Bushra Hasan: Art as identity

People share their ‘immigrant journey’ through art at her workshop at the Emerge In The North festival

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If you were around to catch sight of the ‘kitschy Indian tram’ in Melbourne last year, chances are you’ve heard of Bushra Hasan.

The artist, who led a community art workshop as part of the Emerge In The North 2018 art exhibition recently, spoke to Indian Link about her latest project.

The exhibition, held in collaboration with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), ran over nine days across Melbourne’s north, from Broadmeadows to Epping, Thomastown to Coburg.

bushra.IndianLink

This year it was a series of artist-initiated events in a weeklong festival with exhibitions, art installations, cooking demonstrations, live music, theatre, storytelling, dance and conversations.

Bushra’s art workshop was an all-inclusive event that invited participants to portray their journey as an immigrant, using mixed media. The artwork created will be displayed, later, at the Epping Northern Hospital. “It was a remarkable opportunity to discover the incredible and diverse cultures and talent that lives in Melbourne’s north,” said Bushra, adding that her role as the liaison officer for MAV is not just restricted to curating arts or promoting it but to build relationships with the community.

“Supporting emerging artists and celebrating their art and culture can generate a ripple effect; addressing questions of inclusion and identity whilst creating opportunities for social connection.”

Colourful teapots by Bushra Hasan

And perhaps no one knows that better than Bushra herself, who came to Australia not too long ago, with bright prospects and impressive credentials but little exposure. “It took me nearly three years to get my first major art project as I did not know where to start, had no contacts, little direction and several rejections,” the artist shared. “I had a strong professional background, good language skills and no lack of confidence but it was certainly not a walk in the park.”

It’s unsurprising then that during the course of curating art for the exhibition, Bushra found stories similar to hers, of people who had faced the same challenges she had. “This exhibition has attracted an overwhelming response and I believe it will be a big boost for these artists who have generated work that imaginatively extends the diversity of cultural expressions,” she says, adding that both MAV and Brotherhood of St Laurence “value the arts and cultural activities as vital components of sustainable future for people living and thriving in a multicultural environment”.

Arabic calligraphy by Rimon Alsmaanee

Iraqi artist Ahlam Alsharif agrees. The artist, who works with recycled material and fashions them into decorative and ornamental pieces, used Islamic art and pattern work to create displays themed around Ramadan this year. Ahlam says the exposure helped her gain respect within the community.

Another noteworthy artist, Iran-born Mahla Karimian says the exhibition offers the opportunity for artistic reflection as well as expression in a safe and creative environment. Mahla is a visual artist who works predominantly with Persian miniatures on scratchboard. She’s skilled in printmaking, sculpture, stencil, woodwork and digital media, and holds a degree in photography from Tehran University. “In an Islamic country, being an artist was challenging,” Mahla recounts. “I was forbidden from taking part in anything related to art, and even imprisoned for wanting to be an artist.” (Mahla was arrested when she was in Iran for taking photos on the street).

A collage by Serap Istekli

It’s these painful experiences that she now pours over her scratchboard. “My life experience has left my soul scarred and scratched, and so in the same way, I scratch the surface of paper to create my artworks,” she says. “It ultimately allows me to create something beautiful out of something painful.”

Indeed, creating art is a cathartic process, and Mahla’s is just one of many lives it has changed for the better, restoring an element of hope and meaning. As it did this year, hopefully festivals like Emerge in the North will continue to provide a powerful advocacy tool to communicate such stories and foster new channels for culturally diverse artistic voices.