WRITTEN BY Tsyon Feleke
Tsyon Feleke was raised in Perth, Australia after her parents arrived from Ethiopian in the mid 90’s. She is currently studying her master’s in Architecture and spends her time working on creative projects that have cultural significance. She sees the power in creativity, and believes that if we identify ourselves from the crowd, we can truly share meaningful ideas. She is currently working on the launch of her “Slog”, a term which she coined as the “conceptual evolution of the Blog and Vlog.”
When Naome reached out to me for a chance to share my personal narrative I was so excited to hear what she had envisioned, and I was elated at the thought of sharing my story with a fellow group of like-minded and receptive creatives. So, as I sat down to pen what would be my first creative “tell all” I was humbled by the idea that perhaps my story, so far would be much, much shorter than the artists I admire.
You see, growing up in the Australian SUBURBS isn’t exactly CONDUCIVE to inspiring the ARTISTIC spirit that would otherwise be fostered in the GRIT and grime of big city living.
Instead in its place exists the holy trinity of outback living: the bush, the beach and of course the most important “B”of them all, boredom. It is this senseless, hot, dusty discomfort felt most in the heat of the summer months which has produced some of Australia’s greatest artistic talents because well, if there was anything better to do, there wouldn’t be time to think of ways to make life more exciting. So here I am, a little Ethiopian girl in the heat of the suburban sink mispronouncing her own name just to feel a little cooler. Bored, curious and a little weird it would be years until I mustered up the courage to correct my professor’s mispronunciation of my name at university. Even worse would be how much longer it took to figure out how the hell I could express myself in an environment where I belonged, but still felt foreign.
There was always an idea of australia and it’s australian’s and for the most part it sounded like me.
I’d switch on our old analogue TV, adjust the antenna and enjoy a few hours of kid friendly drama. Lockie Lenard was a favourite of mine, and I was intrigued by the way he flung that stringy blonde hair behind his ear. The following week, as I helped my mum correct the spelling mistakes on her English competency test for work and she finished perming the little knots out of my concealed afro, I had planned to impress my friends at school with my new ear-tuckable-do. Like me, some were struggling with the idea of what Australia meant to them, but the ones I felt most at home with were bright, inquisitive and surprisingly, Indigenous. I liked them, and although we didn’t speak the same language (at home) we understood we were different, and perhaps deeper down knew that it was this difference that kept our voices so soft and disadvantaged only we could hear one another. Early on art had always been the least challenging way we could express our opinions and it was liberating to see how well people responded to something I had made. There was power to be found in their recognition of my ability and for a little quiet girl like me each piece felt like a roar from within. I took these praises as a sign of my potential and decided to make use of a voice I could learn to grow.
My identity and who I thought I’d become were still yet to be found, but all I knew was that I could speak louder with my hands.
In university I decided to pursue my formal education in Architecture, but found greater solace in my creative allies online.
As I began piecing together a new creative identity for myself I found comfort in collaging. Most importantly the act of constructing these collages represents what I myself have always been searching for, completeness. Sociologist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois writes of a double consciousness experienced by individuals who navigate multiple cultures, and as the daughter of two Ethiopian refugees who have fled to Australia it has been difficult to consolidate my experience of growing up between two cultures. There’s often this sense of neither belonging here nor there, and just like the undefined barriers of a pieced together collage it is difficult to distinguish where one part of you begins and where the other ends. Generational trauma, systematic disadvantage, racism and archaic gender expectations often find themselves floating to the top of our bottle of woes, but amongst such hardships I want speak to the positivity and resilience which has ushered us to this very point in life.
To swim against the tide of what can be an uncomfortable reality is futile, however we shouldn’t lose sight of the POSSIBILITIES that might exist just beyond the horizon.
In this globalised world we can meet many voices which sound like our own. In my case there are many others who like me have been born out of displacement, discomfort and hope, but together we are able to take ownership of our story. Equally as important are those who will listen to our story, and their receptiveness shouldn’t be ignored. Our ability to communicate through artistic media helps not only ourselves but our audience better understand alternative narratives which has been one of the more delightful outcomes of my artistic journey. As I continue to develop my creative practice I could have never anticipated the amount of diverse and engaged individuals who reach out to me as they find familiarity in my work. Piece by piece collaging has helped me reframe who I thought I was, and I hope my viewers can see themselves somewhere in gaps.
I believe creating breeds creativity, and through art and making we are able to dismantle and rebuild a new and positive sense of ourselves.