How to stay sane and make good art in 2017
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How to stay sane and make good art in 2017

Stories/103 , Issues/Arts & Culture , Issues/People of Colour
Sydney NSW, Australia
21st Jul 2017
How to stay sane and make good art in 2017
Joel interviews artists Moreblessing Maturure, Amrita Hepi, and Tasnim Hossain about the relationship between their identities, respective art practices, and the current, rather ominous, political climate.

Ah, 2017. Not quite the shit show, dumpster fire, sexless car crash that was 2016. But it is only April. And it is still a trite disaster that would make any Orwellian government blush. Drumpf has risen to power, One Nation is still a thing, and hate-speech is championed as free speech. Not even Kendall Jenner's Pepsi can save us. In such a political climate, how can one stay sane? How can one stay hopeful and informed at the same time? And if you're an artist, how do you make art in times like these? Quite frankly, I had no idea and wanted answers to these questions. So I sat down and interviewed three of the smartest women I know: Moreblessing Maturure, Amrita Hepi, and Tasnim Hossain. All three are brilliant artists, brilliant thinkers, and quite a bit smarter than I am. I hope the following dialogue helps you contextualise some stuff in a similar way that it helped me...


JOEL: So, first and foremost, how would you describe your practice? What do you do?

AMRITA: I'm a dancer and a choreographer who is interested in intersection and also cultural memory and how this physically manifests. 

TASNIM: I'm a writer, first and foremost. I write for performance, primarily for theatre. But I have also written spoken word slash performance poetry. I am also starting to explore writing personal essays.

MOREBLESSING: Ohh. I would say that I am an actor, writer, and director of an online magazine. Those are the three main things I do. My practice aims to deconstruct and reformat what is art, artists, and what we define as good art. I want to open it and allow for more wide definitions to be used and to be worked with.

staysaneart 1
 Pictured: Moreblessing Maturure

JOEL: Since Drumpf's rise to power, it feels like the political and social landscapes have shifted. Alt-right groups have become more publicly vocal and One Nation wants to skip us down that yellow brick road. Have you felt this shift? And if so, has it affected your artistic practice? Basically, how do we make good art in this 2017?

TASNIM: I think in terms of the political climate changes, I don't think it has shifted my practice. Just because I have always been quite aware of being the default poster child. I am very aware that I am a hijab wearing, young, brown woman. All of things, other than maybe the woman bit, are quite uncommon in Australian Theatres. So I think my work speaks to that anyway.

AMRITA: It's scary and gross that there has been a rise in these things - but I think there has always been political unrest if you are an Indigenous person in this country.

MOREBLESSING: Mmm. I often hear in writing, or the arts, in all forms of expression really, they talk about Drumpf in this very particular way. They say "in this Drumpf era" or "in this Drumpf age" as if it's a defining point in history. There's pre-Drumpf, Drumpf and post-Drumpf. I feel that's a very simplistic way to apply views happening in our world to Drumpf becoming President. I think that this shit has always existed. It's now affecting people who never knew about it before.

In my art though, I feel an obligation not to create works about Drumpf, or about Pauline, or One Nation or Westboro or Coopers. I feel like they're going to get attention anyway because they're not at optimum normalisation. It's still very "did you say that out loud?" I'm trying to write stories about the experiences of those who are on the other side of that.

AMRITA: Good art is so many things - and while I consider the above things worrying; resilience and ideas of resistance has always been one of my favourite motivators in terms of making. And I think over the centuries that has produced some excellent art - it doesn't justify the shit things happening, however it does at times make it bearable. 

staysaneart 2
 Pictured: Amrita Hepi

 JOEL: If you want to be political, take a stand, and make protest art or fight the good fight; how do you stay sane? How do you not burn out or become over-saturated with information or hopelessness?

TASNIM: So what I have found changing, or becoming more important, is finding a network of fellow creators. I talk about this as "finding your people." For me, they are women of colour. Although, I find with a lot theatre artists, we have a strong simpatico. And I think that's really important. It sounds twee but nourishing to be around people who are supportive and who do get it. Who are activists and who you don't have to educate constantly. The people who I surround myself with, my peers in the industry, have a lot empathy for people in Australia that are also marginalised. I think you need to be around people who love you and care about you and support you.

AMRITA: I think about it like this, and also am reminded of the words of Winona LaDuke; she said, 'someone needs to explain to me why wanting for clean water makes you an activist and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn't make you a terrorist'.

So in that way - it's looking at the ideas of equality, liberation and sovereignty as beyond this sensationalised commodity. It's looking at them as a basic plight; a plight that needs a lot of work but where we know what victory could look like. I do get burned out and feel hopeless but then you have to go back to the community that you're not only fighting for; but that you are fighting with.

staysaneart 3
 Pictured: Tasnim Hossain

 JOEL: Moreblessing, with your magazine, and your Facebook newsfeed, you post a lot about important topics and politics. You help people keep informed about current issues. I was just wondering, how do you keep up the energy to do that, to hear about these bad things, and these scary things, day after day, without getting burnt out?

MOREBLESSING: It all comes as a surprise to me, to think that people actually tune into my feed. I never thought that would be a thing. I was just putting shit out there and went "ehh, whoever reads it, reads it." But over the last year, people have been like "I hear about things through your feed." It's needed and necessary. But sometimes it feels like a constant feed of "what's wrong with the world."  Sometimes I do burn out. I usually do it on a weekly cycle. Monday or Sunday, is like, "It's the start of a new week. There's not enough time for something bad to have happened! We'll keep going."

It also depends where I am myself. Sometimes I respond with humour or "I can't believe how farcical the world can be at times." And when I'm in that headspace, I can usually deal with it better.

JOEL: Thank you! And my last question is: do you have anything that you want to plug? Anywhere that people can find your work or follow you?

AMRITA: I'm really excited about the new work I am making for Yirramboi Festival. You can find it here.

MOREBLESSING: My magazine! It's dedicated to showcasing artists of colour and their work. The aim of it is to diversify our galleries, screens and stages. I want editors, casting agents, curators to actually use this resource.  It aims to say to publishers "You only have one or two people of colour in your anthology, that needs to change. There are all of these artist that aren't represented. Here you go."

I am also doing a play. It is running until the 22nd of August. It is written by Seanna van Helten and directed by Penny Harpham. They're both part of She Said Theatre, a company that aims to empower and employ female creators. The play is about a house that Charles Dickens funded in the 1840s to rehabilitate 'fallen' women. It's a true story about how he tried to teach women, mostly prostitutes or thieves, how to be ladies. It's about the inherent chaos, destruction and drama that happens when you try to box strong women behind four walls. 

TASNIM: I really need a website or to do professional recordings of my poetry. But, the honest truth is that I avoided it for a really long time. Because for someone like me to stick my head out is wrought with danger. Being a Muslim woman, who is contactable, feels dangerous. So yeah, it's weird, I have a very private online presence. Which is abnormal for an artists in the social media age, but there you go.

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