Following her summer residency at Nexus Arts Centre as a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse artist, Haneen Martin explores her own cultural background and her position as part of the diaspora as a Malay-Arab Muslim woman who emigrated to Australia at the age of eight with her mother and brother. Martin seeks to interrogate how Australians treat each other based on their appearance and cultural differences in our current political climate given Australia’s history of migration and cultural exchange. This will be her fourth solo exhibition.
February 10 — March 24
Looking Inward to Move Forward
by Sosefina Fuamoli
Living in a Western society, for the most part, we are taught to be open-minded; to want to learn and experience new things, embrace new ideas. Though, the comfort resultant of the acceptance of their appearance is a luxury not afforded to many.
So, what does it feel like to be put under the microscope?
To exist under the label of ‘other’ or ‘the exotic’, whereby elements of your heritage and physicality are taken as a novelty or something to be pondered on by strangers?
Patterns of Migration, by Haneen Martin, explores the concept of exoticism, relating to her own experiences growing up not only with a culturally diverse heritage, but in an Australian climate that has time and time again, challenged, rather than embraced her culture and individuality.
Migrating to Australia with her family at the age of eight, Martin’s heritage represents two of the world’s richest cultures and also, two of the most misunderstood. Half Malay, half Saudi Arabian, Martin is one of many people, indeed one of many women, who have dealt with the caution, ignorance and flagrant racism (both direct and indirect) from the uneducated, self-informed sector of white Australia.
Instead of absorbing the ignorance and fear-driven antagonism however, Martin — through Patterns of Migration — has channelled her energies toward her art in throwing the spotlight on this behaviour Australians have adopted today; in a political and social climate where, in the eyes many foreign audiences, we are still a multicultural community, open for cultural exchange.
“There are so many levels to this project, which I think encapsulates exactly how complicated life is.” Martin reveals. “On one hand, I have all the different motifs and handicraft to symbolise my culture. I also have my own personal symbols and ideas attached to my own memories of moving and trying to maintain a balance between tradition, contemporary life and just fitting in in a Western society.”
“My Mum and I have both woven ketupat, traditionally woven leaves which you would use to cook compressed rice. Except we only taught ourselves how to make it just for this exhibition as we were so privileged growing up and had other people around to do it for us. So my grandmother was the last one and tried to teach me, but I never practiced as it was just another thing that made me different from my peers.”
Trading in a sense of empathy and warmth for the fake comforts of isolation and xenophobia in recent years, the Australian socio-political climate has become incredibly skewed. The construction of a culturally diverse dialogue and a safe, inclusive environment for those who are not of ‘the norm’ is pushed to the back burner. In its place? Keyboard wars and opinions formed thanks to tabloid media coverage.
Today, artists have been using their platforms to buck against the above and tell stories grounded in real truths. Not to antagonise, but to disrupt the vicious cycle of learned behaviour that has characterised much of Australia today. As such, Patterns of Migration is an interrogation, but one that seeks to achieve progress rather than to stoke a fire based on stereotype, cultural guilt and sheer ignorance.
Martin’s artistic aesthetic takes many forms; a sculptor, illustrator and printmaker, to name a few. She is also a lover of storytelling. Patterns of Migration is her story and an exploration of her Middle Eastern and South East Asian background and its place in her life here in Australia. It is also an example of ancient traditions meeting the contemporary — the ‘Evil Eye’ motif commonly found in Middle Eastern cultures is given new context within Martin’s new work, in the form of colourful polymer clay pieces, she has made, for instance.
“It was important to me to give a voice to other people of cultural backgrounds in the form of an anonymous survey.” Martin explains. “Some of these answers, which reinforced the feeling I have where being non-white = other, will be shown in the exhibition through embroidery of graphs on calico bags.”
Too often, people are quick to comment on the detrimental effects different ethnicities are having on the ‘Australian’ way of life. Our country, to which a complex migration history is attached, seems to have lost its common-sense when it’s come to the treatment of the people who call these ‘boundless plains’ home.
It can be as simple as a side glance at the type of cuisine someone is seen eating in public. It can be an overt move to avoid a Muslim family picking their children up from school. It can even be a move as flippant as someone trying to guess where someone else is from based purely on the colour of their skin, despite the strength of the Strine in their voice.
All behaviours that have been passed down from one generation to another.
Of course, we are raised to be curious. Somehow along the way, the appropriate way of expressing curiosity has been lost and instead has been replaced with insensitivity and prejudice.
“We live in a time where we have all the information we would ever need at our fingertips,” Martin says. “We can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to cultural appropriation and exposure to other cultures.”
Through Patterns of Migration, Martin’s voice is as strong as the vibrancy represented in each piece of visual art on display. Her presence as a young, Muslim woman in a position to teach, inform and stimulate new thoughts and perspectives through art is a similar presence many young artists have been exerting to great effect. Patterns of Migration seeks to not only share a unique cultural background with a curious audience, but to invite the audience to look inward at their own sense of cultural diversity and that of which Australia boasts itself on owning.