Walking in My Shoes

An art project that aims to tell stories of cultural, social and individual identity through personal objects and symbolism.

Synopsis 

Poetic Stories of Cultural, Social & Individual Identity

Walking in My Shoes is an art project that aims to tell stories of cultural, social and individual identity through personal objects and symbolism. It focuses on providing a voice of personal expression for Aboriginal and diverse communities within the City of Whittlesea. 

Diverse groups of people co-exist within our society, but they do not necessarily enjoy a sense of community, a sense of belonging. There exists a challenge to build a sense of community, which opposes racism, xenophobia and oppression. Whilst acknowledging that every community is unique and changeable, interaction is the key to social change, a central force to building a community that is inclusive of all.

Photography & Stories

Seyed Karim H. / Object: Prayer Ring

Sayed Karim H. Photography by Devika Bilimoria

“This is my prayer ring from Iran. I bought it about ten years ago in the town I’m from in the north of Iran. I still remember the day when I went walking through the small dusty streets to buy my prayer ring. I still remember the noise and the people.”

“In my religion we wear rings when we’re doing prayers. I feel spiritually connected when I wear it during prayers. After the prayer, I still feel this spiritual energy in me as I carry this ring along with me. It is something beautiful to me.”

 “It reminds me of my country and of my home that is now so far away. I feel I wear a part of my culture, my country and my memories of home, always with me. I try not to take it off. It is something that is part of me now. I go with it everywhere."

 

Dianne L. / Object: Father’s Fire Sticks 

Dianne L.

 Photography by Anthony Rodriguez

 “My family are from Gunditijmara down Portland way, we are from Lake Condah Mission. My dad and my family were part of stolen gen down off the mission and then came down here– they were taken to a kid’s home in Brighton and then to Fitzroy. I then went to Sunshine with my Mum and now ended up out here.”  

“I reconnected with my family later, so as I’ve been working in early years at the Aboriginal Learning Centre, I’ve grown from working there and as they learn I’m learning.”  

“My father’s fire sticks keep me connected because home is so far away for us. He made them and they were one of the few things he left to me when he passed, he had 23 children my Dad, so it means a lot.”  

“My kids see it, they ask questions, What is it? Where did it come from? What does it mean? I want them to know everything because I didn’t know as much as they know now at their age, and they can keep sharing this with their children and their generations to come.”  

“When I was little I didn’t have an identity, while these children do. They know where they came from and where they are going. They are very headstrong– and family history like my father’s fire sticks, is an important part of that.”

 

Regina H. / Object: Grandmother's Photograph

Regina H. Photography by Devika Bilimoria

 “A real lady my grandmother… very serene, very peaceful, my grandfather’s favourite out of his three wives. You know those days, men had many wives. She was the best one, so refined.”  

“I was born in China in the province of Canton. During the Cultural Revolution my grandfather in Hong Kong had to bribe some locals in our village to help my grandmother and me to escape to Hong Kong and be reunited with him, my parents and six sisters”. I was 7 years old, being smuggled with my grandmother in a small fishing boat. I was so sick. It was the middle of the night– my first time in a boat, bus, anything.”  

“In China, my grandmother had maids and she was very spoilt because my grandfather was a wealthy man. But because he went through interrogation and got all his properties taken off him during the revolution, she had no more money, so no more maids, only my sisters and I.”  

“She used to make me go to the well and get water, by the time I got back it was only half a bucket of water and she got upset with me, she would chase me around, telling me off and I would run, run around through the garden laughing. Oh, how much I loved her. Even though she was harsh on me and treated me as a maid sometimes, these are the experiences that made me strong. I still love her a lot because she was a real lady, you know.”

 

Gurinder K. / Object: Turban Cloth 

Gurinder K.

Photography by Devika Bilimoria

My whole family wore the turban but I still was not confident enough to wear the turban when I first came to Australia. I knew in my mind that I should, but I wasn’t prepared for it. When I first arrived here, we were shopping in Melbourne and my husband pointed out another community and said, ‘If they can wear it with confidence and represent their religion, why can’t you?’ Those other communities inspired me and built my confidence. If you have people around you who remind you why and how it touched your heart, that’s when you really think, I should.”

“When you come to the new country you’re scared about looking different with your turban, especially in the beginning. I was very hesitant. I do remember people looking at me in the train and not feeling confident. The first day I wore my turban when I went to Central Queensland University, my teacher said at the end of the lecture, ‘Is it a special day? What is the special occasion that made you wear this thing?’ So I explained the meaning to the whole class and they all clapped. I was very happy from the inside and that gave me a positive feeling and my confidence started to grow and grow.”

“The most important thing, is the actual love, which nobody can infuse in you until you, yourself are prepared. That love, I believe, comes when you get to know your history, educate yourself, about the real significance and what has been done to achieve this, what they (the gurus) have stood for.”

“I do feel this is part of my body now, I don’t feel separated from it anymore. I wouldn’t look at myself as the same person (if they were taken away), even in the mirror, I would feel as if some body part was cut, incomplete.”

 

Kevin N. / Object: Dog Tag Necklace

Kevin N.  

Photography by Devika Bilimoria

“…no matter how much I change, I’ll always be myself. I see life as an experience, everything you do, every experience you have will change who you are. My experiences will change me, so I’m learning more about racism, people and cultures, even about myself…. but no matter how much I change, this necklace will always remind me who I am.”  

“No matter how much I change, I will always be Kevin on the inside. It’s more about the knowledge and experience, where I’ve come from, what I’ve learned to be who I am. It’s what I represent, to always remember to keep moving forward, to change and not to be free of mistakes but to learn from them.”  

“Kevin is more of an ideal that I should always change for the better. It’s always with me this, when I sleep, everywhere I go."

 

Hong N. / Object: Áo dài, Vietnamese Traditional Clothing 

Hong N.  

Photography by Devika Bilimoria

“This is my Vietnamese traditional dress, the Áo dài, the dress that all Vietnamese women wear. Áo means ‘shirt’. Dài means ‘long’. We wear it to weddings, the New Year and in autumn for all kinds of celebrations, really for every special occasion.”

 “It helps me remember my culture, even though I now live in Australia. I bought the material from Vietnam when I last visited and then my friend here made it into this lovely dress. It is something very special to me. I still feel Vietnamese in this dress; it makes me miss my country…it also makes me feel my country from so far away.”  

“I really feel something inside when I wear this dress. Like I wear a little bit of confidence, little bit of happiness, little bit of my home and my family…little bit of something special…little bit of everything I love.” 

 

Rennie E. / Object: Cultural Wedding Photograph

Rennie E.

Photography by Anthony Rodriguez

“I met my husband when he was working in Indonesia. I came here by myself with him and he works full time– so I need to find the connection with people and I found that really hard. When you don’t have family here you feel that loneliness.”

 “Some people who had been to Indonesia and understand the traditions- that’s when I could make the connection with them, over food. I taught women how to make some traditional food, from that we built a good relationship.”  

“The way I teach my kids is for them to understand Indonesian culture. I pray with my husband and the kids and we read the Quran together. When we do fasting, my little one only does it on the weekend as he is seven but my big one does it for 20 days. It’s hard for them at school because all the other kids at school have food.”  

“My little one says it’s too hard and he gets tempted, so he breaks it. I’m not going to push them. I teach my boys that religion is between them and God.”  

“The parenting part here is challenging, cross-culturally. In Indonesia we can’t really talk back to the parent, it’s inappropriate to talk back to the parent, while here the kids have that right. I find it impossible to discipline them sometimes, but I love them with all my life.”

 

Mufti A. / Object: Books on Islam and Islamic Teachings

Mufti A.

Photography by Anthony Rodriguez

“The idea of these books is that we can read and find commonalities. They are in our resource centre and are representative of Islam and Islamic teachings– and are an important reference that helps to teach the kids about Islam in a modern context.”  

“This is important for them to contextualise Islam and to be able to relate it to the world. If we don’t do that then they will think it’s obsolete or it’s distant, but it’s not.”  

“If we’re talking about human rights, women’s rights or social justice things like that, here we can discuss what the Islamic teachings are. It’s about giving them a chance to ask the hard questions.”  

“Growing up in my era we didn’t have too many Islamic scholars that we could just go to and ask, what I have done is searched in my religion for answers. We have been put in a position, especially since 9/11, where we are the subjects of controversy and a lot of Muslims don’t know how to answer that.”  

“We’re all here– we’re all here to stay and it doesn’t make sense to live here with all the divides and misunderstandings. It makes more sense if we know about each other, at least with a level of understanding.”  

“A lot of non-Muslims feel that what they are seeing on the news is Islam. I have found that the best way to address that is to create a platform where we say ‘we’re ready to talk to you if you want to talk to us’ and these books are a part of that.”

 

Asmahan A. / Object: Prayer Mat 

Asmahan A.                                            Photography by Anthony Rodriguez

  “I face my mat towards the Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia. Every household needs to know which direction the Ka’aba is from their house, and face towards it in prayer. I have an app to help me, all I have to do is put it on the floor and it will tell me where to face- where ever I am.”  

“Every morning I get up at 5.30 and pray before anyone wakes up. It’s something I do for myself that is healing and relaxing. It energises me, and makes me feel productive. I feel more relaxed and I get the sense of accomplishment.”  

“It’s not like you must do it to obey the rules, it’s more like you do it for your own self, the way it makes you feel and the way it betters your life.”  

“The days that I miss it or don’t end up doing it, I feel the chaos of my life. So it shapes a big part of me.”

 

Kirpal S. / Object: Kesh, Uncut Hair & Turban

Kirpal S.                                            Photography by Anthony Rodriguez

 “This tradition started from a very, very old time. In those times you didn’t have a dressing room or know where you were living, you would be in the jungle, so you have to keep it close to you so you can take care of the hair.”  

“Most of the traditions we keep close, this one started at that time, and in that time the Mongol people were attacking India, so we needed to keep these things close to us to protect ourselves and be prepared.”  

“The turbans are worn traditionally for many reasons, one to protect people’s heads during the Mongol invasion, two, to cover your hair as well, and the third is because in that time in India the most popular religion was Hinduism, and they classified some people, some people were not able to go to the temples because they were considered lower class. And all these people were being grouped in one place. So the turban became a unifying symbol in Sikh to reintroduce equality.”

 “This is a modern take on a turban, once you get used to the routine it only takes five minutes or so. For me, it embodies equality and tradition, it keeps me connected with my religion and the community.”

Project Team 

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DESH BALASUBRAMANIAM
PHOTOGRAPHERS DEVIKA BILIMORIA & ANTHONY RODRIGUEZ
GRAPHIC DESIGNER JONATHAN CALLEJA
PROJECT MANAGER HEVEN OSBOURNE 
PROJECT ASSISTANTS LILY FARLOW, REBECCA CALLEJA & RONNY RESTREPO

SPECIAL THANKS TO

MARIA FORTUNATA CALLIPARI, Multicultural Officer, City of Whittlesea
MOHAMMED YASSIN, Youth Advocate

Partners

The project was commissioned and funded by the City of Whittlesea. Walking in My Shoes is part of City of Whittlesea's Sharing Stories Project from the Building Respect Anti-Racism Strategy 2015 - 2019. Our humble thank you for their support.


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