Australia in the World”. Click here for more articles from this issue.
Activism is characterised by a need to engage people and connect them to issues and events that they may feel have no impact on their own lives. Can creative expression provide a much needed human element to world events? I spoke to Lena Lashin – activist, student, poet and blogger – to find out more.
When questioned on her cultural background, Lena Lashin refers to herself as a nomad. “I pretty much grew up everywhere, hence my very interesting accent,” says the unassuming 23 year old. Currently residing in Tasmania where she is studying for her Masters, Lena has spent much of her life travelling due to the nature of her father’s work as a diplomat. Hailing from Egypt, Lena has resided everywhere from Cairo to Jeddah to Nepal before settling in Australia. She calls Tasmania a second home, although admitting, “it took some time to adjust to the culture, lifestyle and people”.
It is the ability of creative expression to educate, and allow people to connect to alien concepts that is unique
It was this isolation and need to connect that led her to developing a creative outlet, as a means to connect with people. She believes that writing has allowed her to explore new places and cultures, but also believes that it has been “very important [in] finding a connection to a cultural identity”. Lena has used blogging and writing as a means not only of cultivating a sense of belonging for herself, but also of allowing people who read her work to empathise with the different cultures she has been exposed to. To draw a comparison to Australian life, she writes of her experiences living in Togo in her blog, A Journey to the Past, recounting the strangeness of not having access to clean water. “In Tasmania we do casually, but I couldn’t drink the tap water and even worse, I was told to not to even rinse my mouth from the tap. So I was provided with my own sanitised bottle of water to use at all times”.
“I think we all have something to offer, and self-expression is a way for people to learn from one another,” she says, and this has certainly been the case with her social media involvement with the Egyptian elections. Motivated by a desire to give an insider perspective to her friends and networks, she began sharing visual media stories on her news feed, as well as expressing (through statuses and blog posts ) her own joy to learn of the news that elections would take place. “I never thought I’d live to see this day!” she posted upon learning that democratic elections would be held.
Elections are an occurrence that, to many of her Australian followers, had previously seemed unremarkable. But by expressing a very human reaction to a distant event, Lena and others bloggers make a world event real and relatable. Lena explains “it was very strange to be able to say what you feel and think out in the open in the post-Mubarak era.” Many in Australia, previously disengaged from world events, would find this hard to relate to. Such is the power of creative media to make new and strange voices appear closer to home.
Creative expression not only brings together those who would previously be alienated from one another by world events and rights issues, it also unites those that share views across the globe. Lena recounts “it has definitely been hard for me to be geographically isolated from the events especially during the revolution, because part of me really wanted to partake in what was occurring. The hardest thing was that I had been previously indifferent to elections of any form because of the corruption there, and now I was missing such a huge moment of history. I was lucky to have my friends in country that also chose to share their experiences and made me feel connected.” All the speeches, newspaper articles and legal documentation cannot compare to the sharing of lived experience.
It was this feeling of connection fostered by creative expression that drew Lena into the world of more direct activism, and led her to join “live below the line”, a cause which seeks to raise awareness of communities living in extreme poverty, as well as raise funds for improved education and living standards. As she is soon to be completing a Masters in teaching, education is close to Lena’s heart. “Education makes us good citizens and thoughtful people … lack of education feeds ignorance and gives room for prejudice. I believe education is a basic human right.” Inspired by her own experience of creative media consumption of the Egyptian election, she wanted to connect others to this important cause. She knew that nothing provided a more direct, powerful insight into a cause than a human voice and perspective.
“I will definitely use creative means to express my views; I am looking into starting a video blog to document my experiences on the live below the line campaign.” While Lena is exceptional in many ways, she is also totally relatable. She is a student, an opinionated Muslim, and is making positive contributions to Australian society. Video blogging has the potential to truly capture Lena as she really is, and this is an important alternative to mainstream media representations of Muslim voices, which so often present abstracted or extremist perspectives. Blogging, and more specifically video blogging present a personal experience often left out of mainstream media.
It is this ability of creative expression to educate and allow people to connect to alien concepts and complicated issues that is unique. Creativity is a force to be reckoned with in modern activism. It is not enough to present traditional news and statistics. It is the personal in the creative which makes it powerful.
Amy Conley is a Blogger, Arts Graduate and Business Analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services in Tasmania.