Spoken: The Mural Project

Spoken: The Mural Project is an art project that aims to tell visual stories of diversity among women.

Synopsis

Visual Stories of Diversity.

Spoken: The Mural Project is an art project that aims to tell visual stories of diversity among women. The project focuses on providing a voice for women who are connected to the Space2b art and design social enterprise to share their stories on identity and resilience in their own words. The stories have been told directly by the women or in some cases shared together with family members.

The participants of the project cross their arms across the chest to embody the duality of their identity, one that they carry from far away places and the other from their adopted land.

Poetry

The following poetic words shaped the visual expression of the project:

Our world displaces us. Our world brings us together.
We are creatures of our places, choices…contradictions.
It is our individual identity that makes us distinct.  
We are poised between a number of languages, cultural traditions and countries.
We each believe we belong to one or another.
We each face an unbounded identity.
 

We cross our arms across our chests. Our duality within us.
Many homes held within, while one heart beats.

 

Photography & Stories

Joanne S. (with grandmother Arlene J.)

Joanne S.  

Photography by Shane Lam

Joanne S. (with grandmother Arlene J.) 

Photography by Shane Lam

Joanne: “One of the reasons I had to start thinking about my identity was when people would ask me where I’m from and I would be like, ‘I don’t understand this question, like what do you want me to say here?’. Having to figure out how to answer that - I don’t think I needed to for a long time.”

“The conflict has definitely risen from being in places where maybe a brown face wouldn’t normally be and just kind of trying to explain how I got there or explain why I am there. And it’s like, ‘Why do I have to explain this, or how can I explain this?’ I never really had chosen to be in that conflict. People just assume that there’s this conversation that I want to have, or there’s this conflict that is obviously a part of my life, and then I’m like, ‘Actually I’m not, I’m surrounded by the people who make me who I am.’”

“Going back to Sri Lanka this year, people were like, ‘Do you feel like you went home?’ And it’s not really a home there, but it’s not really a home here. I think that one of the things that I realise is home is having all of my family. I have grand parents, I have aunties and uncles, we are all living in this household. That is me carrying my identity.”

Arlene: “When we left Ceylon, I cried and cried and cried. I only knew that I cried. We left Ceylon but we are still there. What does that mean? People won’t forget us.”

“I have not changed my culture. I’m still in saree. I went to school in saree. But that doesn’t mean I’m anti dresses. I would love to wear them, but I’ve never worn them, because it’s like that. I don’t feel like I am in another country now. You are the captain of your ship. You make the place your home.”

Joanne: “I think what gave me my own eyes and perspective on Sri Lanka was mostly understanding the history of this land and this country, and seeing Aboriginal families battling with that two-world thing as well. From watching that as a kind of spectator and thinking, ‘What does this mean to me, to wear a saree?’, or ‘What does it mean to me to say I’m Sri Lankan? Is it simply to explain my skin colour? Or is it simply to explain my grandmother?’ or something like that. I think seeing other people having cultural pride and saying to myself, ‘Yeah, I actually want that, I actually want not to feel like -

Arlene: - you are different.

Joanne: No, not different…I want to understand this country’s story and in understanding my own I think I can do that better.”

Joanne: “I have that freedom too, to decide who I am, especially since being born here, there’s not a certain way for me to be Sri Lankan or to be Australian. And that’s sort of been my message to the people I’ve been around. Yes there’s a tradition and there’s a culture. Yes there’s dance and there are songs. But in terms of the way that I will sort of sit in that, that’s my decision to make.”

“The way she talks about independence, it’s like it’s not as good as when the British were in. So for me trying to battle with that, where the British is looked up to so much and then coming to Australia and learning about Australian Indigenous history. I felt like I almost had like a British upbringing almost through Archa, and trying to battle with what this country has come from and started in, where Sri Lanka was started in, I had no idea how to hold these two, almost three different heritages together. That’s been different, the way Archa has held onto her identity. It’s hard, the way that I will look back or try to see Sri Lanka is through Archee’s eyes, or my Mum’s eyes, but we are all going to have really different relationships with that place.”

“I think the kind of thing I have ended up with is that I’m kind of like a brown Australian who has been given a lot of the benefits of white Australians, so I can sort of walk this in-between line where I can make a lot of people feel welcome. One of the things I’m really excited about is bringing our stories, young migrant stories, into Indigenous stories and being able to say that we have actually had quite similar, like very different, but quite a similar history. To have those conversations with other people from other countries who are trying to find solace in this land when there’s so many stories of the people of this land where they can’t find their own solace, and figuring out well, this is tied together somehow.”

Arlene: “Home is home. Wherever I am is home. I can go into a place with snakes and I know that not one will sting me. No one can throw stones because I become one of them.” 


Anu B. (with daughter Mili B. & husband Rob S.) 

Anu B.

Photography by Shane Lam

Mili B.

Photography by Shane Lam

Anu B. (with daughter Mili B. & husband Rob S.)

Photography by Shane Lam

Anu: “Initially when you come here to fit in you try to change your behavior to try and fit in. But as you get more and more comfortable that takes an awful lot of time. You start not being apologetic about holding on to your own values and beliefs and saying, ‘Yes I have an opportunity to live in this amazing country and yes, I will adapt. But hey, this is what I am bringing to the table as well. Notice it and understand it.’ So I think it’s about getting comfortable in my own skin as Sikh, Indian, and Australian.”
 
“I wear a Kara, a Kara is usually made of steel, and while I am not very religious, the reason why Sikhism has become associated with my identity more strongly, strangely enough is after leaving India and coming to live in Australia. The Kara always reminds me to be as strong as steel. I pick the elements that resonate with my own values, and that why I suppose I strongly associate myself with Sikhism, because unlike Hinduism or Christianity it isn’t a very old religion, and the advantage that it has had is that it has picked out the best elements out of all.”

“Moving out of India, getting married and having my family has meant that somehow the question of identity started to become more and more valid and more and more important. I was quite conscious that his [Rob] culture was very, very different to anything remotely like my culture, but at that time I didn’t want to focus on it, I didn’t want to talk about it. We would cross that bridge when we came to it.”

“I decided very early on, you’re going to have to learn my name, like it or not, and I’m not going to respond if you don’t know how to pronounce my name because I just think it’s poor. That was not something that I was willing to compromise on.” 

“There’s a confidence about me being Sikh and Indian but the confidence about me being Australian wasn’t there until recently. Because I think that you almost want to feel that you belong. I delayed getting my Australian passport because I said to myself, ‘The day I feel like I am Australian is when I will go and get my passport until then I’m going to stay a permanent resident.’”

“In India, when you have a child the whole village and the ten villages around that are there, the door bell doesn’t stop ringing and you almost don’t get to hold your own child until you have to feed it because it is the one thing that now one else can do. One thing that I found interesting was that when we came from the hospital walking up the stairs Rob’s thinking, ‘Oh this is so romantic, we are taking our baby home’, and I’m thinking, ‘This is so desolate! Where is the village?’ So I think it was very funny in hindsight for both of us to share completely different thoughts about the same incident.”

Mili, how would you describe yourself?

Mili: “Half Indian, half Sikh, and half Australian.”
Anu: I think you mean thirds!
Rob:
“Are you more Indian or more Sikh, do you feel?”
Mili:
“More Indian.”
Anu:
“We failed.” *Laughter*
 

What does it mean to be Indian to you, or to be Sikh?

Mili: “Happy, very happy.”

Do you notice that your parents come from different cultural backgrounds or does it always seem like they are coming from the same place?

Mili: “Same place.”

Anu: “So long as Milie is not in a position where she has to pick, she can just absorb both sides, I think it’s fine and I think that she’s been able to do that.”

“I think that often people can be too shy to ask a question and so they just don’t engage. If people were just a bit more conscious of asking those questions or becoming a bit more aware that would make a big difference to truly saying that Australia is multicultural, because at the moment I think that there are people of all different colours shapes and sizes but that’s it. It could be a bag of skittles and nothing more. And I think that you do want it to be that something more because everybody does brings something to the table.”

 

Gunamani N.

Gunamani N.

Photography by Shane Lam

“I have to say that of all the twenty-one years that I lived in Mauritius, in the first year that I lived in Melbourne I felt more at home in that one year than I did in twenty-one years.”

 “In Mauritius I would always live up to other people’s expectations, to my parents’, my friends’, you know, you have to eat that way, go to that church or dress in a certain way. But being here I could be whoever I wanted. I finally became a vegetarian, I followed through with my Eastern philosophy and search. Actually my lifestyle now, that I have chosen on my own as a Hare Krishna, has more regulations and rules than it did when I was back home but they are the rules that I chose, not the ones that I was born with. That’s what I appreciate here, people respect your choices. There’s an ocean between Mauritius and me, I can be who I am.”

 “Every time I went back to Mauritius my uncle would always make fun of me like, ‘Why do you wear such long clothing? People go to Australia to make progress materially and you came back and you became more’ – I don’t want to say ‘archaic’, more ‘ancient’ – But that’s just what I want.”

  “I would say I am a soul who has been searching for who I am for so many years and so many lifetimes and I am still discovering who I am. That’s Gunamani inside, that’s where I am now at. I know that I am a soul who is always searching.”   

 “In Mauritius, as much as it’s suffocating, people are always there for you. You know, there’s that sense of family or friends to help you out, whereas in Melbourne, in Australia, it’s a bit more like you sink or swim, like you’re on your own. My Mauritian identity is great actually. It’s a blessing I feel, to have been born in Mauritius. It taught me simple living and sharing.”

 “It’s not that I’ve reached a balance and that’s it for the rest of my life. I think balance is always like as you ride a bicycle. According to the terrain you’re on, the balance is different. To keep an equilibrium you always have to keep moving. So, it’s always going to be like that, it’s always a constant change, I think, to strike that balance in life.”
”I’m not perfect. I still have desires that I have to attend to, but at least I know I have a clearer idea what the results could be if I follow certain desires and in what way I can attend to them. We tend to pull ourselves down so much that it’s not beneficial for us. It’s better for us to be courageous and say, ‘That’s who I am and yeah, I can be better, I know I can be better and I will be better if I want to.’ And whenever that happens it’ll happen and in the meantime I’ll just keep walking.”

 

Zoe H.

Zoe H.

Photography by Shane Lam


 “My official name is Zmira, but Australians have a little problem pronouncing the ‘R’. I looked for names starting with Z and Zoe means ‘life’ in Greek. I arrived two-and-a-half years ago from Israel with my family – my husband and four children. Coming to Australia was a kind of an adventure, I actually had a very good life back in Israel. The situation in Israel is a bit complicated so we looked for a better place to raise our children. We decided to do a bungee jump without the rope because the net will appear. I pictured Australia as having kangaroos everywhere, running down the street. It’s not as I thought. I didn’t know what to expect, I just came.”

“In Israel I was an Executive Assistant in a big organisation so I found a job as a receptionist quickly. I remember the first telephone call I had to answer, it was gibberish to me. I found a very creative way to get past this, I would say, ‘Your English is better than mine, can you spell it for me?’, but they fired me after three months. This was the first time in my life I have been fired. I remember driving back home and I said to myself, ‘What am I going to do now? This is my occupation and I know I’m good at it. A receptionist is the lowest level of admin. What am I going to do?’ but then I thought, ‘This is your dream. You’re in Australia.’ I reminded myself of the expression, ‘When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade’. I’m not going to make lemonade. It’s disgusting, it’s bitter. You’re going to make yourself a margarita and enjoy it.”

“I came back home and said to my oldest child, ‘I was fired.’ I was reflecting all day on how to let them understand even though it won’t feel stable for them. They said, ‘So, you’re not going to earn money?’ and I said, ‘You’re not going to look at it like that. We are going to think like an Italian. When an American misses the bus they say, “Oh no! I missed the bus.” But when an Italian misses the bus they say, “Ah well the bus missed me, arriverderci!”’”

“In my old life, I was the main junction in my family. Suddenly, you feel your children know better than you. To speak, to read. Their accent, their slang. They understand better than you, they can teach you. Suddenly you feel less stable.”

“It was very hard to leave my family. They’re old you know, in their eighties. It wasn’t easy. I don’t know what my children want in the future, if they want to go to Israel or stay here. I don’t want to tell them what to do. Just as my parents didn’t tell me not to come to Australia. I have so many dreams. When I’m in the city I look up at the building and say, ‘Ok. I can see myself in an office up there. At the top of the building.’ For now, I just want to enjoy the ride and be healthy.”

 

Shambhavi Shree C.

Shambhavi Shree C.

Photography by Shane Lam

“I come from Nepal. I belong to Eastern Nepal, and then my family moved to the capital and that is where I have spent most of my life. I came to Australia one and a half years ago to study International Community Development. I’m doing a Masters at Victoria University. Being Nepalese is about honoring my homeland. It’s about what my parents have done all these years. They are living there. They have lived there most of their lives. So I really want to associate myself with the place where my parents belong to. They have struggled a lot to make me into the person I am right now. I’m not into that big frame of being successful and all that. I have the attitude to make me a better human. They have contributed a lot to this process.”

“In the transit on the way to Australia, I had lost my luggage. It was night and people were not speaking English and I got lost. I sat there on the bench and remembered my Father had said to me, ‘Carry some noodles or fruits’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t need it!’ The airlines only provided a snack for the transfer of twelve hours. But I realised that my Dad had put something in my bag. At that time I sat on the bench and cried and I ate that food and remembered my Dad, he has always been there for me. That was the time I realised that I took everything for granted. I had fought with my parents to come to Australia and at that time I realised what they had done for me and then I had that spirit – I am going to Australia for some reason. That I will be the independent person I have always wanted to be and they will be proud of me one day.”

“I managed to pay my own student fees. My parents had paid for six months. They thought I would be going back. They thought I would not be able to pay more for other semesters, and I will have to move back. I had challenged them that I will pay all my student fees, and I did that. So, it was more like accepting the challenge. It was more like exploring the country and exploring yourself at the same time. Exploring who I am, exploring what I really want to do in life, and exploring people. I know I have the freedom I have always wanted. I have become independent, but also I miss my home.”

“Here we have aged care and all that, who take care of old people. So I think that’s the reason that drives me to go back home. Because I don’t want my parents to suffer, and I don’t want other parents like that to suffer the same thing. So at least if I can make a small effort, if we can develop that spirit within a small group of youth of ‘I belong to this country, I belong to this place and I have to be there at least for my parents or my families - I can be there for a small group of my community’, then it will be helpful. In my country I have not been that grateful to people. I have not been that grateful to culture. Coming to Australia has taught me that I should know more about our own cultures that are back home.”

 

Muhubo S. (with friend Fatima)

Muhubo S.

Photography by Shane Lam

Muhubo S. with Fatima

Photography by Shane Lam

“I come from Somalia, East Africa. It’s called the Horn of Africa. I am from countryside. I was born in a village, small village. My family, they have the farm with cows and goats and sheep. When I was young, I looked after them. I liked the goats. I went outside and sang songs and milked them. My mum is the weaver. We lived in a big hut, the family house, all the women made the hut. My family is a big family. My aunty, my uncle, my grandfather and then I had seven siblings. I loved it. My mum taught me how to do weaving from the grass and branches to make a hut at age five. And at eighteen, I knew the weaving and art.”

“I went to Egypt when I was eight weeks pregnant. My first daughter was born in Egypt. First I am in Egypt and I struggle with language. My country – only one language, one people, even weather. Nothing change. Just one weather, one language, one people.”

“My sister sponsored me to come to Australia. My daughter at that time was nine months. In Australia again different language and different people. My sister she buy a pram for my daughter. I don’t know how to even use the pram. And I didn’t know how to catch the train. I push the pram in the big gap, and then pram was stuck. And then I was crying and yelling, but I talk in my language. People came to help. And then after the next stop the ticket inspector came. They look like bullies, because I thought they are the police. I was so scared! I thought I was in trouble for the pram being stuck, so I just ran.”

“I was waiting eight years for my husband to come. But he came and after four months he left me. I thought there will be a happy life when he came. But I was heart broken, disappointed. After four months he go away, and then after two years I get divorce paper. For me, I had a lot of challenges, lot of struggle. When I remember the struggle, I remember home and going bushwalking, so I also do that here in Australia. I just go walking. Sometimes I feel I am strong because I have lot of struggle, and strength from that. If I feeling sad or stressed, I do my weaving or my henna painting. Cup of tea and then after that I relax.”

“My friend is Fatima. First time I met her in TAFE in English class. I met her, and best friends we became. She is from the same country. Somalia is a big country but we are from the same area. She likes to craft. That is why she is close to me. Also I saw Indigenous people, how they use their background and heritage – they connect to me. Weaving and stuff, I always I looked for the arts people, weaving and crafty. Makes me happy.”

 

Nidhal A.

Nidhal A.

Photography by Shane Lam

“I am from Iraq. I have been in Australia for three years. I have a PhD in graphic design. I was a teacher for about twenty years in Baghdad. I lectured in philosophy of art and its beauty.  I came here because my country is not safe. Before if I go to my job to the university, I do not know if I back to home safe or not. Everyday this struggle in my country.

“The first time is honestly hard for me in Australia because I don’t know anything, I don’t have language, I can’t talk, I can’t understand. It was so hard. The first time I come, maybe six months I just sit at home. I don’t move. I don’t know how to buy food. I don’t know how can I go to the shop and back. I just used the phone to take pictures to know the way there and back. Six months like that, and then I made a friend in the neighbourhood. She helped me to go to the library. After, I go to the library for two days in the week for just listen to English. For learning English.”

“Everyone if want to start something or have a dream, should start from the first step. And my first step was Space2b. The second step I get job. And after that when I feel that my language is good, I start to study.”

“After some time I start to know people and some organisations and ask for help. After this I know this place, Space 2b, and I start a new life. A happy life because I connect to other people. I have friends here.”

“I have job in the vegetable and fruit store now. I’m working in the register. It is good job because it has contact with other people direct to talk English, and learn something on the computer, and learn the names for vegetables and fruits.”

“Sure I miss my family, I miss my home, and I miss my job. But what I do? I talk with my family, my brother, my Mum. When I talk to them while walking on the street, and my Mum tells me, ‘You are strong’. The first time you don’t know, the second time you know and life is like that.”

“I honestly I love my country because I grew up in my country. And I feel sorry about my country. My country a good country. But Australia, now, is my country.” 

Project Team

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DESH BALASUBRAMANIAM
PHOTOGRAPHER SHANE LAM
VIDEOGRAPHER SALVADOR CASTRO
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER SELMA HALIDA
GRAPHIC DESIGNER JONATHAN CALLEJA
PROJECT TEAM ALICE CURRIE, CASSIE PURUNTATAMERI, CLAIRE LIVINGSTON, LILY FARLOW, SAM QUINLAN, SHASHI RAJENDRA, SOPHIE VIEGAS & REBECCA CALLEJA

SPECIAL THANKS TO

JANINE LAWRIE, Co-Founder, Space2b
  

Partners

The project was funded by a grant from the City of Port Phillip. The project was realised with the partnership of Space2b, an art and design social enterprise. Space2b was established to support people seeking asylum, refugees and newly arrived migrants to become financially independent. This is achieved through creative enterprise, workplace training and business mentoring.  Our humble thank you for their support.


City of Port Phillip                                   Space2b