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The lucky (racist) country

Dinusha Soo dissects racism in Australia through the lens of Reg Mombassa's art....

For many of us growing up in Australia, we were often reminded of the fact that we live in the ‘lucky’ country, made up of a rich fabric of multiculturalism. Our diversity is touted as one of our key strengths, particularly when compared to other Western nations.

But for several Australians – our diversity is the very thing that can lead to oppression. One in five Australians have experienced racism in 2017 alone, according to a poll commissioned by the SBS with Western Sydney University.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large portion of this racism has been directed to Asian-Australians and prior to this, the Muslim population.

So, what makes Australia racist and has this always been the case?

When the White Australia Policy came into effect in 1901, anyone from a non- European background could not enter the country. This was not abolished until as late as 1973, all while the Stolen Generations period was occurring between the mid-1800s to the 1970s.

Then if we look at our current national anthem, which surprisingly came into effect in 1984, we would all be familiar with the words, “for we are young and free.” Harmless enough? “These very words sung in our Australian anthem ignore the 65,000 years or more of Indigenous Australian culture,” says France Mao in a BBC article.

Reflecting on Australia’s laboured efforts to recognise and afford rights to those of Indigenous descent, it presents as a mere example of underlying racism in this country.

One of Australia’s most renowned artists, Reg Mombassa provides searing political commentary through his artwork. When asked by Troublemag what he perceives as the most important societal issue in Australia today – his response was racism.

Design by Dinusha Soo
Design by Dinusha Soo

Reg has done several pieces discussing racism, one of his more notable designs was for Mambo, where an Australian representation of Jesus extends an olive branch with the words “Australian Jesus welcomes the boat people.”

In recent times, these ‘boat people’ have been denied entry to Australia, even if they were facing persecution in their homelands. Australia currently has agreements with neighbouring countries, to process asylum seekers ‘offshore.’

The Refugee Council of Australia states that this means that people seeking asylum are generally detained, often for long and uncertain periods”. Additionally, there is no independent review of the decision to detain, and people have been detained for increasingly long periods.

“The detention of people seeking asylum under this regime is one of the harshest in

the world and causes terrible suffering,” the Refugee Council of Australia states.

As Australians who recognises our past and indeed our current policies – we must strive to do better. This will require having a sense of empathy and understanding toward our fellow humans, irrespective of the colour of their skin, their creed or their cultural beliefs. It is only by striving for a more equitable society, will movements like Black Lives Matter, which resonates with people globally, have any profound impact on our own culture here in Australia.

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Boys will be boys

The old adage and its place in toxic masculinity explored through the works of Reg Mombassa. ...

Many of us would be familiar with the adage ‘boys will be boys’, but in light of recent global movements – such sentiments only highlight the absurdity of this way of thinking. Let’s start with what’s happening in our own backyards.

The role of what a man is and how that is defined is often a rigid structure beginning from the time they are young. They are told not to cry should it risk them being seen as ‘soft’, they are given toys conforming to gender stereotypes and their heroes are often depictions of strong, superhero men.

In Australia, the way the role of a man is defined, and the expectation of how they should act can create a toxic culture around masculinity. Men are often stereotyped as only being interested in sport, enjoying a beer, being tough and generally dominant. But what happens to men that don’t conform to this standard?

While this is an issue that spreads around societies and cultures globally, this mentality often starts with our upbringing and within our households. In a Sydney Morning Herald article, Clementine Ford notes that there are important links between the conditioning of gender in young children and the consequences as they then grow older.

Artwork by Dinusha Soo
Artwork by Dinusha Soo

Reg Mombassa, a designer for one of Australia’s most iconic brands of the nineties, Mambo, often refers to the toxicity of Australian masculinity in his work. He uses his design work as a platform to showcase this – challenging the standards we often confine our men to.

Several of his artworks feature Australian animals holding iconic items such as a football, beer cans or stoking a BBQ – all generally associated with the stereotype of being an Australian man. He notes in a Sydney Morning Herald interview that he “realised he was a low-status male”, creating self-portraits to present ways in which not all men fit into this pre-defined image.

“When you make art and read books, you realise that you’re on the outside of society. I started to resent being bullied by more powerful males. That’s how society has been structured. I think a lot of men are questioning it and realising that it’s not such a good thing,” Reg says to Sydney Morning Herald.

As a student body, it’s pivotal to reflect on the role of Australian masculinity – whether we are benefiting from it or perpetuating it. We must consider how we could change the stereotype around men in Australia to be all encompassing and this starts with teaching the youth, our sons, little brothers, nephews and our communities.

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Flip the Script opens up a stage for young performing artists in Sydney

A new opportunity for young performing artists in Western Sydney has once again risen from the roots of Bankstown, with the aim to have their “disen...
A new opportunity for young performing artists in Western Sydney has once again risen from the roots of Bankstown, with the aim to have their “disenfranchised” voices heard.

Flip the Script is the latest project of the Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS) that opens up a stage for anyone under the age of 26, to perform their artistic practices through an open mic performance.

“With respect to young people, I think poetry is a great tool that can be used to help them address whatever it is that they need to address.” Sara Mansour, the co-founder of BPS, said in an interview with Create NSW.

According to Bilal Hafda, one of the committee members of BPS, young people of a diverse background and culture are typically spoken for, making it hard for their own voices to be heard.

“There should be an opportunity for young people to speak their mind on things that are already established… but they don’t have that opportunity because no one opens it up to them.” Hafda said.

Flip the Script came about through discussions by the BPS committee to have an open mic event for the younger generations who attend the slam but might be intimidated to perform, Hafda says.

“You also need a kind of sense of community that gives the opportunity to speak and who is an ear that will listen to you,” he said.

The performers can showcase their talents through many art forms such as poetry, music, storytelling, and stand-up comedy.

They also receive “on the spot feedback” from the hosts, and encouragement throughout and after their performances by the audience, Hafda says.

“We would open up that space for them and just get them to apply their art and… practising so that they would feel more confident to do that in the kind of wider range.” Hafda said.

The free event is held monthly at the Bankstown Arts Centre, and also offers these young people the ability to network, allowing them to meet new people with common interests, and to be a part of a community.

“People from our community feel that they have a safe space that they can regularly return to, to share their poetry, to vent, and to validate their lived experiences.” Mansour said in the interview with Create NSW.

Photo: Bankstown Poetry Slam Facebook page.

There are a variety of themes in the performances, where the topics range from love to politics, from religion to sexuality, each portraying an important message the performers would like to be heard, according to the organisation.

“That whole general sense of it being this is something that I want to talk about and I’m going to write a piece and I’m going to perform,” Hafda said.

17-year-old Hannah Tulk, is a performer at Flip the Script, and says it is the only event she could find in her area that is “spot on” in targeting young people.

“They give young people a platform and a voice to tell other people what they think,” she said.

Inspired by other performers at Flip the Script, Tulk built up her courage over months of sitting in the audience, until one night she finally stepped foot on that stage herself.

“Poetry is a great way for people to express their emotions and their thoughts and I think that Flip the Script is just one the best places to do that,” she said.

She performed at the May Poetry Slam and came second in the top four performances of the night, placing her in the Grand Slam at the end of the year.

“I’m trying to tell people my experiences with mental illness and pain and suffering, as well as trying to be encouraging and helpful to others who have similar struggles,” she said.

The monthly Slam attracts two to three hundred people a night, whereas Flip the Script draws a much smaller crowd, fluctuating from 40 audience members to just three, but Tulk says it makes it feel more welcoming and “like a family”.

“They remember you, your name, your face and your poetry…” Tulk said.

Photo: Bankstown Poetry Slam Facebook page.

Disclaimer: There is no relation between the author and the source.

Written by Chanelle Mansour