HRAFF exhibition explores “otherness” and dislocation in multicultural Australia

By Mabel Kwong

I Am, You Are, We Are | Chapter House Lane

The experience of migration and the “outsider” are two themes explored in I Am, You Are, We Are, an exhibition currently on display at Chapter House Lane in Melbourne.

Presented in association with the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF), the exhibit comprises a series of photographic works curated by Western Australian artist Anna Louise Richardson. In particular, these works examine the notions of complex identities, belonging and xenophobia, suggesting cultural equality is yet to be attained within contemporary Australia.

The photographs depict a number of race-related events around the country, highlighting the fact that cultural tensions are still very much prevalent. Perth-based photographer Marziya Mohammedali’s Reclaim Australia captures a scene from the Reclaim Australia rallies earlier this year. The print depicts a Reclaim Australia supporter with his face fully covered, flanked by police personnel at his sides. Local media reported that the movement as anti-Islamic; however, the movement’s organisers claimed it aimed to speak out against religion extremism.

Mohammedali’s print signifies mixed sentiments towards various ethnic groups, faiths and beliefs in multicultural Australia. That is, some Australians seemingly feel Australia should be home to those of a certain cultural background.

Mohammedali’s Azadi (Freedom) Outside Yongah Hill Dentention Centre is a snapshot of activists outside a Perth detention centre; campaigning for better treatment of asylum seekers in Australia. There are certainly Australians who are willing to draw attention to the plight faced by asylum seekers and give a voice to the newly arrived in Australia. Azadi portrays how asylum seekers may only possess a mediated voice during their indefinite stay in the country.

The dislocation and feeling of Otherness within the migrant self comes across strongly in Olga Cironis’ photographic works, Wog features the artist herself donning an Aboriginal breastplate necklace with “Wog” inscribed on it in red. This word is commonly thought of as a derogatory term towards those of Greek heritage within broader society. In this instance, Cironis – whose parents are of Greek descent – comes across as embracing the cultural stereotypes behind her ancestry and the fact that she is Australian, while recognising that Indigenous people are a rightful part of Australian culture.

In addition, the eyes of Cironis and the other two younger migrants featured within her works are masked by thick yellow stripes. Eyes are often thought of as the windows to the soul. For migrants in Australia, juggling multiple identities is part and parcel of life and at times they might lose sight or become confused by who they really are in the cultural sense. Notably, Cironis’ work implies that migrants across generations in Australia experience the constant feeling of having to straddle two cultures.

Eva Fernandez’s The Tea Party Is Over proposes that a multicultural society is a society prone to cultural misunderstandings and hostilities. Her photograph features stacks of white porcelain cups precariously stacked up on top of one another along a long rectangular dining table. A black bird stands on one end of the table; an “outsider”, threatening to knock over the delicate china. Metaphorically speaking, this image is symbolic of balance. Every culture has its differences, but cultural tolerance is key to fostering a harmonious multicultural community.

Overall, I Am, You Are, We Are is an exhibit that recognises the diversity of people, voices and perspectives within Australia. All photos featured in the exhibition were taken by women from migrant backgrounds; migrant women showcasing matters they are passionate about. In an equal Australia, it is befitting that all people regardless of gender, race, age and background are given the opportunity to speak up on a multitude of issues, and be proud of it.

I Am, You Are, We Are is showing at HRAFF until 31 May. Read more about it here.


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