Pride, Purpose and Perspectives

This time one week ago I got the shits when confronted with the knowledge that my friends’ black babies are dealing with the shit I, my brothers, my Mum and everyone else, have dealt with all our life, by mostly well-meaning but still rude people. I felt it deeply, knowing that these comments were going to make a new generation of black kids question their authenticity as Aboriginal people, and therefore make them feel inadequate in their identities. It was going to cause them distress, it was going to contribute to the divide within and between our communities.

With the young ones in mind, I hand wrote that post in about an hour, then typed it onto my phone and published it immediately. Today, one week later, it’s clocked over 4.4k 4.5k 4.6k likes and shares on Facebook alone. It might be no big deal in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, but for someone who’s last blog post got 40 likes (and yes I thought that was deadly) 4000 is quite an overwhelming number.

I am under no illusion as to why people are interested in listening to my viewpoint this week. The themes of race, categorisation and identity are topical at the moment, with the RDA coming under intense debate, in no small part by the opinions of George ‘Bigot’ Brandis and Andrew ‘Assimilation’ Bolt. My perspective adds to the discourse. It’s a marginalised and mostly ignored perspective, but a valuable perspective, according to the majority of Australians who want to shrug off our country’s racist reputation and use their privilege to do more good than continuing harm. Yes, my perspective does have value.

That said, there have been a few public comments and private messages from people who missed the point. White people, indignant that my perpective should make them look racist and in the wrong. People who felt their freedom of speech to express their institutionalised embedded racism to young, beautiful, innocent black kids to make them feel not good enough. People who demonstrated their privilege and power by whitesplaining to me why our feelings and reactions are wrong; why their intentions take precedence over my affectation. Again I say to those – you missed the point. There is no need to try and exonerate yourself. I know why you say it and I know your intentions are not malicious. I know you are but a drop in the ocean, that you are a product of your socialisation. I know this. But that doesn’t change the fact, the evidence, the actuality that those words hurt. So instead of telling me I’m wrong, why not just believe my [educated and experienced] viewpoint, cop it on the chin, and just vow to not say those words again? Reconciliation should not just be our responsibility.

I reiterate: I addressed my post to the people who tell Aboriginal people that they don’t look Aboriginal. I addressed it to the ones who think it’s okay to say it. I addressed it to them in the hope they could better understand why it’s not okay, and that even if they couldn’t fully empathise or understand the history or frameworks or language of oppression, or to understand why it’s not okay in a practical sense, that they could at least move forward with the theoretical understanding that its not okay. I addressed it to them so they could consider that what they are doing is more harm than good, more problem than solution, more hurt than healing.

I had considered not publishing the ignorant comments but am glad I did because I’ve been heartened by the dismantling and debate put forth by better-educated commenters. And that said, the support for my post has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides people complimenting my style of writing, I have had communications from people of all walks of life telling me that the message was received in the spirit I’d intended it. Such as:

My white friend who printed this out so that she could give it to nosy busybodies who say this about her black babies, making them feel hurt. The many black people, of all skin-tones, who’ve shared my writing and stood in solidarity with me. My other white friend who, after reading this, felt confident enough to sit her black daughter down to talk about this, and told me that the connection they made and the smile on her daughter’s face was worth all the previous heartache. My black Aunties who thanked me for articulating what they had been too shame or too shy to express all their lives. My white friend who supported me and shared this amongst his mostly non-Indigenous network. A black artist overseas who encounters this outside the context of generic Aussie racism, who thanked me because my writing made her feel less alone, overseas and away from mob. The whitefellas who get it and came in to bat when other people tried to whitesplain their entitlement to me. My black friends who thanked me for speaking for them, for sacrificing my private nature for them by putting my emotional history in the public sphere. My white friends, some of whom I’ve heard say this in the past, sharing it around so that healing could begin.

Here I sit, writing this in my break from marking essays that are discussing race and representation. Essays from mostly non-Indigenous students; the social workers, teachers and policy-makers of the future. People who will have the power to make or break Aboriginal people. Thankfully, they mostly get it, and if they don’t yet, well. Instead of getting angry at them I remind myself that it is only Week Four of a twelve week course, that they should not bear the brunt of my frustration that’s better directed at the history, and at the institutions. That despite their cognitive dissonance in the face of learning true Aboriginal (and therefore Australian) history, they are doing the hard work, the necessary work of decolonising their minds, and examining their assumptions and attitudes that will one day hopefully lead to right action.

Once these essays are marked I will then work on my thesis that is exploring the ways in which women from my community (including myself) have experienced transgenerational trauma as a result of past government policies, and how they interrupt these effects and move forward, spreading strength. Real evidence of Aboriginal people transcending our historical legacies, and doing what we’ve always done: resisting assimilation, healing trauma and caring for our kids. The unsung heroes who are having a go, who have been hurt in different ways by the seemingly innocuous but assimilationist comments of non-Indigenous people.

Here I sit writing this, on the bank of the Deerubban, not far from the place my grandmother was born. The very same place that she last saw her mother before welfare took her because to them, she didn’t look Aboriginal enough. Here I sit, reflecting on the week and the impacts of my writing, the power we all hold to heal instead of hurt. And, here I sit, safe in the knowledge that my grandmother would be proud of me.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of March 2014

Writing About Art Is Like Talking About Music (which is apparently like dancing about architecture)

I have drawing on the brain

A few months ago, I enrolled in an art course called Acrylics for Beginners. I had really wanted to do an oil painting course because I have never used them before, but alas! the oils course wasn’t running that semester. I thought, “Fuck it; I’ll just start here.” I am no beginner of acrylics, having used them extensively throughout high school and sporadically beyond, and I have had my work exhibited – but it has been a while. For the last few years, I’ve been moving around a lot to different towns, different states and even different countries. If I wasn’t half-arsed about painting before I began my wanderings, my nomadic existence became the most convenient creative cop-out. Money-wise, it just wasn’t feasible to buy new materials wherever I hung up my hat, and it has always been highly impractical to bring it all with.

However, I was never willing to break up with art completely. So instead of painting, I started drawing. It is much easier to create art with whatever is at hand – scrap paper, pens and pencils – than to set up paints and canvas, brushes, water and drop sheets whenever one gets motivated, because there is no time for the inspiration to be diluted. Drawing is truly a portable art form. I have drawn at the beach, in the bush, in the mountains and in cities; antisocially at peoples’ houses and at cafes; in buses, cars and trains, on trams, ferries and planes; on my way to and fro gigs; in work breaks; when I had nothing better to do and especially when I had ‘more important’ things to do. It’s even been a cheeky little icebreaker at times.

In the beginning, I never thought of myself as a good drawer (whatever that means). In fact, I had the idea that I could be a decent painter, but because I never had the time/space/money to get stuck into it I would never fulfil my potential. This is because it is practise, and not proclivity, that makes perfect. In hindsight, I would say that I’ve always had wonderful – wondrous! – ideas, but travelling was the perfect excuse to not even try to execute them. Drawing, however, became my foil. The ideas that I have can be quickly and basically outlined by pen or by pencil, and it is far less heartbreaking to screw up on scrap paper than it is to fuck up a pristine canvas. Yes, canvases can be painted over, but not without a prequel of guilty hesitation. Paper can be ripped up and recycle-binned without remorse.

And, may I say? That while I was apparently wasting my ideas on pissy little doodles, I accidently got pretty good at it. And by good, I don’t mean that I can draw objects realistically from memory or even by looking at the object and copying every detail. I can’t. Anyway, that’s what photography is for (which is what I started telling myself as a balm for my frustrated ego with such failed lofty goals). By good, I mean that I became proficient in manifesting on paper the pictures that swim around blindly in the deep dark grottos of my mind. Quite by accident, I discovered how much I love lines and shapes, negative space and suggestion, patterns and repetition, anomalies and deviations. Each drawing is an artistic fugue, with every line adding a more interesting layer and building the picture up, variation by miniscule adaptation. Straight up drawing, without worrying about materials and the ritual of setting up and planning and packing up and cleaning, for me, is true psychedelic art. Etymologically, the word psychedelic means “mind-manifesting” and so it goes with me – the pictures in my psyche are quickly projected onto paper. Whilst my drawings are a long way from photorealism, they do turn out exactly the way I want them to. There’s a giddy kind of freedom in that for perfectionist cunts like me.

I still surprise myself. I will start off with an idea; something that I’ve previously glimpsed and then gestated in my verdant imagination, that suddenly expresses itself in a dream or a vision or some other altered state. I’ll feverishly put down the lines and the shapes that suggest the image that I hold in my head, and I just keep at it until I’m smug and satisfied. Sometimes it turns out approximately the way I’ve visualised it, but more often than not it grows into a better version that I never could have imagined. I’m always amazed with the product:

I did that? Fuck off!” The astonishment is not with the level of shit that swarms my headspace; more so the fact that the execution always fits. It’s a fucking grand old feeling.

And while I’ve grown to love my drawings, I’ve felt for some time that some important thing has been missing. I’ve secretly been yearning for something to bring this up to some next-level shit. I live and breathe beautiful colours and textures; anybody who has seen even a tenth of my dressups can attest to this. Coloured pencils just don’t cut it. They’re too soft or too streaky or too unpredictable in their texture. And while texta is pretty decent compared with pencils, there’s no subtle blending allowed. It’s all solid blocks or nothing, which is comparable to art fascism. That’s fine sometimes, but the shit that comes out of my imagination is too intensely layered to be represented in colours that are just this or only that. In-betweens and fade-outs and subtleties and fierce vibrant rainbows are more fitting embellishments for my style.  My forays into colour thus far have been tentative and cowardly at best. Some things I am happy enough with, but most I feel could have been achieved more beautifully in a richer, more pliable medium…such as oils! And here, in my roundabout way, I have come full circle.

I moved to this city six months ago with the intention of staying at least a year – an intention I have not had for a few years now. I moved out of my ghetto beach shack in early 2010, and I’ve moved residences a lot since then. I slothed on Mum’s couch for a bit, then I moved out bush, then back to the beach and on friends’ couches for a few weeks, then I lived in hostels in London, a huge share house in Brixton, back to the coast and on Mum’s couch again, then briefly at my Auntie’s house in the west, and here I am in [insert city name here] – a set of keys, suitcases unpacked, a real-enough bed, and a door that closes on my own room. The gypsy lifestyle was awesome while it lasted (and I must confess I still yearn for the open sky, where my roots are firmly planted) but it is nice to have a place that I know I’ll be at for longer than a few months. Here we go! Did I just accidently take you on another revolution? I hope you’re not too dizzy by now, and you have my utmost gratitude for staying with me on this literary merry-go-round.

I decided to start painting again – seriously this time. But a few weeks and then months went by and I hadn’t yet made room in my busy life to splash around in paints. One day I walked past my local art supplier and picked up a brochure for art classes, and the Oils for Beginners course caught my glittering eye. After enquiring within as the text requested, I learnt that the oils class would not be running that semester. So, I had two choices: I could wait nine weeks or start a different course straightaway. And so, I chose the acrylics course, knowing full well that I otherwise wouldn’t put brush to palette in that two-month interim. The class was on one evening per week for two and a half hours per session. At the time I started writing this, I had just finished my final class and although it wasn’t anything revelatory, I was actually painting again on a regular basis! The exercises were basic tasks: playing with tones, shades, lines and composition; mixing colours and using different mediums; and interpreting masterpieces, still life, landscapes and painting from photographs. It was a decent socialising date too. There were some lovely characters in my class and at the end of my solitary research days it’s nice to have a yarn and interact with flesh and blood for a while. Most importantly though, it was a time and space in which I had done what I had wanted to do for such a long time. I work well within the boundaries of vague routines; ‘a time for everything, and everything in its time’. And, regardless of the exercises that I would not have attempted if left to my own devices, it was fucking nice to just put some colour down again – to defile holy white canvii with maniacal brush strokes.

Now I have the background trout out of the way, I am going to get to the point of this. This is a story about wishful thinking and blessed synchronicity and good things coming to those who wait work and happily ever afters.

A few Sundays after my last art class, I was down at my local markets buying my weekly food the way it should be bought – direct from the farmer, fresh, organic, in the open air and with the lonesome sounds of a proficient blues slide guitarist soulfully licking my eardrums.

(Fuck supermarkets. Fuck fluorescent lighting; fuck crowds of unhealthy and stressed-out drones; fuck 90% of the ‘food’ being wrapped in plastic for ‘freshness’; fuck the other 10% of unwrapped food coming from interstate or overseas, grown from clones, watered with chemicals and sprayed with pesticides to preserve its already subpar colour, texture, flavour and nutritional value. Fuck government subsidies for farmers who pollute the earth, fuck the cheapness of this ill-gotten produce that shuts down small businesses and drives the price of real food up, and fuck the middle-men who profit at the expense of the farmers without doing any real work. Fuck the Coles-Woolworths duopoly. But I digress.)

I actually look forward to my food shopping; the whole experience soothes my soul and the feeling is refreshed momentarily throughout the week whenever I bite into a crunchy and juicy apple, and when I create gourmet feasts from my happily purchased and lovingly grown organic produce.

It was within this mellow high that I accidently wandered into the art gallery at the markets and was warmed to my very cockles to see an entire room adorned with the beauteous art of some Eastern Arrente women. What a fantastic surprise! May I advise the uninitiated that this art is magick, pure and sweet. Not only do the designs look gorgeous, they also tell the most important stories that only symbols can describe – those of eternal and creation and dissolution, breaking and healing, living and dying, ad infinitum, played out simultaneously in the past, the present and the future; known to many as Dreaming stories. It is almost impossible to describe, but the canvas shimmies and shimmers right before your eyes. Two-dimensional planes come alive and create depth in your perception, thus forming the holy trinity of our known three dimensions. I highly recommend appreciating such art for yourself in person. Try not to be enchanted in the physical presence of such art, I dare you. Small-scale images on the internet flatten and render the music silent, so the Divine Matrix just won’t cut it this time I’m afraid.

I circled the room, drinking in the magic of these works. Each and every one mesmerised me, and it’s a memory that I will carry in my eyes forever. It was in this heightened state of stokedness that I mused to myself, “I would love for my art to decorate public spaces, and for people to stop and to get lost therein.” That desire sparkled within me for a while and then danced away into the ether, and I made my way home soon after.

Later that afternoon, I went to my favourite café in the universe for a late lunch. I noticed that they had painted the previously garish acid-pink walls a crisp and soothing white, and this pleased me. I felt less harried there, and I enjoyed my ramen at leisure. Whilst digesting, I took out my sketchbook and I got working on a design that I’d been fucking around with. Soon the bubbly manager approached me. We had a little yarn, then she asked to look at my work and I obliged. She asked if I was “an artist”. I said, “yes, in a way”, because I still find it supremely difficult to define what I am and describe it to others in minimal words (have you noticed?). She told me that they had painted the café white because they wanted a mural to decorate that space. They wanted a big cherry blossom tree painted upon those virginal walls. Then, she asked if I would be interested in making this happen. Oh!

I skipped home and sketched. Trees are my forte, and tree is the metaphorical meaning of two of my mother- and grandmother-given names. They are an absolute pleasure for me to draw. My Dharug ancestors grew and lived and died under the ancient darani (ghost gums) on the banks of the Deerubban (Hawkesbury River). My Lebanese ancestors grew and lived and died beneath the strong and fragrant cedars of Lebanon. They were tree people, all of them, and therefore I am too. I dream of them more often than not. They are spiritual guardians for me; the shapes and the colours and the textures and the scents make me feel balanced and whole. One day I will live in a tree house, and when I ride the lightning on my final trip out of this dimension, my body will be sung back into a tree where it belongs. But in the meantime, I drew some sketches and wrote a geeky little introduction letter to go with, and dropped it into the owner that week. He told me he was impressed and we discussed timeframes and materials and rates of pay and other unimportant niceties. And so, I was casually commissioned to create my interpretation of a thick and gnarled tree in cool dark browns that burst forth sprays of pale pink cherry blossoms from their fingertips in airy clouds like fairy floss. I started my sample paintings a few weeks ago. The first brush stroke was drawgasmic, and every day the tree grows in these preliminaries, branch by branch, as my psychedelic design comes more alive. There has not yet been any further talk about the whens and wherefores of the painting, but even if this mural doesn’t blossom on the wall of that café, the seeds of self-belief have germinated and taken root in my mind.

Make of this what you will, dear reader. Think of it as the law hypothesis conjecture of attraction if that is your proclivity. I personally cannot do the karma/fate/‘meant to be’ angle because in my understanding of my life there are no straight lines to just desserts; just baby steps in a marathon, monumental journey. All such fantastic coincidences have more layers of meaning than such a limited explanation will allow. But this is not a rant on spiritual lore (or is it?). If anything, it is just my writerly worship of things that are impossible to delineate in words, and an offering to you of one shining facet of my otherwise confined existence at the moment. And all that really matters is that I am fairly fucking pumped on life right now – the way it should be.

PS: to each and every one of my amazingly creative but devastatingly lazy friends, acquaintances and other passing readers – your apathy pisses me off. Have a go! Scare yourself. Pick up pen or paintbrush or musical instrument or whatever form your magic wand takes and create something new today. It will soothe you and make you feel human again. And if you die tomorrow, you can be at peace knowing that you have left something beautiful and tangible behind for us. Go forth and play. Solve et Coagula cunts!

 

Defender Of The Faith – 02.09.12