The actions of individuals have the power to create a ripple of fear. Fear to remain who you are and where you are, and fear that you don’t belong in the place you call home. That’s what I had witnessed after the terrorist attacks at two Christchurch mosques that took the lives of 51 Muslims.
The silo project started with a small group of people living within the culturally rich community of Brunswick who reached out and asked if I wanted to be involved. When I saw Hagen Hopkins photograph of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden hugging a woman from the mosque, it felt so powerful and spoke of universal love and acceptance. We wanted art and that image to be our response, we wanted to put our own ripple out there: a ripple of hope, compassion and love.
The proposed project, for a mural of the image to be painted on a silo in an inner city Melbourne suburb, began to attract global media coverage and got people talking. This is what art is supposed to do: to start conversation and create a forum for us to learn from one another. I probably didn’t anticipate it would be a divisive conversation.
In one day, we had raised sufficient funds to cover the cost of lift hire, paint, supplies, travel and accommodation for 10 days. There was also a backlash—a petition with 15,000 names on it asking me not to go ahead with the work. I woke up to hate mail on a daily basis. No matter how strong you are, in the face of adversity self-doubt creeps in.
I started to realise that positive actions are often squashed by intimidation and hate. I’m fortunate and grateful to be in a position to reach a wider audience through my art, and so I felt an obligation to the work I had set out to do.
I can’t believe attacks like this one are still happening, and often. In times like these, our political leaders have the potential to either divide or unify communities with their response and actions. While I didn’t want this project to be solely about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, I had witnessed a declining trust in governments of late, and wanted this to celebrate the good that can be done.
This artwork was created with the intention of bringing people together, to feel a sense of belonging and ownership through connection to art. I would like to think that this has accomplished just that.
The overwhelming feedback from community, both local and global, has been one of love and gratitude. As I was working, people from all backgrounds were giving nothing but positive vibes, many with tears in their eyes as they hugged me and told me how much this meant to them. It made me feel like the artwork belonged in Brunswick, that it’s part of the community, a community that was chosen due to its strong Muslim presence. We thought it was most fitting. One mother said to her three-year-old daughter, “What does that look like?” The girl replied, “Mummy giving a hug.” That was beautiful.
To belong is a basic human need. In order to feel like we belong, we need to feel connected. Art can help us accomplish this; to see, hear, understand and value others and different perspectives. Art creates conversation and fosters public awareness.
Rather than plastering walls with advertising that scream at us to consume and not value us for who we are, let’s fill those spaces with things that speak to the soul, instill contentment and spread love. Perhaps if we were seeing more art and less advertising, the world would be a happier place?
After completing the Brunswick silo artwork I am more adamant than ever that art can play a vital role in helping us stay connected as a community. I feel like I’ve found my space, a space I belong in.
To read more about belonging, purchase Issue 60 of Dumbo Feather