Represent follows 10 young adults of African origins living in Australia; and fundamentally seeks to render visible the lives and narratives which are emerging from the fringes to become stakeholders in a new modern Australia. As the project unfolds, it emphasises new chords of being and belonging that challenge how we think about nation and identity. This has been shot over the past year, and is still a work in progress.
Expanded written statement:
The western suburbs of Melbourne seem like an unlikely place for a cultural revolution, but a diverse emerging generation are transforming lives with creative socially conscious projects that cross issues of cultural identity, racism and community integration as well as music, dance and fashion.
Represent follows 10 young adults of the African diaspora as they negotiate life in environments they have made their own. Comprising still images and video, Represent is a narrative project that produces counter-cultural stories and displaces negative ones. The project aims to imbue the subjects with narrative authority through open interview techniques, collaborative production methods and sensitivity to detail.
21 year-old Fostin was once a child soldier in war-torn Burundi. Now he’s established a recording studio and label with his friends while mentoring young performers. One of eleven children, 26 year-old Mazna is a community arts worker, singer and actress. It took her mother 14 years of applying to reunite the family to Melbourne. 25 year-old Dancehall artist Kawuma came to Australia when he was 13 years old and uses his Ugandan name to distance himself from a colonial legacy. 20 year-old Australian born, half Ghanaian Oti, aka Yaw Faso; is a performing artist, an anti-racism workshop facilitator and studies Youth Work at university.
The history of Australia is synonymous with migrant culture, but stories of the African diaspora are new territory. While histories in the US, UK and Europe are well known and increasingly well documented, the time is ripe to capture and explore the unique stories of the African Diaspora in Australia. Too often it is the experience of young African Australians that the only time they see themselves in the media is in the reporting of crime and violence. They are largely not represented in mainstream art, cultural or entertainment channels. Their stories are not heard. Many of the documentary projects that do represent African Australians still maintain a distance, viewing them as ‘other’.
Who is writing the history of African Australia? As a white Australian aiming to represent the lives of young black people in a predominantly white country, I am acutely aware of issues around representation and voice within the work. For this reason, I am employing collaborative approach to image creation and curation of this project. I will also be using video interviews and staging (and filming) a roundtable discussion with the participant to address their thoughts on issues of representation. It’s extremely important for me to build the trust and consent of all the individuals involved. The individuals in this project are not only a broad representation of ‘African Australian’ stories, but each person is also are actively seeking to make and support changes within their own and the broader Australian community.
The portrait of Fostin was a finalist in the Australian National Portrait Prize 2016.