Tuggeranong Arts Centre: Invisible Borders - Working with Migrants and Refugees

For 25 years the Tuggeranong Community Arts Association has run inspired artistic programs and events, which have focused on participation, inclusion and accessibility, and helped shape a sense of pride in the community that we are today.

Invisible Borders was developed as a strategic program focusing on cross-cultural work through the arts. The projects within this program will all have a strong cultural identity outcome linked to an arts form.

Projects will raise awareness of current global issues for certain cultural groups, as well as local issues of cultural identity for people living here in our community. Artists involved, will work with project participants to build their creative skills and share their work with the broader community through a variety of creative outcomes.

A range of art forms were utilized to tell stories and share experiences both positive and frightening. The projects explore the stories of individual migrant groups and cultures through photography, performance, dance and writing.

I’m from Here/I’m from There – a project by Irfan Master and Hardy Lohse

I’m From Here/I’m From There was a collaboration between writer Irfan Master, photographer Hardy Lohse, and five first-generation Australians. Master and Lohse interviewed the participants about their cultural identities and their personal hobbies and passions. The project culminated in a series of written and photographic portraits of the participants, which were exhibited alongside some of their most treasured personal belongings – from musical instruments to poetry books.

"It was an honour that Irfan chose me," reflects Mohammed Ali on being invited to partake in the project by Master, "I was really excited to be honest."

He notes that their discussions focused on the importance of finding a balance between Australian values and maintaining traditional cultures for future generations. Ali says, "I believe Australia is a multicultural society and the more we can enforce that the better off we will be."

Of particular interest to Irfan was Ali’s love of literature, especially Urdu poetry. "Since my childhood, Urdu poetry was my love," explains Ali. "Both of us love each other. That is, literature and myself."

A number of Ali’s favourite poetry books were exhibited alongside portraits of the project participants by photographer Hardy Lohse. "The actual format was never in my mind," said Ali of the exhibition, "I thought it would be long speeches… I was so happy and so pleased that it was a small space with the five participants all there."

Ali says that I’m from here/I’m from there was "very successfully done." "It is not because I was part of the project," he goes on, "take my word because it comes from the depth of my soul… These kinds of positive efforts are important to show the real face of Canberra… These kinds of efforts are sending a strong message, Australia belongs to all, whoever wishes to make a positive contribution."

This project was the pilot for the larger writing project commenced in 2017- In Our Own Words.

Mother Tongue – Workshops and Showcase

Mother Tongue delivered a series of multilingual poetry events in partnership with Tuggeranong Arts Centre in October 2016. Two workshops were held on 15 and 22 October, one on writing poetry for speakers of languages other than English, and one on poetry performance. These were followed by a performance showcase on 29 October 2016.

The poetry writing workshop was facilitated by Anita Patel, a retired high school Indonesian teacher, published poet and past Mother Tongue performer and feature poet. There were five participants, speaking Bengali, Gujarati, Vietnamese and Serbian. The workshop brought together people experienced and new to poetry - one was a previous Mother Tongue performer, the others new to Mother Tongue but one a published poet in her native Bangladesh. Everyone contributed to the lively discussion and writing exercises.

Seven people attended the performance workshop, including all the writing workshop participants, plus speakers of Aboriginal English and Persian. Everyone joined in the performance exercises enthusiastically, and appreciated the opportunity to practice speaking with a microphone. At the end of the workshop, all participants were keen to perform in the showcase, including those who were unsure at the beginning. The workshop succeeded in building participant’s confidence in their performance skills, and meant that they knew other performers before the day of the workshop.

Nine poets performed in the showcase – Hindi and Tamil were added to the languages mentioned. Some of the poets had an opportunity to perform to a mixed audience in their first and most fluent language, while others used the event as a prompt to reconnect with a language they had let go. Some performed original work that expressed current issues and concerns, while others chose examples of poetry and prayer in their language to provide a meaningful example of their culture. All poets introduced or translated their poem in English so that the audience could share in the meaning.

Felix Machiridza was a thoughtful and engaging host, and added more languages to the mix. Feature poet Sara Mansour performed poetry in English and Arabic on themes of identity, culture and belonging. Band Zambesi Sounds injected some Zimbabwean culture and helped to maintain the energy of the event.

As well as friends and family of the performers, the audience included a number of people with an interest in multilingualism, multiculturalism and poetry in Canberra. A couple who had seen the event advertised online, but with no other background knowledge, remarked on what a surprise it was and how much they enjoyed it.

Many of the poets were planning to stay in touch with one another after the event, and to participate in future events. Feedback from poets since the event includes:

“It was my pleasure to participate in your event and learn a new experience.”

“Thank you for your wonderful and original conceptualisation of how we can as poets/artists stand united and with respect of each other's differences share our common humanity in each our own words.”

The events were successful in several ways, providing:

  • a platform for some people to perform to a mixed audience in their first language and encouragement for others to reconnect with their ancestral language and culture
  • a multilingual poetry community, connecting poets of different languages and cultures and different levels of experience, to share their interests and concerns
  • an opportunity to develop writing and performance skills, and demonstration of these by a highly skilled feature poet
  • a showcase of the heartfelt concerns and interests of a diverse sample of our community

More photos from the event are at https://www.facebook.com/mothertonguemic/ and videos performances are being progressively added to the page.

Mother Tongue