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  • Lior on Hybrid Identities, Belonging and Music Collaboration

    By Yara Alkurd, Ella Clair, Jake Amy, Emma Volard and Hugh Heller The past eleven years have been really hard. As a Palestinian immigrant, painting on an identity without a picture to draw from felt nearly impossible, and I didn’t leave a war zone to get stuck in one in my head… People who have to start over in a place not built for them, but make it their home anyway, are my biggest inspiration. Talking to other immigrants allows me to explore and reflect on my own identity. And it’s complicated. Singer/songwriter and APRA award winner Lior immigrated to Sydney when he was 10. I sat down with Lior to talk about belonging, “hybrid” identities, and music collaboration. What follows is an abridged version of our conversation. A lot of immigrants feel that they don’t belong in the place they move to, but also, don’t feel like they belong in their home country. Where is your home? I certainly don’t feel a 100% sense of home and belonging in either Australia or Israel… for different reasons. I’ve accepted that there’s a large part of my heart which lies in Israel. And I believe any person would have a strong connection to the place they experienced their childhood, particularly a happy childhood. But I also know that when I go back to Israel, I don’t feel like, “Oh, this is where I need to be living”. In Australia, I don’t have any ancestry or familial ties. I don’t have a strong connection with the origins of how “Australia” was created. But I also feel so lucky that my family did come here and that we can enjoy the privilege of living here. I love the inherent fairness that’s embedded into Australian society - a unique concept which I think is actually very hard to find in other places in the world. There is a certain authenticity and acceptance here. I mean, I think we’ve still got a long way to go, for sure, but there’s also a lot to like. Have there been moments where you’ve been confused about your identity? Yes. I regard my identity as being a “hybrid”. Having grown up in Israel, I have a strong sense of spiritual identity linked there. Referring to cultural practices, I am Jewish and that forms part of my identity (the religious side of it has never really appealed to me… I’m more interested in music, culture, customs, language and philosophy). My Australian identity is more linked with the immediate; loving where I live and the lifestyle I can have here. So my sense of identity constantly shifts. It’s a very hard thing to pinpoint. Music has been a great thing that helps define who I am, and can also be a source of escapism when I need it. Y: Do you feel centred in your identity? I do, because I’ve accepted that my identity is a thing that is composed of many fragments. I also think that family has become the backbone of my identity as I’ve gotten older. Do you feel a sense of independence is intertwined with the identity of immigrants? I’ve never really thought about that. I’ve always just put my independence down to being a really stubborn person, but it could very well be because I’m an immigrant. There’s a beautiful line in Hamilton; “Immigrants. We get the job done.” It’s a bit like that, isn’t it? Y: I’m very stubborn as well and I’ve been wondering; is this at all related to being an immigrant? As an immigrant, I often feel like the outsider. In the first few years of moving here, I definitely felt like an outsider… though I wouldn’t say that I ever felt “alienated”. And I think when you’re an outsider, you have two options; one is to stand tall and say, “Right, I’m going to forge my own path here,” or you can shrivel up into foetal position. So, perhaps that outsider thing does lend itself to being more independent. What are the social/political responsibilities of an artist? Big picture wise, artists are a mirror to society and have a place to occupy. They’re reflective of what’s going on. On a micro level, it comes down to an individual artist’s purpose. Some artists feel a lot stronger about being those reflectors of society. Personally, I haven’t really been a “political” artist. Often we’re drawn to do things that impacted us when we were growing up. When you’re a teenager, everything is so amplified. For me, that is the way that art made me feel. Like there was something greater, a higher emotional plane perhaps, that took me away from the mundaneness of things. I regard myself more as an introspective artist - I’m interested in dealing with the human condition, relationships, and opening people through expressing vulnerability in my music. In 2013, you collaborated with Nigel Westlake to create Compassion, an orchestral song cycle for voice and orchestra set to ancient texts in Hebrew and Arabic. What did you learn most from that experience? Compassion probably resonated with audiences more than anything Nigel or I had ever worked on. It was surprising given I was singing in two languages foreign to most of the audience and people didn’t understand the words. I think people could feel what I was trying to convey, which was affirming and validating in a mysterious kind of way. There was definitely something spiritual embodied in the text and the music. I don’t know if it was a learning experience as much as it was a wonder. On a technical level, it was great to realise how much crossover there was with the Arabic texts and Hebrew language. What does Compassion mean to you? For Nigel and I, Compassion was actually trying to present a message of the wisdom of compassion, which is something universal and humanitarian that’s applicable to all human beings. But also, we tried to make the work more poignant by drawing from two worlds that have had such a volatile history over time, and tried to find common ground as well as conveying how important those messages [of compassion] are within those religions. In both languages, the word for compassion constitutes one of the names for “God”. It's a reflection of the importance that both religions put on the trait of compassion. In a broader sense, Compassion is a hugely important and musically very powerful piece. The orchestration that Nigel did is amazing and so multi layered. I find new things in it all the time. I’m really proud of the melodies that I constructed and the texts that I sourced. On a performance level, it's really uplifting and exhilarating to stand in front of an orchestra playing music of that dynamic. It’s also great to step onto a stage and feel like you’re 100% behind the message that you’re delivering. I know that most people don’t understand the words I’m saying, but a literal understanding was always printed in the programme. The premiere of Compassion was actually in Sydney on the night of the elections where Tony Abbott won. I had so many people after the concert saying, “I'm so depressed about the outcome of the election, but I’m so glad I got to spend it here, listening to this.” There was this sense of brotherhood and sisterhood to Compassion. Y: And what does the word “compassion” personally mean to you? The seed of it was the hymn that I sang in the last movement called “Avinu Malkeinu”, which I originally looked into because I was developing my singing for the piece. I went back to traditional Jewish melodies just to experiment with new styles of singing. This hymn is sung on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and it’s about forgiveness. But, it also has this line in it that says, ‘Instil me with a greater sense of compassion so that I can be liberated’. When I was singing it, I was thinking “oh, wow, what a beautiful line”. To say that compassion is the way that we can become freer within ourselves. That just lit a flame of being drawn to the idea of compassion and then reading about it. The final song of my second album Safety of Distance, I won't go into the story behind it, but there's a line saying, “Compassion is the measure of a man.” It became a central theme in my philosophy and lyric writing. As well as being the most important virtue that I have, and what I think is the central thing that defines what it is to be human. In your opinion, what would happen if radio stations explicitly played music made by immigrants for three months? I think we can form connections with so much more music than we think, but we rarely give that music more than one fleeting listen. I think there could be a gateway to a greater appreciation of music and culture if people were repeatedly exposed to new music, gained insight into how it’s made and what’s important in it. Hip-hop is a great example. In ‘90s Australia, it was a marginalised art form, and people would often be dismissive and judgmental of it. As people slowly listened to it over and over, they became more accepting of it. Now, artists such as Hilltop Hoods are mainstream and draw enormous crowds. It only took 10 to 20 years for people to look beyond their superficial judgments of it… What’s one great initiative that you want to see more of in the Australian music scene? More support for young artists - the first few years are really tough for emerging musicians. I’ve been involved in a program through APRA, where we go to schools and work with budding songwriters. An artist and producer team up and spend a couple of days collaborating. I’ve been a mentor for quite a few of them now, and have seen the impact it makes on a lot of young artists, which is great. These programs are really successful, and I think there’s so much to be gained through programs like that (and just general music education). I’d like to see permanent initiatives rolled out in high schools. Sadly, I don’t think that’s on the agenda for this government. Y: Ever since coming here, I’ve felt that I am always a step behind everyone. Initiatives like that in high school learning would be very helpful. Yeah, I do think that if you want to be an artist, you have to figure it out for yourself and as you go. It was interesting going into these high schools as a mentor because the students were like, “Oh, this guy’s doing it. It’s possible... Maybe I can do it as well?”. I saw so many light bulb moments. Some of those moments are ones that light a spark to make students believe that they can go on and do it. Any advice for emerging artists? It would’ve been good to listen a bit more to people that were in the industry and not think that just because I was doing it on my own, I knew everything. Keep up to date with Lior here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Elle Shimada on Identity and Sexual Liberation

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller CW: eating disorders, body dysmorphia In 2019, “Asian” was one of the highest ranking searches on PornHub in Australia. For Elle Shimada, this statistic suggests that women of Asian descent are exposed to a society that objectifies and fetishises their bodies. Emma spoke to the Tokyo-born and Naarm-based producer and multi-instrumentalist known for her feminist and political tones in her art, about the effects of fetishisation on her identity, her perception of her body and her reclamation of sexual power. What follows is an abridged version of the conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? I want to thank my body first, for allowing me to live and love. In general, I think I’d like to show more gratitude for it, as I tend to focus more on the wrong things before acknowledging what’s right with it. I don’t always take care of my body enough, eat healthily, or treat it with the love that it deserves. But my body is healthy, and is the vessel for everything I do in this realm: living and breathing, creating, playing music, making love, dancing, holding intellect, integrity, expressing who I am. There are so many ways we can love our bodies, and we can only decide these things for ourselves. Only we can (and should) judge what works for us. Whether that is to do with acceptance, getting fit, losing weight, eating healthy…or not! Sometimes, the healthiest decision is eating those three desserts. I think like everyone else in lockdown, I’ve gone through so many different mental states. From wanting to learn a lot, to feeling quite overwhelmed, to depressed, inspired… But recently I’ve come to a new phase, which I’m really enjoying. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? As a woman, I’ve gone through different phases. As a child, I didn’t really think about body image. My body was a vessel that allowed me to explore and adventure. As I progressed to being a woman, my body changed a lot. There was a point in my late teens/early 20s where I didn’t appreciate my body at all. I had an eating disorder, went through body dysmorphia and felt like I didn’t fit into “normal” beauty standards. I migrated from Tokyo to Australia… [Australia is] a place where my body type is not the dominant body type. The beauty standards here are very different to back home. Typically, East Asian people are short and slim. There is a huge emphasis on being slim, more so than here in Australia. In my experience, those standards affect mainly younger women. I recognise to some extent that being a “typical Asian woman” means I will always be fetishised in a Western society. In Australia, “Asian” is one of the highest ranked PornHub searches. In my early 20s, I thought, “Fuck you, I’m going to capitalise on that”. I took that as a source of empowerment and started to embrace my sexuality and sensuality. Now I’m more mature and in my mid 20s, I feel less insecure and more appreciative of my body. I find very little power in the male gaze in the same narrative… but there’s still a patriarchy that I’m trying to flip. I’m trying to embrace my body, for me, for my sisters, for everyone. I also find all different kinds of bodies sexy, strong and admirable. A little while back, you posted a series of photos titled Stay Horny For Art. What does that phrase mean to you? Well… I’m a really horny person, so it was a message for myself. I’ve been in the music industry for a few years now and I found I was taking it all too seriously. I used to constantly think, “I have to practise, I have to do this now”, and forgot about the pure joy of creating art. I’m quite a sensual person - a sexual desire is never a chore. All the feelings I get from making love and natural desires… I want to stay playful and flirt with creativity in the same state of mind. I'm grateful that isolation is helping me get back to that state. Are women’s expressions of sexuality seen as taboo? To be honest, I think all people’s expressions of sexuality are seen as taboo. However, I think expressions of sexuality have the ability to affect the way our male-dominated society is run, provided we feel comfortable with expressing our sexuality. Historically, women’s expressions of sexuality have been for a male gaze. I think expressions of sexuality being “taboo” shows their power. What are your experiences with fetishisation, objectification and tokenisation? As an East Asian woman, I barely fit into moulds imposed onto people in Australia. I’m not here to be appropriated or subjected to that bullshit. I think cultural fetishisation/“appreciation” is the result of colonialism. And it happens all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever walked onto Brunswick St in Fitzroy in the middle of the night without having some form of “interaction” with someone. And a common response when I tell them what the fuck is up is, “Why do you have a problem?”. My problem is that I’m not there to please or be objectified. Sometimes it’s very obvious that I’ve been tokenised and not seen as an artist. But then some things are actually harder to see - is it cultural curiosity, tokenisation or someone just genuinely interested in giving me space in the industry? Maybe it doesn’t matter what an organiser’s intentions are if the outcome of the gig is “art”? It’s up to us as performers to create what the audience feels. But that being said, I’m still vocal if I feel tokenised, to make sure that pattern doesn’t continue to repeat. On Instagram, you have been vocal about light skin privilege within your culture. How have you seen this manifest in so-called Australia? Privilege is based on many factors - socio-economic status, access to education or welfare, language, gender… and the list goes on. I think that simply buying into one factor of privilege, such as skin tone, can take away from the complexity of an individual’s experience. Whatever privilege we do have, skin tone is something visible for any seeing person, and unfortunately in this society, skin tone determines the opportunities/discrimination that we receive. As a light skin person, I think the healthiest thing to do is to acknowledge that. Do you feel that being a woman has affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene? So often we are expected to fight in a battlefield that’s not even made for us. But on the other hand, there has been so much support and empowerment from many sisters and brothers. And I’m glad to be a woman. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love it. I think it’s an exciting time to be a woman, because while there is still more work to do, there hasn’t ever been an easier time for us to do what we want to do. We have to think about what it took for us to get here and be mindful that the fight will continue so that the next generation can be more accepting and explorative than our generation. What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? The most important thing for me is seeing more First Nations artists being represented, and not only onstage, but within the entire industry. Representation offstage will sustainably contribute to changing the industry. Another thing is, I want to see freedom of expression from all of us, but especially those who are women, queer, and/or BIPOC. I want to feel that marginalised groups are supported by the industry, and for that support to extend into more job positions, in management, distribution, radio… the whole industry really. As I get older, I’m becoming more and more interested in mentoring and passing on the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years to empower emerging young people. I wish more people had helped me prepare for when I entered the industry in my teenage years. Also… I wish someone told me that we don’t have to bend our knees for shit we don’t agree with. I believe we haven’t heard 90% of all music that can be heard and experienced due to the music industry being a white man’s world. In terms of representation, I like to think about the sounds we haven’t heard yet with excitement. What we can be is maybe as important, if not more important, than what we are. But we can’t figure out what we can be without learning about what we have been. Keep up to date with Elle Shimada here If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Rya Park’s Perspective on Body Image

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller CW: eating disorders, suicide, body dysmorphia Every day, we receive messages about our bodies: from the media, from people around us and from cultural norms. A constant barrage of information tells us how to look and how to feel, contributing to issues ranging from low self-worth to mental illness. This is especially true for women who are inundated with ideals of a “healthy” and “beautiful” exterior. For music artists in the public eye, these standards are extremely hard to transcend. Ahead of Body Image Week, Emma sat down with Rya Park, an Australian singer/songwriter acclaimed for her presentation of hard-hitting topics such as toxic relationships and mental health, to discuss her relationship with body image and mental health transparency. What follows is an abridged version of the conversation. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your body? My relationship with my body is very negative - I’ve had body image issues since I was about 8 and eating issues since 13. Initially, it took a long time to understand that I had an eating disorder, because when I was first diagnosed, I was of “average weight” and didn’t think there was a problem with what I was doing. I’ve been extremely underweight, I've been extremely overweight. I’ve gone through phases of eating nothing, I’ve gone through phases of eating everything. But I’m trying to love my body more as I get older. The more I understand that the “patriarchy” has made me feel this way, the more I’m like, “Fuck this, I need to love my body”. Some days, I’m super grateful about what my body can do. Right now I am on the track of recovery and am starting to believe that it’s possible to recover from this. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? All I’ve ever been told by the TV or magazines is that “a woman's ultimate goal is to be thin and white”. They might say that “cellulite is bad” and that “putting on weight is the worst thing you can do, so here are 5 ways to lose it”. The amount of times I’ve been congratulated on losing weight… and I just don’t see that happening to my male friends. Even though we’re in 2020, being a woman is really hard. Most of my friends still have a negative relationship with their body image. And it’s only through expressing my own struggle on social media that others have shared their story with me. Even people who I had no idea struggled, such as my close friends. It makes me really sad, and I think we need to do more about it. I want to figure out what that is and then do it. In your experience, can transparency about mental health on social media be beneficial or harmful? Overall, I’ve had a positive experience, but at times it’s bittersweet… It’s amazing that lots of people have opened up about their issues. I mean, it’s so important to talk about. But it’s also sad to see the amount of messages I get from people that hate their bodies. These conversations aren’t being had in mainstream media, so I feel very privileged to have had an opportunity to create a safe space, however, after sharing an experience about my eating disorder, I am quite vulnerable. I think it’s important to have self-care strategies in place, just to make sure I’m taking care of myself too. Sometimes I’ll post something and feel like I’m being annoying or like these issues aren’t worth talking about. But people who thank me for my honesty keep me going… E: Do you feel that being this transparent has helped people engage with you on social media? As a musician, I always thought that social media was about sharing music and just that. Now, I’m starting to realise there’s so much more than that. If I can help even just one person on a bad day, that’s amazing… But it’s so contrived: I post pictures I think I look the prettiest or the thinnest in. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? I do, and I’m very privileged in that way. I mean, I’m a cis-gendered white woman. That’s where I see myself represented. But I believe there still needs to be more space made for women, and more conversations about body diversity, body image and mental health. There’s heaps of information out there, but there’s definitely not enough people talking about it. E: How does the lack of those conversations make you feel? Very alone, especially when I’m having a bad day. I wish there were more platforms I could turn to in those times. I do try to follow quite a diverse range of people on social media, such as body positivity pages that showcase a range of female body types. It makes me feel good about myself when I see my body type (which fluctuates all the time) represented. I don’t see those different body shapes in mainstream media. It can be really detrimental if we only post about our good days, because it can definitely make others feel bad about themselves. I think it’s important to highlight when we’re feeling crappy. Has being transparent in your music about your eating disorder shaped you as “Rya Park”? Being able to talk openly and honestly about my eating disorder has been a therapeutic experience, for both myself and so many others. It’s also validated the kind of artist I want to be - open, transparent and compassionate for those who are struggling. If I can be an advocate for young women… I feel like that transparency carries into my songwriting. Has the music industry exacerbated your relationship with your body? Yes! Many of my male friends wear the same thing to every gig they play and there’s never a single comment about it, yet I feel that women are always expected to “look the part”. When women perform, some of the first things people ask are, “What is she wearing?”, “Who is she wearing?”, “Is she wearing heaps of makeup?”, “Why isn’t she wearing heaps of makeup?”. Yesterday, I decided that I’m going to wear the same black trench coat to every single gig for the next two years. That’s my goal. What do you do for self care? I play with my dog, do lots of yoga and meditate. Seeing friends makes me feel really good. And it was amazing to realise that these are the things I need to do to feel good. For a while there, I got a bit confused with what “self care” was, because I would compare myself to friends and think, “Well they don’t have to meditate to feel calm... Why do I have to do it?”. For a while there, I would resist doing the stuff that made me feel better and then get into a spiral, feeling more and more shit. At the start of the year, I was admitted to hospital for some deep depression. I realise now that the eating disorder is the crux of my issue - it feeds the anxiety and depression in a cycle. Now my medication has been sorted, I no longer feel depressed and I only get a little anxious at times, but my eating disorder issues are still there. In my last admission, which was my third for the year, I wasn’t coping with lockdown at all - it made me feel so down. I know a lot of people have felt this, but at the time, I just needed to put my hand up and say, “I’m not coping. I need extra help right now”. So, I went to the clinic for a month, which was great. I’m doing much better now. Coming out of hospital, I had to plan my strategies. At first, I came home and thought, “I'm so ready for the world. I’m going to do all the things - I’m going to make a music video and I’m going to write new songs”. But by day four, I just crashed and cried. It was a really hard transition. It takes me so long to process things. I’ve still been struggling with the eating disorder, but I just joined an eating disorder support group, which has been an incredible way to share my experiences. How did you figure out that you had an eating disorder? I remember thinking I needed to lose weight around 8. I remember thinking I was “bigger” than other kids. I look back at photos now, and I wasn’t. I was “average” sized, even “small”. From Year 5 onwards, I only wore black clothes. And I did that up until I was 23. I wore black to make me look slimmer and hide my body. In summer, I would wear long sleeves. I still struggle with being in swimwear… I don't think I’ve been seen socially in my bathers for about 12 years. When I was around 20, a really toxic relationship with a partner took my eating disorder to its lowest point. It was my best friend who kept telling me I had an eating problem, but I was in complete denial and losing weight rapidly. It was so fucking shit - people were congratulating me on losing weight, which made me want to lose even more. It wasn’t until my best friend literally said, “You need to see a psychologist about your eating problem”, that I accepted I had one. Until then, the eating disorder was everything. It controlled me. The start of letting go was like saying goodbye to a friend. I’m still learning how to let go of it. E: Do you feel that having a healthy relationship with your current partner has helped to shape a healthier relationship with your body? I've been with Nick for three years now, and it's definitely the antidote to my previous relationship. He's very supportive and we're in a very happy relationship. He is very across all my issues with body image, and eating, and he is just the most gentle and kind person, and doesn't put any pressure on me to ever get better quick, and he's been there throughout all my admissions. But even though I’ve been with Nick for three years, I still struggle being naked around him. That can be challenging. I’m so self conscious. We’ve come up with a funny little phrase for my tummy. We say that my “tummy is cute and yummy”, and then he tickles me. It’s been really nice having that. It’s made me feel more comfortable with my body around him. What is your opinion on “skinny privilege”? I find it hard to speak on “skinny privilege”, because the eating disorder distorts my perception of what “skinny” is. There is skinny privilege, because being skinny is so highly regarded in mainstream media. If someone is “skinny”, but actually has an eating disorder… it’s hard to say whether they would be privileged or not. I would never wish that upon anybody. At the moment, I’m only a size 10 to 12, which is below the average size (14 to 16) for women in Australia. Some people might ask, “What is she complaining about?”. I’ve been a size 16, and I’ve been a size 6. I’ve kind of been through it all. Body image is a complex issue. It’s sad to see these problems, even when it is on a very small scale. Some of my friends have admitted to not liking their bodies. They get into their bikinis as a size 6, a size 10, a size 16, but still don’t feel fully comfortable in what they see. I think that’s got a lot to do with the patriarchy and how women have been treated over countless years. Deep down, I know that my own negative relationship with my body is reflective of these imposed structures. But, I also suffer from an illness. Maybe without the patriarchy, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder. I feel the Australian music industry could be more diverse. I would like to see more body diversity. Often, people who are highly regarded and highly celebrated tend to be thin. E: Do you feel that people should ever comment on body weight? Personally... no. It’s not necessary or important. But then again, it feels so contradictory to say that, because I have an eating disorder. Do you think that the male gaze is a prevalent power construct within the Australian music industry? I do. If you’re a woman and “dressing up”, there will be comments. If you’re “dressing down”, there will be comments. And if you are dressing down, people will think that it’s some form of rebellion against being a woman. Really, women should just be allowed to wear whatever the fuck they want to wear, and have no comments made about it. Whatsoever. Even at my shows, I’m still pretty wary to cover up and not show too much skin, because I’m scared of how I might be seen. I wish that you could literally just go up to any stage, naked, and sing. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? Yes, especially considering suicide is the most common cause of death among people with eating disorders. Even though there is a lot going on in the world right now, body image is definitely a pressing issue. It’s something that needs to be addressed and that needs more support. It can seem very trivial to some people, but it’s a really important topic. Keep up to date with Rya Park here If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Photos provided by Tom McGenniss-Destro.

  • Your Stories: Body Image (Pt. II)

    By Ella Clair and Jake Amy CW: eating disorders, abuse, body dysmorphia At the start of August, the Attaboi team put out an invitation for you to share with us your experiences with your own body image. The submissions we received demonstrate the vast complexities and intricate nuances of people’s relationships with their bodies. Touching on intersections of invisible illnesses, bullying, representation, racism, appropriation, career pressures and mental and physical health, these stories are compelling, raw and at times hard to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with your words. Your voices deserve to be heard and forge open a space for further conversations surrounding body image online and within our day to day lives. Submission 4: Galatea @hannahpots holds her in their dirty hands so they can play pretend eager to unfold it soft body moulded incised apologies eroded they carve her breath there’s almost nothing left their bonsai Aphrodite they found her words to bend lips to mend without an end Our bodies have been sold to us as "clickbait", our desirability as power and our attractiveness as commodity... Under patriarchal and capitalist structures, feelings of worthlessness manifest when you don’t look as consumable and marketable as you are told to be. Everything womxn are sold is targeted towards looking more digestible for male consumption and as a result this is what we (as a collective) consume. This is not a new structure. The ancient Greek story of Pygmalion reflected a familiar narrative and was even adapted into a makeover style film titled My Fair Lady in 1939, wherein Eliza Dolittle is transformed into a "lady". In the original story, Pygmalion is a sculptor and king of Cyprus who carves an ivory statue of a maiden, named Galatea. Galatea is so perfect that he falls in love with her. He then prays to Aphrodite to make her human (because you know, none of the other maidens could ever be as perfect) and she grants his wish. I do love that story without the ending though, because screw that guy… Most likely, everyone can resonate with looking into the mirror and picking themselves apart with insecurities. Sucking in your belly, tensing muscles, arching your back to give an illusion of a bigger bum and squeezing your sides to make your waist smaller. When you stare at a word for too long, it doesn’t look right. When you stare at yourself in the mirror for too long, you run the risk of doing the same. I don’t feel like I’m the most attractive person in a bar, nor am I immune to poking, prodding and warping my body in the mirror but... I can’t say I’ve ever experienced discrimination because of my body or skin. I am a size 10, able-bodied, white girl with what’s considered to be a feminine figure. Generally, society has never told me that my body is wrong. No matter how I feel about myself, no matter how much I critique myself, and no matter how shitty I may feel about myself, I have to accept that my genetics afford me privilege. Acknowledging that how "attractive" the general public perceives me to be has everything to do with how people treat me was difficult. I mostly wanted to write a lot of things off as they liked my "personality" (I know how annoying that sounds) when the reality is they may have liked my personality, but my approachability has everything to do with societal and patriarchal bias**. Another reason this was difficult to accept was that part of me thinks that accepting "attractiveness privilege" means I am automatically calling people who don’t look like me "unattractive" with which I wholeheartedly disagree. However, it’s more about understanding how my actions and thoughts on my own body affect those around me. I can be subject to the pressures of feeling not thin enough, falling into self-deprecatory fat-shaming when I see an "unflattering" photo of myself or mentally congratulating myself for skipping meals or not feeling hungry. Even though it is directed towards my own body, I have to fight it because my internalised fatphobia not only is unhealthy, in so many ways, it reinforces everything I claim to be against. I was called out for this behaviour by someone very close to me. I would never think or say any of these things about anyone else but how the hell is someone my size or larger going to feel hearing that I feel gross in a bikini? It most likely isn’t comfortable. We shape ourselves into their* Galatea so that they will love us and consume us so that we feel like we are worth something. This is heavily embedded into the way we think, and it’s important to not beat yourself (or others) up for parts of you that don’t or do fit into their* "desirable" category. Beauty is a cultural construct, and you will always be better whole. *they/their = patriarchy, capitalism, colonial structures **conscious and unconscious Submission 5: Not Your Place To Comment @evelynemandoukos As a teen I was always active and relatively thin. I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 18 so my weight was never affected by drinking. In first year uni I was regularly partying and drinking with my friends, working my first job until 12am on weekends and eating late at night - obviously this affected my weight. I eventually signed up for KX pilates - something I used to do regularly with my mum since I was 15. I became super strict about what I ate and my goal was tone up and I enjoyed the process of working hard to get results. Other people started to notice. I remember someone telling me that a guy I knew had said “Wow she has lost so much weight, I would so go there with her now”. Despite the fact I was never interested in this person to begin with, this comment affected me greatly, making me think there was something wrong with how I looked before. I made sure I would never allow myself to get to that point of appearing “fat” or whatever it is that individual perceived me to be again. At times I was way too hard on myself. For a while my “unhealthy snack” would be my daily coffee (which had no sugar) and I would eat very bland food or soups. I eventually realised that this was unhealthy and unnecessary and so I started experimenting with a plethora of vegetarian recipes. KX pilates has become a passion of mine and an important part of my weekly routine. During my change of lifestyle, I have had numerous family members tell me that I look “too skinny”, that I have “lost a lot of weight” and that they are “concerned for me” when all I was doing was trying to be the best version of myself. I remember going to the pharmacy near my house and I said hi to a worker who knows me. She stopped; looked me up and down and said she “didn’t recognise me because I had lost so much weight”. I thought to myself, “If she says she didn’t recognise me, then what did I look like before?” I know that many of these people do not have ill-intent behind these comments, however the outcome is still the same. As a woman, it feels as though no matter what you do you will never be good enough to live up to everyone else’s standards. You’re always too this or too that. I have stopped allowing people to make me feel ashamed of what I look like because I do not exercise for anyone else - I do it for me. Therefore the commentary from others - no matter the intent - is irrelevant. Unfortunately not everyone gets to a place of self-acceptance and I have witnessed first hand how extremely damaging these comments can be... So I implore everyone to choose their words carefully and understand that it is actually not your place to comment on or question someone’s physical appearance or weight. Although I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation, for me, exercise and eating well is genuinely about feeling healthy and being the best version of myself NOT a number on a scale. I hope everyone can be the best version of themselves - whatever that may mean for you. Submission 6: Laughing It Off Anonymous I was heavier when I was in my early teen years and this one guy came up to me everyday for a year, slapped my "man" boobs around and shouted "chunky", putting on a voice. I laughed it off at the time because I didn't feel like I could say anything. Submission 7: Untitled @cloverbluecowboy I cannot remember the moment I realised I was (am) fat. Only that I was small, and that it was strange to feel hated for it. To be young and made ugly for lacking the athletic physique of a child from a country town. To no longer be whittled and instead be weighty. Thank God for your brain! To be young, fat and have any sense of sexuality beaten out of my gut before I could grasp it - where is my sense of desire? Who can hold me when I'm too big for both hands? Everyone! And you will still be worthy of the space between. To be fat feminine and act is to be comic. Point me in a direct which proves me wrong. I sit and write reflective essays for acting courses screaming, “Finally! I feel in my body like the actors!”, and yet I continue to look nothing like them. They are lean and taunt. And it is not their fault - they are no more or less ugly or beautiful for it. But I lay and watch thinner friends fret over becoming fat, only to wonder, "If this is your fear, what do you think of me"? Have I always lived as the monster under your bed? Have I simply learnt how to dress for them and offer the silhouette they want from me? Do I really not mind if the waist is synched? Do I live a life of female impersonation in this malleable body? Who let my mother dress me in low-rise skinny jeans?! And does she hate me for living in the body she gave me? For years I lived in shapeless bags and forgot that I had a body. I felt housed in a terrible tension of a stretched skin prison and chose to pretend I didn’t live there. Now I know my body to be a canvas - stretch the skin across my hollow-boned structure like a holy yurt and invite everyone I trust to my house-warming party. Feel the floorboards on my stomach flex with anxious comfort as they step inside. Become an ornate fixture of meaningless scribbles and sentimental movement. I live as fluid instillation and dress as a personal God. I am grasped with attracted intent and grasp back the same. I love character face and have character face. I see myself in others and love it. If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources: Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673 Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14 Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Illustrations by Ella Clair. Submission 4 artwork by Hannah Potter.

  • Your Stories: Body Image (Pt. I)

    By Ella Clair and Jake Amy CW: Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self harm, suicide At the start of August, the Attaboi team put out an invitation for you to share with us your experiences with your own body image. The submissions we received demonstrate the vast complexities and intricate nuances of people’s relationships with their bodies. Touching on intersections of invisible illnesses, bullying, representation, racism, appropriation, career pressures and mental and physical health, these stories are compelling, raw and at times hard to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with your words. Your voices deserve to be heard and forge open a space for further conversations surrounding body image online and within our day to day lives. Submission 1: Being Black is Beautiful I’ve found that stories of BIPOC navigating predominantly white spaces all have such similar narratives and underlying issues. For me, in regards to body image; growing up in Australia was a very uncomfortable experience that ultimately led to a lot of self-hatred. The prejudice and racism start young, but given this country's history, I can't say I’m overly surprised, unfortunately. Tokenism has been a recurring theme through my experience, and there were always constant comments (some well-intentioned, others not) on my "womanly" figure from a very young age. My hair has also been a huge point of contention for me; ridiculed for having "poodle hair" if I wore it natural, but similarly humiliated and called stereotypical names if I wore a protective style like box braids. Following some of these experiences, I spent years trying to erase my blackness. It took a few years to reconnect with myself, decolonize my mind and unpack internalised ideas of what beauty should ‘look like’. The irony isn’t lost on me that now being black is ~trendy~: the very things I was bullied for are considered desirable on white bodies; ...a rise in Brazilian butt lifts, fillers and appropriation of hairstyles such as cornrows and box braids. With all that being said, I still need to actively recognise my privilege of being a light-skinned biracial black woman as being half-white has actively benefited me as well. We need to celebrate blackness. Being black is beautiful, being black is a blessing and ideas of European beauty being the default need to be dismantled. Submission 2: A Body with a Story to Tell @mcalice_ I’m really passionate about being an advocate for invisible illnesses and disabilities. From the outside, I am someone whose body looks healthy and "normal", but on the inside, my body tells a different story. Some days I find something as simple as walking a very difficult and taxing task - physically and mentally. This has led to a love/hate relationship with my body, the tubes that kept it alive and the scars that changed my life. In so-called Australia, I am yet to see these bodies shown. Bodies with marks, scars and mobility aids. I think there is something so undeniably beautiful about a body with a story to tell. I am proud of the uniqueness of my body and how it works differently. I wish more people could see disabilities in the way I see them. Submission 3: Living with Bulimia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphia as a Musician Anonymous It’s late 2018 and I’m lying on the examination bed in a radiology clinic, staring up at the holes in the ceiling. This has become my new normal, having multiple appointments per week while trying to balance a busy life. It feels like a big shameful secret - not many people know or would guess by looking at me that I have so many health issues, and I’m scared to tell people. I have recently developed a chronic pain condition and am finding it difficult to concentrate, my hair is falling out, I’m constantly anxious and constantly have a sore throat, on top of that some of my teeth are rotting and I've started experiencing issues with my heart. I take a deep breath in and think about how all of the ceilings in these places look exactly the same. From all other angles I appeared to be a happy, healthy young person who was about to graduate from university and had an established, growing career in music. How had it come to this? The truth is that this had been going on for years, I was just so in denial. And honey, I had a big storm comin’. My eating disorder (ED) began when I was 12 years old, though I didn’t begin to accept I had a problem until I was about 19. It started out with restricting my meals and exercising a few extra times a week, and gradually developed to going days without food, self harming, binge eating, and purging. Looking back, I was actually a very active and healthy kid. I played a few sports at school and swam or rode my bike with other kids in my neighbourhood every day. One of my parents had worked in nutrition so I ate well and really enjoyed food. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I would say my ED started to develop because I had an extremely turbulent, abusive and volatile home life and found it hard to fit in with the kids at my school, plus we moved around a lot. The only places I felt safe were at the pool or at my school’s library. I barely had any autonomy, safe space or validation as a young child, and this had led me to want to have some control. I had an intense need to be perfect. I thought that if I was perfect then everything would get better, and everybody would love me. As it often happens with eating disorders, I became very good at hiding my behaviours and became very secretive, and so this craving for perfection grew. My adolescent years were extremely unhappy. I was constantly buying into diet culture, reading problematic magazines and discovered "thinspo" blogs. I reckon that if you asked me for the amount of calories in any food when I was 14, I would have known the answer in a split second. I memorised all of this information - diet tips, exercise/workout routines, make up that made you look slimmer, my weight and body measurements. I constantly wrote out my plans in my diary, detailing how I would achieve my weight loss goals, as well as recording every single calorie I ate that day. I was too scared to eat in public, and wouldn’t order anything substantial at family meals whenever we ate out. It was just a pure obsession that I couldn’t ignore. In high school I realised that my passion in life was music and that I wanted to pursue it as a career. This became an extremely difficult conversation between my parents and I, who were very unsupportive at the time. Again, I felt like I was losing control of my decisions in life and this fuelled the bulimia even more. I spent my days at school working hard but barely eating, and then got home, raided the pantry and binge ate. Then I would work out or go on long runs to burn all the food off, and after a long shower I would lock myself in my room, play guitar and sing. Even though this daily routine made me feel absolutely miserable, it simultaneously felt so good feeling like I was in control, and holding onto the hope that I was going to lose an obscene amount of weight and instantly be popular, successful and beautiful. I spent hours late into the night reading through fitness and thinspo blogs, and saving pictures to keep myself motivated - a somewhat morbid looking collection that I didn’t end up deleting until I was 22. I was borderline anaemic, fatigued and extremely depressed. I thought that once I got out of my hometown and moved to the city for uni everything would change and I could be a different person, a better person. Spoiler alert: things did not change. My second year of uni was when my eating disorder was living its best life. It had truly taken over every aspect of my life with no signs of stopping. I was drinking up to 8 coffees a day to get through all my classes, practise and rehearsals. My grades were terrible, and I would usually get way too drunk at social events and make huge fool of myself. My go-to dinner before a gig was a red bull and a lollipop, or a piece of red liquorice. When I was getting ready to go onstage I would so often cry when I looked at myself in the mirror. I truly hated my body. Being a frontline musician is so incredibly difficult to deal with negative body image and low self esteem. I dealt with an unholy amount of body dysmorphia through the early stages of my performance career. I was constantly out of money, spending way too much of my budget on food, most of which I would eventually purge out my body. I tried out several diets, all of them extremely restrictive and leaving me with barely any energy. After years of this abuse against my body, I just gave up. I was so burnt out and couldn’t do it anymore, I could barely get out of bed let alone have enough energy for a gig. I wanted to stop but just didn’t know how. When I was 21, I got some help from my therapist, who referred me to an outpatient program. With a little hesitation I booked myself in and the treatment lasted for nearly a year and a half. It was really intense, turbulent, confronting and emotional, but I was getting so much better. The comparison between my life then and now is honestly hard to put into words. I’m still not 100% "cured", but there is a huge difference. I managed to stop purging a year into treatment, my energy has come back, I feel happier and healthier than I have in years, and I’m able to play more gigs and be present and energetic on stage. Once you harness the fear, there is something so immensely empowering in putting on your favourite outfit and going out for a meal purely for the pleasure of it, knowing it is nourishing your body and helping the process along. When I started my recovery journey I opened up to more of my friends, family and coworkers about what had been going on. Some of the responses I got taught me a lot about how we view eating disorders on a societal level. Someone once said, "But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder", and that has been one that has always stuck with me. In my experience, people still don’t seem to know enough about eating disorders, so I want to finish off my story by ruling out some common misconceptions with these points: People don’t have to be very skinny or emaciated in order to be incredibly sick. Eating disorders don’t discriminate, and can affect anyone regardless of gender, though a common misconception is that they only affect women or young girls. There is more than one type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa seems to be the one that people know most about, or at least have heard of. Bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder,  ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) and other disorders also exist and are just as serious. Ok, maybe this one’s a bit of a rant: eating disorders are not glamorous. I am filled to the brim with sheer exhaustion because of the amount of times I have seen eating disorders romanticised in the media, casually spoken about, or even joked about in public or in social settings. These are serious illnesses we’re talking about, folks! The effects caused by/linked to eating disorders include but are not limited to: sleep apnea, muscle weakness, hair loss, tooth decay, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, low heart rate, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, malnutrition, pancreatitis, and many more. Suicide is often linked to eating disorders, and can be a major cause of death amongst sufferers, and Anorexia Nervosa statistically has the highest death rate of any mental illness. I hope one day I’ll be ready to share this publicly, with my name attached to it, but for now it’s still too scary. I hope it makes sense to someone out there and helps them to know that they are not alone. If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are struggling with similar issues, I encourage you to reach out to someone you love and trust, and know that support is out there. Recovery is possible, and I stand with you. If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, I highly recommend these resources: Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236 Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 33 4673 Lifeline: 13 11 14 We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Illustrations by Ella Clair

  • Imbi: Body Image and Representation

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Hugh Heller and Ella Clair In this moment of increased online discourse surrounding the nuances of cultural and gender identities, music artists have been at the forefront of the conversation. For people who don’t fit within societal "norms", their real life experiences preceded this dialogue. Alternative RnB artist Imbi has paved a path for such people in our music industry, but not without difficulties. Imbi expresses that all personal and political matters are deeply connected. To them, body image intersects with these other facets of identity. In a chat with Emma Volard last week, Imbi displayed hope for a genuinely diverse and inclusive music industry. What follows is an abridged version of this conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? As with any relationship, my relationship with my body is incredibly complex and very fluid - it’s ever-changing, growing and developing. Right now, it’s a mostly positive one. I feel that each day I grow more and more into myself, and feel more and more peaceful with my vessel. But that being said, it fluctuates. And my relationship with my body isn’t exclusive to me. When I have people around me who are telling me I’m beautiful and sharing joyful moments with my body, it helps me affirm my relationship with my body. That’s an energetic exchange. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? For a long time, I deeply resented myself and my body, and I didn’t understand why. I thought it was because I was undesirable or wasn’t beautiful. I really wholeheartedly believed that for the majority of my upbringing. That started to shift when I began to understand my feelings of dissonance between my soul and my physical form. I guess I realised that dissonance is something completely natural and inherent in our human experience. I recognised that our soul is something other than our physical, and as much as they’re connected and reflect each other, they’re not the same thing. As I understood more about my identity and strengthened it outside of my body, my relationship with my body shifted. That shift allowed me to appreciate my body from a different perspective, as opposed to what I was doing before, where I was like, “Oh my God, everyone’s judging me based on this physical thing.” E: What about your sexuality? My sexuality hasn’t so much affected my body image, but my gender identity definitely has. Relating to the physical, I suppose that gender presents its own difficulties. I mean, there are elements of my physical body that don’t align with my gender identity, at least in socially acceptable ways. Having breasts is something that I constantly struggle with. But that being said, it’s also somewhat liberating - it’s also really helped me understand how my physical body doesn’t represent me in my entirety. In fact, it’s impossible that it could represent me in my entirety. That’s something I’ve learnt as a non-binary genderqueer person, whose gender identity is constantly fluctuating. E: How has your cultural background influenced your body image? I only realised that I wasn’t white when I was about 18 years old. I went to a private Jewish school where the majority of students were of South African background. There were like, three other brown kids in my year, and we’d joke about being the only brown kids. I didn’t actually register that I had a different cultural background to everyone else until I graduated school. And I think that’s sort of empowered me. I guess for a long time, I got by with enough privilege to not be reminded constantly of the colour of my skin, which definitely has its pros and cons. I mean, at school I was really confused as to why no one found me desirable. I can now reflect on that and be like, oh, racial bias and the “otherness” of being a brown-skinned person. Whether it was conscious or not, I think young [white] children, especially from conservative backgrounds, are quite intimidated or afraid of brown bodies. But I mean, it’s only added another layer of complexity to my relationship with myself. At this point, I find being brown quite empowering and something that I really value and cherish about myself. The more I lean into my otherness, and the more I lean into my differences and the things that make me unique, the more affirmed I feel in my body. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Definitely not. There is a really huge dissonance in what the Australian industry claims to want and what it actually practices. There’s a lot of talk about being intersectional and wanting to be diverse and all of this stuff, but in practice, it just misses the mark entirely. And it’s not for lack of artists of diverse genders or cultural backgrounds - perhaps it’s just because of what’s the easiest and most accessible. You know, there’s these cis white, skinny, surfer-dude bros who make that one very generic kind of music that apparently the Australian public can’t get enough of. I believe they have room for more. E: How does that make you feel? It’s really disheartening. There’s definitely a big part of me that wonders why I’m doing this if I’m only going to tick the “token, gender-diverse, brown person” diversity box. And I mean, that’s happened and partly why I think I’ve had many of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m pretty sure it was just to save face and to not get called out. You know the whole @LineupsWithoutMales thing? Like, festivals making sure they hit a 50/50 [gender] ratio? It’s upsetting, but also something that keeps me going - it gives me a reason to represent. Are we on a road to changing this? I mean, the fact that there’s this desire to save face and a pressure to meet those quotas is something. I think we are on the road to a more diverse musical landscape in Australia and the mainstream, but I think it needs to come from the genuine intention of being accepting and encouraging of all kinds of musicians as opposed to the intention to not get fucked on by the public. I don’t know if that intentional shift is something that we’re close to at all. But I have hope. I mean, I have to have hope, right? Where do you look to see yourself represented? It’s really hard. I find safety and familiarity in my own community and see myself represented there, but in terms of the music scene and public figures, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I recognise I won’t find that representation. I certainly don’t look for representation in so-called Australia - that type of representation doesn’t exist in an accessible way here. There’s some folks I follow on Instagram, but they’re from other places across the globe. And I don’t follow those people to see myself represented anyway. I’ve never thought about looking for myself in musical role models because it’s never an option. It’s kind of sad. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? In the past, I tried to dull things down and make myself more palatable. I never really allowed myself to realise my creative impulses because I didn’t think they would be desirable or attractive to the mainstream, or even just the music scene. Unfortunately, I think that’s still pretty true. That being said, I haven’t really been doing much music stuff this year. I’ve been focussing on personal growth and implementing structural changes to the ways I engage with my artistry and musicianship. I’m quite excited to bring a new element of myself to the music scene when we start back up again - an unapologetically fearless declaration of who I am in all of my intersections, showing the industry how implementing diversity quotas are not the only thing people need to do to feel comfortable. I’m actually tired of making sure that people are comfortable around my presence. In future, I’ll be a lot louder. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? 100%. I mean, I’ve tried very hard to maintain my artistry as authentically as possible, but white beauty standards have still had an incredibly damaging effect on my perception of self, which only now, at the age of 23, am I starting to unravel. Only now I can be honest with myself about what those effects have been, what I need to do to work through them, and how to shift those thought patterns. For the longest time, white beauty standards made me hate myself. With a Middle Eastern background, I’m hairier than most people, my hair is a bit more coarse, I sweat more, my skin is darker. For the longest time, I thought all of that meant there was something wrong with me. For the longest time, they were things I couldn’t accept, couldn’t celebrate. I tried to change these things. I didn’t even understand that these things were a result of just my genetics. Of course, now I’ve started this journey of unlearning and reprogramming, that’s really different. It’s starting to shift now. I’m working through it. We’re working through it. E: Yeah, I think we’re all trying to recondition ourselves out of these really awful and destructive ideals. Yeah, white beauty standards don’t just have negative impacts on non-white people. They’re fucked for pretty much everyone because they’re unrealistic. Whether it’s weight-based, clearness of skin, whatever… what is advertised as “normal beauty standards” is unattainable to most. It’s not even real. It’s photoshopped and digitised. It’s something that we all need to actively be deconstructing. Especially for non-white people, but also for everyone. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social and political issues? It’s all deeply connected. You can’t talk about white beauty standards without talking about racism. You can’t talk about global warming and environmental justice without talking about Indigenous sovereignty. And I think if someone is passionate about deconstructing white beauty standards, it’s up to them to consider whether or not it’s their place to be spearheading that discussion. Secondly, if it is their place, then it needs to be intersectional and carry an awareness. For example, in this conversation, yes, we’re talking about white beauty standards, but there’s also the space to engage in a whole host of other political content. I think that’s really necessary when discussing any sort of political or social matter. So, is there space for discussing body image issues when the rest of the world is so deeply cooked as well? I guess there has to be. It’s part of deconstructing the inherent societal flaws and toxic patterns of “normalised behaviors” that we’ve been force-fed since popping out of the womb. How has your identity affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene in so-called Australia? There have been opportunities given to me just because of my “identity”: the labels that I choose to give myself to cope with existing. There have been times where I’ve found really amazing people in the industry because of our similarities in our identity, because of our differences. There have been countless times where I’ve been completely overlooked at shows or festivals. I was very much just there to be there. When you invite someone to perform at your show, what kind of support have you put in place to make sure their experience wasn’t personally damaging? If their experience was damaging, do you have a process of accountability and can you make the appropriate reparations? That type of support simply just does not exist. At all. And there have definitely been times where I deeply wish that it did. I’ve had many experiences where I’ve been encouraged to quieten myself. I’ve been encouraged to make myself smaller and keep my head down - to keep it all as vanilla as possible and to be easy to deal with. There have been times where it hasn’t mattered how loud I am - the people in charge don’t have any intention of actually listening to me and my needs. Normally, if someone isn’t part of the queer community, I can sense their fear when they engage with me. It’s as if they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. If you’re a booker and you are inviting me, a gender diverse person, to perform in your space, it really doesn’t take much to make me feel safer. The first step is to stick up a couple pieces of paper over gendered bathrooms (eg. this bathroom has a urinal and this one does not). You can also just ask me what I need to feel safe. “What does Imbi need to feel comfortable?” And for sure, that doesn’t have to be exclusive to gender - that support should be provided when you’re inviting anyone into your space. Unfortunately (and more often than not), people think they’re being inclusive just by inviting those [gender diverse] people there to play, and think they don’t have to do these other things. It’s so upsetting. You need to realise that you’re inviting someone whose day-to-day existence entails dealing with being overlooked, misinterpreted, misunderstood and oftentimes attacked. E: What about as a person of colour? While I think my experiences are valid and real, I’m quite light skinned and definitely don’t cop the brunt of racism in any way, shape or form. Could you elaborate on your experiences of skin colour bias? It’s really challenging to discuss and to navigate because I have faced microaggressions where it’s quite obvious that the white people in the space are being treated substantially differently and given different preferences. That being said, when I’m in a space with darker-skinned people, that same amount of privilege that’s granted to white people is then granted to me. That’s a process of accountability that I have to take on. I have to recognise where that privilege comes through, what I can do with that privilege to ensure the person perpetuating the racial bias is aware of what they’re doing, and then make reparations for that. If I haven’t stood up in the past, which has happened, then it’s me sitting down and thinking, “Okay, how can I make reparations for my head nodding where I should’ve been shaking my fist in solidarity with those who look a little bit different to me?” These are really important conversations. People find it hard to admit that they’ve done something wrong, but that’s just a part of the human experience. We all have done many things wrong. It’s about learning what each situation asks of you and taking accountability. Do you feel you’ve seen many incidents of colourism in your time in the music industry? Yes, I do. Many times. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon - I see it as something that’s very deeply ingrained in the so-called “Australian” psyche: a systemic problem. The entire social structure and system here is based off mass cultural genocide and white supremacy. In order to amend the toxic behaviours people have been perpetrating for decades, there requires an entire deconstruction of what is considered “normal behaviour”. If we want our planet to live on, we have to decolonise. I don’t know if people are ready for that conversation yet? What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? In an ideal world, I’d like to see reparations made. I’d like to see diverse and intersectional lineups at every event. I’d like all Indigenous lineups at festivals that are celebrated and encouraged by the mainstream. I’d like to see new levels of safety and community care implemented throughout venues and festivals. I’d like to see less white men running venues and festivals. Being realistic, furthering discourse. I’d like to see more of these conversations going on in more mainstream ways. It’s not hard to put up a poster at a venue that says “if you feel unsafe, do this”. I hope the industry can change and grow. I really do. I hope that the widely accepted norms within the music industry can be deconstructed and reconstructed in more equitable, accepting and intentional ways. I’d also like to say that I hope people can be gentle with themselves in taking accountability. I’d like to express my deep love and care for the people who’ve engaged in this, either as readers or as people helping to push these sorts of conversations. I hope everyone can love themselves and their communities. Only then can we all grow together. Keep up to date with Imbi here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Andrea Keller on Gender Equality: Is the Music Industry at a “Tipping Point”?

    Written by Rose Bassett, Ella Clair and Jake Amy While speaking to improvising pianist and composer Andrea Keller last week, I asked for her thoughts on gender inequality within the so-called Australian music industry. In particular, I was interested in how she, one of the world’s most incredible pianists, has seen it expressed throughout her diverse career. Within her response, Andrea mentioned a “tipping point” - a moment in time where gender equality begins to ground itself in a more stable and established position within our music industry. 2020 could, in my view, be the “tipping point” year. Alongside the very real and varied challenges this year has presented, we can reflect on the persistence of gender inequalities, expressing themselves through the actions and decisions of individuals, institutions and organisations alike. COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of our music industry. Can we rebuild them, only this time, with a newer and more inclusive design? Why are gender and cultural inequalities such persistent themes within our music industry? The themes of gender and cultural inequality infiltrate so much of society and our lives, so of course they can be found in our music scene too. As to the reasons for their persistence, I believe these themes remain entrenched in our community because there is still apprehension with those who aren’t willing to truly recognise and acknowledge misguided ways of thinking. We can defend our positions without really listening to others, with humility, and with the sole intention to understand, but in my view, this is the only way forward. As a music community, we’re challenging our behaviours and ways of thinking, and making positive motions towards identifying and changing the defective systems we’ve been reliant on for too long. Although I have mixed feelings about quotas, making change begins with consciousness. As with most things, we have to train our intuition to respond in new ways, therefore we are in somewhat of a “practise” phase now, as we educate ourselves and others through it. While we’re practising together, my hope is that we never again approach a female/gender nonconforming/marginalised musician for a gig/project/teaching position with the words “we really need a woman/we’re doing a program featuring women/we want to make sure we have female representation”. If you are writing that email/having that conversation and you go to write/say something along those lines, please stop yourself. Without fail, this feels like a major slap in the face, diminishing merit and serving no purpose other than to devalue, albeit unintentionally. We’ve had, and do have, visionaries in our community; women and men who lead by example with their graceful actions, who provide and create opportunities to celebrate the diversity of our community. I’m particularly grateful that we have people like Zoe Hauptman, Chelsea Wilson, Claire Cross, Sonja Horbelt, and more, working in positions of leadership in our scene. With more and more visionaries at the helm, my hope is that we’ll have trained our collective intuition enough, so we may get closer to tipping the gender and cultural imbalance. Within the jazz scene it could be said that there has been a “code of silence” around issues of gender and diversity. Have you experienced this, and if so, how? The jazz scene is a male-dominated industry where survival relies on how you’re connected and who you’re connected to. This has traditionally led to women often being overlooked. You can look at many areas of the industry to see this clearly in action. Looking at the permanent staffing at four institutions that offer the study of Jazz and Improvisation (or equivalent) Bachelor of Music performance degrees in Melbourne, for instance, gives a snapshot of gender and diversity inequality. Across the four degrees that employ approximately 21 current permanent staff, only four are women, with half of the institutions having all-male permanent staff teams. The first of the current female staff appointments occurred in mid-2017, however, in my view, it’s not the case that there weren’t appropriately qualified or work-ready females pre-2017. We silence the uncomfortable truth, but we need to look at this honestly, without getting defensive, and acknowledge it in full light, if we’re to begin to dismantle our archaic constructs. Recently, Australian jazz musician and educator James Morrison wrote a character reference for a student who admitted to indecent assault. What do you think about this? I cannot comment on the James Morrison Academy situation. However, the scenario described is far from unique in the music industry and broader society; perpetrators being protected (by connection, power and/or wealth) and victims made voiceless. This sends a really disturbing message to those (particularly marginalised) members of our community who may find themselves in need – that when push comes to shove, the system will not protect them. This includes those who should have their duty of care central to their manifesto. Misaligned duty of care feels like the ultimate betrayal. Examples of gross misdirected compassion perplex me, and these are not choices I would make. The motivation is beyond my comprehension, especially from those in positions of leadership and power. To bias one’s compassion so singularly in one direction, and with what is often reported to be total abandonment of those most vulnerable. There is no situation or reason that makes disrespectful behaviour/violence against human beings acceptable. If we want to break the cycle, we need to seriously address our compassion-bias. All the parties involved in a situation such as this require guidance, counselling, mentoring, training, education, and more. In my view, we need to be better at hearing the experiences of others. If we’re only able to understand others through comparisons with our own lives, we run the risk of minimising their consequences by the limits of our own emotional intelligence and experiences. We should listen to understand, not to answer, not to form an opinion, but just listen to understand. Have you experienced sexism within the music industry and, if so, in what ways? I read an interview with an American jazz musician who expressed that at the start of each gig she felt as though there was an assumption that she couldn’t play, so she had to work extra hard to convince audiences of her legitimacy. She articulated something I’d always sensed but had never articulated for myself – it was somewhat consoling to put a label on it, and to know that it’s a shared experience. The oppressing lack of belief, the feeling of always starting on the back foot, speculations that you’ve only been selected or awarded an opportunity because you’re a woman and there’s a box to tick... is tough to front up to every day. Fortunately, in my experience, I’ve been surrounded by enough supportive and encouraging musicians and people in the industry to help me stay on course. Without mentors, role models, and multiple avenues for musical pursuit, my story may well be different. R: Have you found that women too can perpetuate unfair standards against one another in similar or different ways to men? I entered motherhood at the same time that I began emerging as a musician on the jazz scene. Because of the synchronicity of both events, I often attribute motherhood as the main root of biased attitudes towards me. I don’t believe these attitudes are born from disrespect or malice; I see them coming from misunderstanding. The unfair standards I’ve experienced from women have generally involved me missing out on work because I have three children and there is an assumption that my primary role is to care for them. Whereas, in reality, my role is as much to provide financial security for them as it is to care for them. My husband, who is also a musician and is also responsible for the care of our children, does not get subjected to the same treatment. These attitudes can come from women with or without children, but when they are mothers themselves, it does make me wonder who’s got my back. These experiences teach me how important it is to communicate with people about what the reality is, and to act compassionately, giving them the power to decide what is or is not possible for them, it shouldn’t be left up to my assumptions. What was your experience of music education as an instrumentalist? As a child starting out in music, I was learning in the classical world, which doesn’t have the exaggerated gender imbalance we see in jazz. In my early teenage years, when I got interested in jazz, the gender imbalance was instantly noticeable, but it didn’t deter me. I was shy and lacked confidence, and I envied the gusto with which the boys approached improvisation, but I stuck with it. I loved the music and there were enough people encouraging me. I was really fortunate as I had great teachers and fellow students. Trumpeter Phil Slater was in the first jazz band I ever played in. Even as a teenager, he was incredibly supportive, and his focus was contagious! I did find myself in a few situations that were negative, but because I had multiple avenues of musical activity going on, I was able to abandon the negative ones and just stuck with the positive ones. Studying my undergraduate degree, at what is now the Jazz and Improvisation department at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, was overall a positive experience. Brian Brown, who established the course, was a visionary man, and his all-inclusive philosophy and unbiased approach reverberated through the staff and students. Sue Johnson was on permanent staff at the time, and her encouragement and nurturing played an enormous part in keeping me on my path. Still, I was one of only two female instrumentalists in my year, along with two female singers, the remaining 35 students were male. That was back in the mid-nineties. I had assumed that things would look vastly different 25 years on, in terms of gender equity, but sadly they don’t to me. R: Now, as an educator yourself, do you feel that this education system has become more equal regarding gender? Why or why not? I don’t have answers here. Dishearteningly, any shift towards gender equality in the education system has been barely perceptible. There is hope that the inclusion of women on staff in institutions, and the establishment of Take Note, Girls Do Jazz, and other equivalent programs in the major cities around Australia will help propel us towards a tipping point. I hope to see it turn around in my lifetime. There are lots of things we’re doing right and there’s no question that we must continue to dedicate our efforts towards positive change. Keep up to date with Andrea here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Thando on Identity, Image and the Complexity of White Beauty Standards

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller From Emma: So far, 2020 has been a year of ambiguity, over-sanitised dry hands, loss of people-skills and fluctuations in body mass. For some, it’s also been a year of relentless self-doubt and learning how to not be a fucking misogynist. We’ve seen online activism reach its peak and the masses band together towards dismantling systems of oppression. And I myself have seen my perspective of self teeter between the realms of crippling anxiety, self-deprecation and total self-confidence. My relationship with body image is complex and I’ve definitely had my fair share of comments tossed my way about weight gain, health and dieting. I like to pride myself on being a strong, independent and empowered woman, and for the most part I am. But there are days where I am self-conscious and hyper-critical about my own physical appearance. However, in this time of isolation I’ve found solace and renewed confidence in online conversations with empowered women and gender nonconforming people from the so-called Australian music scene. This experience inspired me to deepen these conversations with a series of interviews with some of Naarm’s most empowering women and gender nonconforming artists. I spoke with alt-RnB artist Thando, whose body confidence and musicality I’ve admired, about her personal relationship with body image and her negation of white beauty standards. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? It was not until I got pregnant that I realised how incredible the vessel I have is. I know that I may not have society’s stock-standard “good-looking” body, but I’ve always appreciated it and loved all its differences nonetheless. Those differences help set me apart. As far as my personality goes, I’m kind of a weird person, so I guess it makes sense to make this the norm. I never go out of my way to maintain a look or anything. After the responsibility of nourishing a whole human, I treat it with more respect. I honour my body. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? Body image is not something I really ever think about - I’ve always been quite blasé about it. It’s allowed me to be very comfortable in my own skin and gives me the confidence to express whatever I feel, whether that be through the way I dress or in the way I move. In life, I just kind of soak up whatever energies are around me and use that to carry myself. What other people think of me is not my business (that’s something that I learnt from RuPaul). Not a lot of clothes that can express my personality come in my size, so I can’t shop at stock-standard stores. It’s probably a bit cliché but I think there aren’t as many options. I can’t just walk into Bardot and buy a thing. I'm a size 22 - there’s nothing at Bardot. I think they only size up to 16, so I have to look outside the box for ways that I can express who I am. I buy a lot online from overseas retailers, local designers or go op-shopping to try and find something I like. Standard sizing in Australia is so limited. In the US, they cater for a demographic that tends to be larger anyway, so there’s a bit more variety there. Has being a person of colour (POC) impacted your perception on body image? I definitely do not speak for all people of colour, but yes. I’m from the Ndebele tribe in Zimbabwe where big women are revered. The body standards there are the complete opposite to those of the Western world, so I’ve always grown up being that bitch. I’m juicy, thick, have a fat ass and stomach pouch... it’s all characteristics of being a woman from a favourable background. Eating good indicates your social standing - your family must have money. When I moved to Australia, I remember my family would comment on my body and be like, “It's going to be so easy for you to find a husband and navigate the dating world - no one’s going to want us because we’re skinny”. At the time, I didn't really understand it: I was not undesirable, but if I flipped through any magazine, all I saw was skinny white women. I just wasn’t that. Whenever I navigated white Australia, I was not ever looked at as the hot friend or the viable dating option. I was always the fat friend. And yet, there’s a whole culture of POC people (and not just from Zimbabwe) that used to look at me in a way that would glorify my body image. Basically all non-white people told me that I was a desirable woman because I had some meat on my bones. It was a weird space, and it only made sense to love my body the way that it was. I think I’d be doing a great disservice to other people that look like me to not embrace what I have. Obviously, I think it’s important to be transparent about this as well: I’m not promoting bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles - we need to accept the body that we have. I’m still quite a fit person, even if it doesn’t look like I am. I have the stamina to be on stage for three hours at a time, dancing and singing. I do my cardio and chase a one-year-old toddler around all the time. I know that I’m healthy. I just don’t look like someone who is skinny and goes out of their way to maintain their weight. In society, there are so many expectations of body-positive people to all have a similar shape and style. Body positivity is a bit of a weird term because I think it can imply that people who don’t have “beautiful bodies” are irrelevant. I’ve actually tried to steer away from saying that I’m body positive. This is the first time I’ve ever really spoken about my body in this context. It’s hard. People want to make sure that the whole spectrum of representation is represented, and whether I’m modelling or being the spokesperson for something, I tick three boxes: I’m a woman, I’m black, I have a “fat” body (and I don't find that offensive at all - it’s the same as saying someone has a “thin” body). I know that I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because I tick so many boxes on that diversity spectrum. Being put in the forefront increases visibility for people that look like me. I’m very proud to have been able to get certain opportunities because of that. Because if you told me that I’d get those opportunities 15 years ago, I probably would’ve laughed. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Yes and no. I see myself [represented] in women such as Emma Donovan and Kylie Auldist, but then also, it’s interesting to think that they’re not super mainstream artists either... I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head. I don’t know if that means I’m just not paying enough attention, or those people genuinely aren’t there. I think back to when I was a little girl watching Australian Idol and seeing Paulini on TV for the first time. I was like, holy shit... there’s a black girl on telly - I could totally audition on a show like this! Seeing her up there definitely gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I needed to start pursuing a dream in music. I actually find it quite interesting when I think about representation of body-positive women in our media. I can’t actually think of anyone. No, I do not see myself represented, Emma. E: How does that make you feel? I’m kind of disappointed, you know? And I think everyone is making a conscious effort to represent a lot more people: people who are gender diverse, culturally diverse... showing people who're able-bodied and also people who are disabled. We still need to do better though. It’d be really good to see people like me in newspapers and magazines, and not just in a tokenised way. Sometimes our bodies are invisible, and that’s really disheartening. There’s a darker part to auditions for things: so, you know, a casting agency for modelling has everyone participate in an audition but won’t explicitly tell everyone that they don’t actually want to see certain body shapes, and they sort of just don’t select those people. I guess the question becomes, “What can we do about it?”. Where do you look to see yourself represented? I think I gravitate towards seeing myself, if that makes any sense. For example, my saved Spotify songs are mostly by black women, and it’s not even intentional. I think it’s because I subconsciously want to see myself represented in those spaces. A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in my early days. I got here about 20 years ago and was the only black kid at my primary school in Canberra. I know that there were populations of African migrants in other cities and regional towns, but in Canberra I felt very invisible. I had to do my best to fit in with everything that was going on around me. I found myself dialling down my blackness in any way I knew how. I never wore Afrocentric hairstyles. I went to the ends of the earth to change my accent so that no one ever said anything about it. I still have a couple of words where my partner will playfully say, “I don't know what that means”, but it’s still a reminder of how othered I am. As a result of fighting it so hard when I was younger and trying to reclaim my blackness in adulthood, I naturally gravitate towards anything I see myself represented in. American media is kind of where I fit. I really love Jazmine Sullivan and her music videos. The people she features in her content resemble me the most. Beyoncé's HΘMΣCΘMING was amazing, because it didn’t just feature incredible show-fit dancers and backing singers. She had dancers that looked like me! Like, big girls. With thighs and booties and I was like, yes. It’s so exciting to see that because it’s a testament to being able to achieve anything you set your mind to and not letting society’s standards of ableism or beauty get in the way of that. It’s really important to be able to see yourself represented everywhere. Everywhere. Even if I've had opportunities given to me because of tokenism or quotas, I'm getting that festival slot or airplay or interview because someone wants to see what I’ve got to offer and hear what I've got to say. I’ll take that platform. I don’t overthink it. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? Majorly. It’s funny - I find that a lot of my fan base actually consists of a lot of middle-aged women, which is amazing. I think that largely came from being on The Voice when I was 20. Interestingly, I found there was a lot more acceptance of my body image when I dressed more conservatively. I guess that kind of mirrored what the crowd who came to see me was comfortable with. As I matured in my artistry, I took more risks and wrote music that was a bit more risqué, raunchy and vulgar. I obviously wanted to reflect that in the way that I presented myself on stage. So I’d wear a dress with a little bit more cleavage and raise the sex appeal, which is something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. I don’t think people are used to seeing a woman my size own their sexuality like that. If they do, it’s usually in pornography and they’re not going to talk about it. This was a way for me to playfully challenge what people think is sexy or beautiful, and maybe get them to consider that bigger bodies have just as much sex appeal [as smaller bodies]. Because everybody is desirable. The feedback I got from that was awesome, because people really relate to seeing someone that doesn’t conform to society’s standard of “sexy” owning their sexuality and doing it so comfortably, without being contrived. I definitely attribute that to having a really healthy relationship with a healthy sex life and being made to feel wonderful and sexy every single day, which really helps me elevate my body image. If I can give the same thing that my partner gives to me to my audiences, then I know that I’m doing my job. I want to help my audience feel empowered. That’s why releasing a song like Naked is so important to me. I want people to appreciate what is beneath their layers. You can be insecure and shy and not like certain things about yourself, but when you’re completely naked there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to be able to embrace every part of yourself. That’s why I talk about getting to know someone and everything that makes them who they are beside all the material stuff you see on the outside. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? No, not really. My sisters helped me realise that I was sexy. I was like, “You know what? Yeah”! Because of that, I’ve always walked with confidence and pride. I’ve never been ashamed of what I have, and because of that, I’ve never really compared myself to my white counterparts. White beauty standards exist in this sphere, and people can definitely succumb to the pressures that come from those standards. I think that if you have a really great support network around you (with people that hype you up everyday), you can counter those standards with something completely different and beautiful. I’m worthy of the swipe-right on Tinder. I’m worthy of all the things, because I’m beautiful, bold and sexy. And everyone can feel beautiful, bold and sexy. I don’t keep people around me that don’t make me feel good about myself. At the end of the day, people who fit within white beauty standards are still beautiful. I think everyone is absolutely stunning. And while I don’t see myself being represented in all campaigns, I can still appreciate beauty. As long as people are happy in their own bodies, then I’m happy. I think there’s definitely room to diversify beauty standards. Maybe we should just get rid of the standards altogether? There’s no realistic representation of what an average person looks like anyway. None of my friends fit into these standards at all. We all look so different. We all have a different way of looking at ourselves and appreciating the bodies that we have. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? I think that body image is a pressing social/political issue. Look at the way that women’s bodies are policed in every society, every workplace (sex workers)... um, hello? You can care about other political/social issues as well as this, but there’s a lot of things going on in the world and I think we’ll drive ourselves crazy if we try to fix everything at once. Everything that you fight for is reflective of where you are in life, and most definitely dependent on your privilege. One of the hardest things I’m dealing with is how I move through the world as a black woman, what my body image is, and how I'm perceived. And that’s definitely not something that my counterparts back in Zimbabwe are thinking about. Comparing an issue to something else undermines it. There’s a lot of “what about-isms” that happen, but they literally do nothing. I think about Beyoncé and her film Black Is King. A lot of people are not impressed with her exploitation of African culture and her inability to speak out on the injustices happening in Africa. There’s a lot of corruption, there’s famine, there’s disease, but like, we can’t really expect a pop star to be the voice of change. You’ve got to look at it realistically - it’s the law makers that allow this corruption to happen. You can’t expect someone to end corruption in Africa because they use Africa in their music. You know? I wouldn’t expect this conversation to be the thing that changes Australia’s perspective on body image and ends white beauty standards in Australia. Online activism is great because it raises awareness, but it’s actually more about what work is done after that. I think because we’re here in Australia, we need to use our privilege to address what’s happening in our own backyard. There are injustices here to First Nations people. How do we address these problems and situations? What you feel strongest about is what you fight hardest for. That’s what you’ve got to put your energy towards. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Do you think women’s expressions of sexuality are taboo? If so, why? I think they are, and I don’t think they should be. I think that the patriarchy (because there’s also women that encourage this) demands for women to be seen and not heard, and even when women are seen, they have to be very respectful, dainty and non-vulgar. They can’t openly talk about the things that they want. They can’t talk about their desires, they can’t express their sexuality. And then, you know, you have people that will come out and challenge that, like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in their new collaboration WAP. There’s so much criticism about them speaking so openly about their vaginas and people are offended and yet their male counterparts are releasing songs about fucking bitches and nailing them against wall. And that's acceptable?! I think that anyone who identifies as a woman who finds themselves shocked by WAP’s message should probably think about why they think that, considering their male counterparts have been doing that since the beginning of hip hop. Don't talk about how vulgar and trashy these women are because they're singing about their vaginas. Literally, let's look up every male who's ever sung about his dick and then we'll have the conversation. Even outside of music, think about how it’s just seen as promiscuous for a dude to sleep with a bunch of women, whereas if a woman is sexually liberated in the same way then she’s a whore. It doesn’t make sense. I think it’s archaic. I think it’s stupid. I think if women want to fuck 100 dudes, they should be able to fuck 100 dudes and have no one say anything about it. I don’t think someone’s sexual expression is anyone else’s business. I hate that it’s a taboo thing. I hate that when women who want to put it in their music or in their art it's considered vulgar. There's just literally no reason for it. I just kind of dip my toe in the water a little bit. Jill Scott is probably one of my biggest inspirations and her music is very sexually explicit in a very tasteful and fun way... I don't fellate my microphone because I don't want to have that conversation with my mum, but I still try to push boundaries of what I think people will be comfortable with. It’s really frustrating and I really thought that by the time I'd reached adulthood we'd have moved past all that stuff, but it seems like society definitely still has a really long way to go, especially when it comes down to basic things like double standards. Sexuality is taboo when it really shouldn't be. What change would you like to see happen in the so-called Australian music industry within the next five years? I would like to see people like me holding higher positions of power. If there’s a board for the ARIAs and all these record labels, you know, the gatekeepers, I think there has to be a fairer representation of what the scene itself looks like. And if that doesn't happen, then I’ll have to do it myself. But yeah, I definitely want to see more people that look like me represent the masses in those positions of power. It’s the people upstairs, and it’s about numbers, it’s about maintaining power. It should actually be about equity and sharing some of that around. Only then will we see a much more level playing field for everybody. And five years is more than enough time for that to happen. Keep up to date with Thando here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Grace Robinson: What Is There To Lose?

    By Grace Robinson, with contributions by Kali Shanthi Our Melbourne music industry frequently revels in its progressive nature, proudly brandishing its perception of diversity and inclusion. Despite these claims to diversity, women are still combatting the notable gender disparities prevalent in all sectors of our music industry and broader society. In 2017, a report published by the University of Sydney found female-identifying musicians to be severely disadvantaged across the board in the Australian music industry. Female representation on Victorian industry boards sat at a meagre 38%. Of the 100 most-played songs on Australian radio stations, a mere 21% featured women, and only 21.7% of APRA writers identify as female. As of last year, for every dollar a male musician earns, a female musician earns 12 cents less. Unfortunately, inequality is structurally embedded within the music scene, and operates with intersectionality, as it does in our broader society. BIPOC women, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQI+ community are almost completely absent in key industry roles. Despite this, prominent organisations enjoy the benefits of their tokenistic and superficial allyship with marginalised communities. But if our marginalised communities do not see themselves represented among the influential “leaders of the industry”, why are we surprised when there are astonishing disparities in our line ups, tertiary institutions and industry roles? However, since this report was published in 2017 – there’s been numerous female-centric initiatives, workshops and programs established in Australia to bring women into focus. Falls Festival committed to a 50% female representation on their 2018/2019 line up compared to the bleak 31% the previous year. This year we saw Billie Eilish take out the top position in the Hottest 100, the first solo female artist to win the title. Whilst these positive developments within Australia’s popular music scene are notable, unfortunately we haven’t seen these same advancements within our ever-evolving jazz and neo-soul industries. Unfortunately, the gender disparity in jazz and soul cannot be credited to the lack of women in the scene. There is no shortage of impressive, innovative and hardworking female identifying musicians in our communities - Ngaiire, Andrea Keller, Nai Palm, Kaiit, Gian Slater and Allysha Joy being the tip of the iceberg. The perspectives and behaviours that drive inequality are deeply ingrained within this industry, with progress largely at a standstill. Therefore, it is evident that this problem is not perpetuated by a lack of powerful and talented women, but instead the lack of accountability and proactive measures taken by powerful and talented men. To create meaningful change, these problems need to be addressed at the earliest stages of development, starting in our educational systems I was fourteen when I first encountered misogyny and gender inequality in the music industry. I brushed off these encounters as insignificant, thinking it’s just another demeaning and dismissive comment from a male sound engineer, booker or band member. However, it is increasingly apparent that in my formative years as a young female musician, these comments were pivotal in shaping my perspectives and behaviours within the industry. This being said - I am lucky that I was always a confident and self-assured teenager. I was valued and supported by my high school music program, and I was assured in my musical abilities. But when I began tertiary study in jazz and improvisation, I was confronted by the weight of gender inequality all around me. On the first day of university, I quickly realised that I was the only female in the majority of my classes. I was one of four female vocalists accepted – and one of eight females in the course in total. I had never encountered such a dramatic and notable gender disparity, and I was certainly not prepared for the substantial impact this marginalisation was bound to have on my confidence as a young musician. I noticed very quickly that the self doubt I was combatting was informed and even perpetuated by the attitudes of my male counterparts. My musical knowledge and abilities were underestimated by my lecturers and peers, my intelligence commonly diminished to just a pretty face, just a pretty voice. As a female musician, you’re taught to believe that the way you look is equally as important as the way you play. This was always in the back of my mind, so before weekly performance classes I would get up an hour earlier to ensure I looked my best. I felt I was sexualised on stage by my predominately male cohort, my appearance always under scrutiny and overshadowing my talent. The stigmatised stereotype of a female vocalist looking pretty at the front, with a bunch of blokes jamming out behind her, dominates the jazz scene and its accompanying institutions. This pressure of the male gaze exacerbates feelings of insecurity and self doubt. The musical intelligence of a singer is often overlooked and underestimated - I was constantly expected to prove my jazz credentials, my practice regime and my harmonic abilities to be considered equal in the eyes of my male counterparts. I responded to this dismissive attitude by engaging in my classes and practicing extensively, throwing myself into every aspect of the course. I asserted leadership roles within my ensembles and worked relentlessly alongside my male equivalents. However, this quickly manifested into a reputation of arrogance and bossiness; I began to be seen as a stereotypically overbearing and demanding woman. Speak up amongst your male colleagues and be labelled as overbearing and demanding, or stand in their shadows and remain underestimated for the rest of your career. This prompted me to reflect on how we can be proactive in creating educational environments that nurture, support and encourage our young women. Why do our music education programs consistently underrepresent women? How can we be proactive in ending these cycles that plague our white-washed, male dominated music industry, and instead create safe and inclusive spaces for our marginalised communities? Unfortunately, I haven't found the fix-all solution. However, my personal struggles against the discriminative cultures that pervade these biased educational institutions have taught me a lot. Informed by conversations with empowering women, I have identified and established some proactive measures that will work to disempower and deconstruct oppressive frameworks, creating a safer educational environment in which all students can thrive. (NOTE: Whilst these measures predominantly target gender inequality in music education, they can be easily adapted and inserted into any institution that lacks diversity.) Representation The importance of representation when discussing diversity and inequality is central, yet the simplicity of the concept is often overlooked. Female representation in leadership positions within any institution is crucial to creating a gender diverse and supportive environment and is essential in eradicating underlying systematic oppression. All young people in the early stages of their careers should see themselves represented within the higher power structures. Without representation, women, and all marginalised communities, continue to see their futures in the hands of cis white men, potentially discouraging them from pursuing their career. The answer is simple - hire more women - and in order to achieve this we need our male leaders to step up. We need you to stop hiring your mate, your brother-in-law or the guy you used to jam with at university. Instead, look harder – be accountable for your actions and not complicit in this cycle. Ask yourself, do you have enough women employed? Do you have enough BIPOC and queer people employed? Are you actively dismantling the structures which allow you to sit on top, while others fight twice as hard for recognition? If you have the power and privilege to make change – it is your responsibility to highlight the voices of those who do not. How can we get more young women auditioning for tertiary study in music? There is a notable inconsistency in female representation between our high school and university music programs. Tertiary study in music, and specifically in jazz, is potentially daunting to our younger women given the lack of gender equality within the industry. Naturally, this will cause some women to lack confidence in their talent and ability and be hesitant to audition. I think all music universities should have a team of female students who run workshops and initiate discussions with high school-aged female musicians. This is a super easy and practical initiative, and I believe would have an incredible impact on our next generation of female musicians. Establishing a community in which women can encourage other women is crucial to increasing female representation in male-centric systems. Quotas and targets to encourage representation Establishing quotas and targets within the industry is becoming increasingly common as a means to combat gender inequality and promote representation, as they are an easy and effective way to set an explicit goal within any institution. However, this tactic remains a contentious and controversial topic for many people. A common argument against implementing quotas is that positions and promotions should be merit-based, not gender-based. Not only is this argument somewhat offensive because it implies that fewer women are qualified for these roles, judging people on merit is a practice that has clearly failed in the past. I'm sure everyone on interview and audition boards have believed they were accepting people based on “merit”, but our male dominated, and white washed industries would say otherwise. Until we eliminate the unconscious bias prevalent in our societies, one’s idea of “merit” will be skewed by their prejudice. Another common misconception is that quotas give unqualified and untalented women the positions of qualified and talented men. Instead, targets aim to prioritise qualified women over their equally qualified male counterparts and create a significant female presence. Having a collective of women is a means for deconstructing prejudice and bias, while adding only one or two women leads to tokenisation and delegitimisation. Targets provide a structured framework to overcome these unconscious biases, allowing less room for unintended discrimination to emerge. However, I must stress that targets are only a first step; they are not the fix-all solution. Targets promote and prioritise female participation, but we need deeper structural change and support systems to combat the prevailing gender inequalities. Address AND discuss the inequalities Commonly in our education systems and broader society, we often refrain from discussing sensitive topics in an attempt to avoid conflict and confrontation. However, this prioritisation of “peace-keeping” is an exercise in privilege and ignorance. When those who are in privileged positions decide not to discuss the inequalities and injustices that affect those around them, they are actively benefiting off this silence. If a cis-white male lecturer is addressing a class of 38 men and two women, and does not address the notable gender disparity, they are complicit in normalising and perpetuating inequality. If a cis-white male lecturer is teaching a class on the history of jazz to an entirely white cohort, and doesn’t address this lack of diversity, they are complicit in perpetuating ignorance. Most modern popular music was quite literally founded on oppression. People of colour created and revolutionised jazz in heavily segregated 20th century America, yet the genre, especially in the Melbourne music scene, has been appropriated by white privilege. Whilst playing, learning and teaching this genre is not oppressive in principle, if you choose to ignore its tumultuous history then you are complicit in this oppressive cycle. In order to respectfully appreciate and perform jazz music, we need to address its racist and misogynistic past AND present, especially in our education systems. Once again – the solution to this particular problem is rather straightforward. Initiate discussions and acknowledge inequalities. Address the continuous oppressive structures that define our music industries and our broader societies, being sure to highlight the voices of minorities. Studying the Sexism and Racism of Music’s History should be compulsory. This is rather self-explanatory and builds upon my previous point. If our education systems want more diversity within their cohort, they need more diversity within their curriculum. If our industry wants to end the cyclic and systemic prejudices prevalent within our scene, we must educate our students on these frameworks, before dismantling them. Generally, we cannot eliminate a problem without first educating ourselves on it, and this accountability must be reflected in our curriculums. It seems obvious that within a system specifically designed to support and educate our upcoming musicians, education on the prevalence of discrimination within this genre and industry is necessary. Teach about women as much as you teach about men Jazz students have analysed, discussed and worshipped the contributions of pioneering male musicians at length. It's obvious why - they were extraordinary players. However, in my experiences as a jazz student, our revolutionary female jazz musicians aren't afforded the same place in our classrooms. While Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald are noted as exceptional singers, their compositions aren't regarded with the same esteem as those of their male counterparts. In my first year studying jazz, my cohort was given repertoire and song lists derived from 20th century jazz musicians and composers. In total, we were expected to learn, listen to and memorise some 50 jazz songs from the 20th century. There were over one hundred musicians featured on the list. Only four were women. When I questioned this lack of representation, I was told that “there weren’t a lot of women making jazz at that time”, or that they “wish there were more female instrumentalists but there just weren’t as many back then”. Most alarmingly, I even heard that it's “too hard to find women who were as good at that time”. Whilst there are varying degrees of truth to these claims, this dismissive perspective perpetuates the cycles of female marginalisation in our music industry. If young women don't see themselves reflected in our school curriculums, why would they be compelled to study them? It is first important to realise why there are less women in our jazz history. There is a pretty good reason why women in the 20th century are hard to find in our jazz history books - that reason being the damn patriarchy. There were plenty of incredible women learning, writing and playing music at this time, however they were not accepted on the stages or in the jazz clubs of the time. Women were not regarded as professional musicians, and were unaccepted in the toxic “boys club” jazz industry of the time. The women who destroyed these misogynistic frameworks and continued to create music despite being ostracised by their communities deserve to be regarded and respected in jazz history. The social politics of these times didn’t occur in a vacuum, they impacted every sphere of life and they must be taught as such. If you google “female jazz musicians in the 20th century”, you will find countless vocalists and instrumentalists who played in the same scene as our male icons: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Carla Bley, Irène Schweizer, Lovie Austin, and the list goes on. Revolutionary and influential female jazz musicians have played in the scene since the beginning. All of us - and especially our teachers - need to look harder. If you simply shrug and say, “there aren't enough good women in music history", then you are complicit in perpetuating a patriarchal mindset. Some programs are taking steps towards this. Some universities have recently made it compulsory to include a song showcasing a woman, or written by a woman, in all end of year recitals. This initiative is powerful and important. In my experience, if a recital does showcase a woman, it’s in a female musician’s recital. Forcing young male musicians to promote and support female musicians can help to actively dismantle their unconscious biases, thereby encouraging equality. This will work to educate students about influential female musicians of the past, whilst incorporating female musicians into repertoire and performances today. Stop tokenising your female musicians! Being a woman in a male-dominated institution, I have noticed that often we are separated into different ensembles and classes, so that each group can have their token female musician. This strategy seems logical on paper: try to have at least one woman in every class. However, in practice, this separation even further marginalises and ostracises the already out-numbered women in this institution. Alternatively, education systems should support their marginalised communities by allowing them to encourage each other. If you want all women to feel validated and welcomed within these male-centric institutions, give them opportunities to work together and support one another, don’t tokenise them. In my experiences, it is increasingly difficult to feel a sense of belonging when you are consistently the only female in your ensembles, performances and classes. Naturally, when feeling outnumbered in any social circumstance, we instinctively withdraw ourselves and feel a lack of confidence in our ideas and creations. Whilst focusing on systematic changes that will create a more inclusive learning environment for future female musicians, it is integral to also support the current female musicians. I encourage music institutions to create targeted ensembles only for women, or any marginalised community. These ensembles should not be audition-based or select entry, instead they should be an environment created to empower female musicians and encourage collaboration and creation. Creating spaces where women can feel supported and validated within their male-dominated institutions is integral for institutional and personal growth. Address the dark history of jazz giants Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Frank Sinatra are undeniably revolutionary and exceptional musicians. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing they have in common. These four pioneering men, amongst many others of the time, all have a sordid history of sexual assault and domestic violence. Miles Davis openly admitted to beating and abusing his three wives with little remorse and regret. His first wife once told a New York Times interviewer that “I actually left running for my life—more than once.” Similarly, Charlie “Bird” Parker had a reputation of exploiting and harassing young women for his sexual benefit. In Miles Davis’s memoir, we hear that Charlie Parker once forced a woman to perform oral sex on him in the back seat of a taxi while he ate fried chicken. Frank Sinatra was known for his “sex-parties” that he would host amongst the elite “boys-club” of the jazz industry, which would involve hiring young women to take part in group sexual activity, often under the influence of cocaine. Sinatra was also guilty of luring ex-girlfriend Marilyn Monroe to his Cal Neva Lodge resort in Lake Tahoe, where she was then drugged and sexually assaulted by Sinatra and other powerful men, including mob boss and leader Sam Giancana. Although these men are evidently impactful and important within the jazz and music industries, their moral failings often go unmentioned. These men should not be idolised. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate the musician from their music, but there is little effort to do so in our classrooms and society. Whilst these men made seminal contributions that continue to shape young jazz musicians today, our youth need to be made aware that they were abusers. For me, cancel culture is not the answer, and although I believe that their compositions should continue to be taught, it must be alongside a detailed depiction of their dark history off stage. If this abusive behaviour is not addressed, it is somewhat endorsed. We need to pierce the glossy artifice of our male icons and discuss their downfalls alongside their greatness, breaking the cycle of despicable behaviour in great male musicians. Our educational institutions have a responsibility to speak out against assault and violence, especially when these issues continue to plague our jazz industry today. Change is within your control, don’t view inequality as beyond the individual. As a society we fear change and often view prevalent inequalities as untouchable and unfixable by the individual. Although most of us can acknowledge the oppressive systems that continue to hold cis-het white men at the top, we can also feel overwhelmed and helpless in our quest to change this. However, an individual can make a difference and the pervading idea that inequality is just too big to handle is one of the reasons we lack progress in this industry, as we do in society. We need to reshape our perception of inequality to begin to see it as an individual responsibility, rather than a societal burden. There are countless small measures that men, and any person of privilege, can incorporate into their daily lives to support and foster those around them in marginalised communities. The first step is awareness: assess the situations and environments you find yourself in. Who do you surround yourself with? Are you predominantly surrounded by cis-white men? Do you lack diversity within your social circles and music communities? Question this. The next step is putting your money where your mouth is, both figuratively and literally! If you’re a young man in the industry and want to make change, it's as easy as actively supporting women, non-binary, queer and BIPOC people in the industry. Request their music on the radio. Listen to them and add them to your Spotify playlists. Share their music with your circles. Buy their music. Go to their gigs, book them for gigs, ask to collaborate with them. If you see questionable behaviour in your circles – CALL IT OUT. Just because they're your favourite band or a close friend, does not mean they get an excuse to be problematic. Stop getting the same cis-white friends on your trendy neo-soul line ups, we’re all so tired of seeing identical line ups every Saturday night. Branch out and demand diversity. Seek out BIPOC musicians and female fronted bands and demand representation. Until we see men actively using their voices to promote diversity, progress will remain largely at a standstill - we can’t do this alone! Make sure your gigs and events are safe for women and marginalised communities: Are the security guards trained in cultural sensitivity? Are there female and BIPOC people on staff? Boys club line ups promote boys club audiences, and we are tired of feeling objectified while trying to enjoy music. Most importantly – check in with your female-identifying, queer and BIPOC friends. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them feel supported, actively check your privilege and combat your bias. The truth is, inequalities are often weaponised and used to divide our society. The prevailing “us-versus-them” mindset only magnifies and reinforces our differences, when we should be forming a united front. The truth is, a diverse and equal music industry will benefit everyone. If all musicians are placed on a level playing field, we will see truly earth-shattering creations and performances within our scene. An inclusive and diverse music industry will allow all artists to create music with equal opportunity – which will have indescribable benefits for our creative industry and music economy. However, if we continue to be complicit in the cyclic prejudices which plague our industry, we will remain divided and unequal. Change can happen, but only if we work together. We already have the ball rolling, so let’s support each other to keep the momentum and demand change. Remember, to the privileged, equality always feels like oppression. What is there to lose? Keep up to date with Grace here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. By Grace Robinson with contributions by Kali Shanthi. Edited by Jake Amy, Rose Bassett and Michael Belchamber.

  • Maggie Zhu on the Hyper-Sexualisation of Dance Movement

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Ella Clair, Rose Bassett, Kate Oldfield There is an inexplicable connectedness between music and dance. Mother and child, ecosystem and sunlight, dreams and experiences. An interdependency unparalleled and inextricably biological. Over time, the duality between music and dance has proven itself to be one of these enigmatic forces. Maggie Zhu, a Naarm-based movement artist, is breaking new ground between these artforms. Maggie talks on how her art has been moulded by internal and external factors that are closely linked to experience and subtleties of life. There’s much to learn from Maggie’s connectedness with self, others, society and her surroundings, and her “take-no-shit” attitude. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. In regards to gender inequality, what have you experienced as a female in the arts sector? I carry myself around in a certain way. People wouldn’t normally fuck with me. I’m pretty fucking tough and I know that of myself: I know how to protect myself. But still, one of the worst experiences with gender violence I have had was with a visual artist who’s really talented. We caught up the first time just to hang and we got along well. When we caught up for a second time they said, “I don’t know if I want to collaborate with you, because I’m under the impression that you won’t follow my instruction”. They wanted to control me. Apparently they had “a certain vision in mind” for our collaboration. I thought collaborations were meant to be mutually beneficial, but really, he just wanted a body to fit into his agenda. So frustrating. But I look back and I’m really happy with the way I dealt with it. Ever since, I’ve pushed myself to maintain creative control, rather than having discussions with arseholes like that. There’s always dickheads like that floating around and hitting on me. In the weirdest ways. But I don’t let them fuck with me. I feel bad for girls in the freestyle [dance] community who are just starting and entering their first battles - as a woman, it’s fucked. If you want to be in the industry, you’ve got to have really tough skin, because you’ll have to deal with all sorts of gender violence. And it’s shit you just don’t deal with if you’re a guy. It’s still a sad reality. As a dancer, do you feel that people hyper-sexualise your movement? Oh, fuck yeah. Don’t even get me started. The style that I perform is quite “feminine”. It’s called waacking and originated 1970s gay club scene in LA. It was more of a club dance about freeing people’s sexuality, and at that time, people just didn't have the opportunity to do stuff like that: moving past the binary and embracing the fact that gender and sexuality is as fluid as you want it to be. From a male gaze, it could definitely be seen as sexual, but expressing my sexuality as a woman does not invite you to have sex with me. That's not a sexual invitation to anyone. I’m just trying to be myself. I understand that it can be misinterpreted, but it’s a shame. I often feel sexually objectified, especially as an Asian woman. Due to its political/social history, do you feel that waacking impacts your creative performance choices? Waacking and its culture definitely impacts me as a creative artist. I think the dance is very much about performance, which is political in itself. Dance really encourages me to be sensitive to everyone - everyone has the right to be respected by this dance form - and it pays homage to every individual, no matter who they are. How did you develop your own unique style of movement? I’ve been dancing my whole life. I began hardcore ballet training when I was 6. My teacher… god, she was strict. I would literally have nightmares about my classes. Until I started waacking at 15, dance was just more of a hobby that helped me connect with people - moving together and having that sense of unity felt/feels really powerful. But looking back, I’m very grateful that I learnt in this way early on. My teacher gave me the awareness to control my body. Now it’s just part of me - it’s muscle memory. I've been doing freestyle ever since. For me, dance is about individual expression. I realise now that it’s inseparable with my experience as an individual. I see my experience and my dance as one. It’s just me. And I think that very much shaped my “style”. What are you inspired by? Artistic and creative wise, many things come into my mind. What really inspires me is everyday life. And humans. Humans are so interesting. It’s incredible how much inspiration you can get from them - I love people watching. Every little nuanced movement provides me with a new idea. I’m also constantly listening to podcasts, reading and researching online and finding new artists on social media (who are just mind blowing). [I get] inspiration from my heart, which evolves with time: my want to be in-touch with myself. What is my purpose? What is my intention? Who am I? I'm learning to find stillness and the power within that. On your Instagram, I noticed that you’ve labelled yourself as a “movement artist” as opposed to a dancer. Why? That’s a purposeful decision that actually goes back to what we were talking about earlier… from that shitty conversation with the visual artist. That moment was a turning point for me in establishing myself as an artist, rather than a dancer. I never want to be an accessory in somebody else’s project. I love collaborating but not in a manipulative context. So, for that reason, I changed my title. I think that’s essentially what I’m working to be. With that being said, I don't think there’s anything wrong with being called a “dancer”, but I do think it’s important to be consistent with what you believe in and your values as a human. I’m very much into the nuances: I want to make sure that I’m sending out the messages I want to convey. Could you touch on what being a multidisciplinary artist entails? I’ve always been really interested in art in general, and I think “art” is a very general term. I’m so fascinated in seeing what kinds of collaborations result in combining different genres together. In a way, artistic crossover doesn’t even necessarily have to be art-based disciplinaries. It could be interdisciplinary experiments. What would a creative and a scientist come up with? I think my recent practice has resolved around that. How are you coping with lockdown? At the start of the first lockdown, I was actually a bit relieved. I thought, “I can actually take a break”. I’d been working like a machine, burning myself. I think lockdown has given us more opportunities to collaborate with artists across the world, as we are all in the same boat. I was quite excited about technology’s role in COVID-19. There’s no distance in cyberspace. Communication is so quick and efficient. That being said, I think that live streams and other online gigs will never replace a physical performance. As much as you can try to (re)create an atmosphere online, with set design etc., you can never really experience that full vibration you get with people when you’re together in a physical space. In general, I feel that creatives in Victoria are all a bit scattered at the moment, because of this. I definitely feel quite uncertain and stagnant in terms of my own creativity. As an artist, I think I always have purpose, and that’s closely associated with who I am and where I’m at in my life. I think it’s good that we can break and explore different ways of creating, but I don't want to lie to myself - I miss being around people and their energy in the physical sphere. How does movement and improvised dance affect the visceral experience of live music? In live music, movement and dance definitely create more visual stimulation. For me, it’s about the interaction of the visuals with the audience and how human and non-human elements combine. What does “performing” mean to you? Honouring my being in that moment. If you think about it, performing is quite spiritual because there’s nothing quite like the experience of being in that moment. It’s a beautiful space where you let everything else go. You can do as many rehearsals as you like beforehand, but in that moment, it really doesn’t matter how prepared you are. E: How much of your performance is composed beforehand? I can do choreography, but it’s not really my thing. I'm a freestyle dancer. Pretty much everything I do is improvised on the spot. E: Is it reactionary to what you hear? Yes, there’s definitely a lot of interaction between sound and movement. But at the same time, there’s so much more than just reacting to each other. I feel that it’s more a chemical interaction on stage: feeling each other’s presence, creating an aura, being. And that’s between all the different artforms involved. "There’s always dickheads floating around but I don’t let them fuck with me." Are there any particular qualities you look for in an individual before you collaborate with them? Yes, there are. For me, I guess it’s not so much about what they do, it’s about how they do it. With collaborators, I’m really looking for truthful, honest people. As individuals, I think that’s something that we intuitively feel. It's about the vibe. In today’s day and age, how important is it to have dance at a live music event? As artists, we should all have the freedom to do what we want. I don’t really believe that having dance at a live gig is 100% necessary. It’s up to the artists - the music and its intention. At the end of the day, every artform should be respected equally, no matter what decisions are made. Any advice for emerging movement and multidisciplinary artists? It will sound a bit cliché, but I'm going to say it anyway: just keep doing you. It’s going to be a beautiful journey. You will have a lot of shitty times. But you will find those loved ones who will support you and your vision. At the end of the day, it’s your journey… yours and yours only. You’re the only one who should make the decisions and know where you’re heading. Keep believing it, even in the darkest days. The dark days will come (especially this year - they're coming quite often). Anything lined up for the near future? I am such a workaholic - I always have something lined up. Right now, I have a pretty chill schedule comparatively to “normal”, (which I am learning how to moderate). I’m constantly putting up material on Instagram. Keep up to date with Maggie here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Emma Donovan: Representation, Gender Equality and Generational Change in our Music Industry

    By Rose Bassett, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of chatting with Emma Donovan, a powerhouse vocalist from so-called Australia, whose songwriting captures brutally-honest experiences of grief, struggle and redemption. Emma’s ongoing collaboration with The Putbacks is a revolutionary fusion of American soul music with Indigenous protest song. We talked music industry: representation, gender equality and generational change. Our conversation was warm and Emma’s laugh - infectious. As one of the world’s leading musicians, Emma’s thought-provoking insight draws from her personal experiences in the scene. What follows are some of the highlights of our phone call. What was it like growing up surrounded by music and performing as part of The Donovans?? I always tell mob: I was a bit spoiled when it came to music and growing up. The music came from my grandparents on my mum's side. I was their oldest grandchild. Mum had five brothers and they all played music. The mob sang a lot, and they wrote lots of gospel music, because I grew up around the missionary days where Aboriginal mob were sent to missions. I feel like my first lot of gigs or the first time mob was asking me to sing outside my family, still come from them connections, like mob knowing my grandparents or mob knowing my nan and, like my mum even. I sang a lot with the family growing up, like six years old, seven. But then publicly, like when my first gigs were Naidoc gigs. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are very, very tight, you know? Everybody knows everyone. So, a lot of my first ever gigs were around Redfern, Sydney, Yarra Bay, like some of that the Aboriginal community there, mob that you knew. So for me starting off, there was a lot of support, and I was still in school. ​ Then opportunities came again. I was a part of a trio, The Stiff Gins - they're still around (Nardi Simpson). But that was then kind of my thing, where I stepped outside of the family. I stepped outside of the uncles backing me and that. We just were asked to play in the community, so yeah, I feel pretty lucky for those times. What does representation in the industry mean to you? What do you think it means to the people who see you perform and hear your music? Well, my music is always for everyone, every race, every gender. I hope that it just connects somehow to someone. I think more specifically when I'm writing, sometimes the messages that I want to put out are for women [in general], not just Aboriginal women. I was always inspired by Aunty Ruby Hunter. She wrote so many fucking amazing songs that I just thought, “How could she have the guts to tell that yarn?”; her perspective as a Blak woman. Hard things like domestic violence, rape, social stuff… Aboriginal women being accepted in community. I think of writers now, like probably in the last 5 years, and I've gone, “Oh fuck, Aunty Ruby was really truly something”. First of all, her image. Her image was the first thing I noticed about it. Just seeing another Blak woman. Just seeing her represent. So yeah, I hope that my music is... I hope that it reaches as many people as possible with the stories I'm strong enough to tell, like Aunty Rube. I hope that Aboriginal mob like myself can hear it and see me and go, “Fuck, sis. I feel the same'', or “thank you”. [I'd like to think] it helps in a way. In the Australian industry, do you think there is a gender divide, and if so, how has it presented itself to you in your career? I feel like there's always been Aboriginal women less represented in the industry. I'm not sure how that is in regards to this division that the industry makes, but I feel like there's probably a lot more opportunity for other mob to put music out there these days. I feel like there was less representation of Indigenous women when I was growing up. Like there was such a big leap from an artist like Aunty Rube to Christine Anu. They are two different artists, two different age groups, and there was just such a big skip. Whereas now, you know, I feel like a fucking old women now saying this but, you know, there's so many, there's all these young women. There's like, Emily Wurramara, Thelma Plum. There's all these young women they're just firing it. They’re just... you can't keep up. I feel like there's always been less representation of women in that longer period. I don't know if that's from just less opportunities or maybe women not feeling confident, you know, as an artist to put themselves out there in the industry. I feel like the Aboriginal music industry today is a lot tighter, like there's more opportunities for us whether they're in or out of our communities, there's just a lot more opportunities and the way people are programmed or program Indigenous music, it's at the front line now for a lot of festivals. It's a lot different to you know, old Blakfulla stages and other festivals. Indigenous mob are, they're part of bigger programming or there's none of that little segregated fucking stage anymore - Of "this is where the Blakfullas are gonna play". You know, it's like, we're part of the full programme, we open fucking festivals. That's big fucking change. Like, you know, artists before me, people like Stephen Pigram or the Pigram Brothers, Mark Atkins, Coloured Stone and all them mob used to play in the 70s. They were getting booked for gigs and getting turned away at the fucking door because they were black. I think there's been a lot of changes that have happened for Indigenous mob. And you know, even if there aren't other platforms, I feel like the Aboriginal community itself has made big platforms for our mob. We've embraced our own mob. Like we're not worried about being a part of mainstream or this or that. Like that was a thing of the past now, I think. There's the biggest mob of us everywhere now. And I think it's naturally happening. Like I want to believe that it's naturally going to happen. I just feel that bit of change, like even over the fucking last long weekend [speaking on the Black Lives Matter Rally]. There's so much support behind mob now. I feel like, yeah, there's a lot more support in them areas and I think it's naturally happening and naturally making its own way. And even if some of them quota things are in place, I just feel it’s all naturally coming about. R: It's amazing how generational and societal changes can happen organically in some ways... I think sometimes in the music industry we're a lot more privileged, like, there's a lot more acceptance. What scares me is society itself, I guess. I've been a part of a lot of different collaborative projects in the arts that have combined Indigenous mob, non-Indigenous mob, especially projects like the Black Arm Band. And you know, sometimes you think to yourself… Like it's so fucking amazing doing work in music together. And you go on tours for like, you know, months or whatever and then you come up and something stupid and crazy happens at home, because you're not in that world anymore. Sometimes I used to think, you know, we're in that fucking big bubble together and it's like a big fantasy or it's like a big dream that things work or, we don't even see skin colour or music like that. Just because we're there to make music. That's how I feel with the Putbacks - the collaborative band that I'm in now. I don't feel like it's black or white anything. We make music because we want to. We love soul and funk music. We make it together. And that's why I always say like, it's... artistic mob that are in the arts, we have them, we accept all of that, we want it, we are for change and we can naturally make things like that happen. That's where I feel confident to say that you know, some of these changes can organically happen because that's, that's the people we are. We want to make it happen. Keep up to date with Emma here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • The surprising path that landed Alice Skye her place in our hearts

    By Ella Clair, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller Radio silence. Then - the audio connects and there we are. Sat in two bedrooms in different Melbourne suburbs; locked-down. Alice Skye sits mid-frame, wrapped in a black hoodie. Snug. Her eyes are big and brown and her short hair flicks out behind her ears, where she is wearing small silver hoops. In 2015, Alice Skye was studying a science degree at The University of Melbourne. Uninspired, lacking direction. Five years later she’s on the way to releasing her highly-anticipated second album, produced by Jen Cloher. It was thick with icy fog the morning I called Alice to find out how it is that she’s landed here. From what I can see, Alice’s room is quaint. There’s a bookshelf brimming with spines, and vines around her bed head. “I probably own too many things, but, I really love making up my room.” There’s incense burning. I see the holder atop her bookshelf as she points it out. Alice tells me her favourite thing in her room is a piece of art made by her cousin; a print of possum fur that hangs grandly above her desk. She spins the webcam around to show me. Over Zoom it looks vibrant and orange, albeit slightly blurry. Alice was born in Western Victoria, growing up in the Grampians, where her mum still lives. “It’s really flat, but then there’s these huge mountains. I’m really biased but I just think they’re so beautiful and special,” she blinks slowly and I see her imagining it. Later, she went to school in the small town of Horsham. “Sometimes in Melbourne I feel trapped,” she says sharply. As much as this city has been a dream fulfilled for Alice, sometimes it can feel like everything happening here is the most important thing. She tells me she often forgets to take time out to go home and rest. With two older siblings, Alice’s British mother raised three Aboriginal kids by herself. Alice is a Wegaia and Wemba Wemba person whose father passed away before she was born. “It was just us four together,” her voice cracks, “Family is family you know? It can be beautiful and terrible.” Still, she speaks of her mum in awe and with gratitude. “I still feel sad that I missed out on being raised by my dad; talking to him about what being Aboriginal meant to him. Definitely. Not a unique story either. There’s so many Blakfullas that don’t get to be raised by their community. My mum made sure that I had that through my aunties. I was really lucky that I grew up knowing that it was something to be proud of. My mum played a really big role in that. I’m really fortunate.” ​ Shuffling in her seat, Alice tells me she was a pretty anxious child. Experimenting with songwriting towards the end of primary school, she didn’t find her writing chops until a bit later. “They were so embarrassing,” she chuckles. The 2007-ish indie-rock moment was her catalyst. Whimsical songs about jumpers and teacups. I tell her about the first song I ever wrote and she returns the favour. We create a safe space. “I wanna wear no shoes to a furniture store, and tell the sales accountant that he won a free cat.” Alice recites her early lyrics to me like spoken-word. She’s not sure if she’ll ever let its melody see the outside world. She’s gotten a lot better since then. High school was fairly normal for Alice but laced with stinging discrimination. “I hadn’t figured out who I was. There weren’t a lot of other Aboriginal people in my year,” she acknowledges. As a teen, Alice reckons she was a bit of brat. However, her reasoning seems entirely justified. It’s a shame: it seemingly conflicted with her academic aspirations as she mostly got in trouble for calling out rude and racist teachers. She smirks, “I honestly enjoyed letting them know that’s how I felt.” Songwriting is a coping mechanism for Alice. She writes only because she needs to, because there is something calling for her attention. Calling her to work. “I don’t think a lot of people grow up feeling very comfortable being honest and expressing themselves. It doesn’t feel encouraged sometimes.” So releasing the songs from her first album, Friends with Feelings felt strange to Alice. Nerve wracking. When she’s on stage she often gets caught up in delivering the best performance she can. “Sometimes I forget how lucky I am, that I get to do that onstage and that people come and listen,” she exhales a smile, “especially because the songs mean a lot to me, because... they’re my feelings.” Her band consists of twins that she’s known since childhood. Tight-knit. Drums and guitar. Alice plays keys. She struggles to find any words to describe her own music. “I’m such an indecisive person! I have no idea what other people hear.” She is humble, not disconnected. Considered, but not calculated. As common in twenty-something discourse, our conversation steers towards astrology. Alice’s sun sign is in Leo. “I’m... pretty heavily into it,” she laughs. That means her 25th birthday is imminent. She uses astrology as a tool for self reflection, “I think I thrive for validation. There’s something in the Leo part of me that just depends on it.” Apparently, her Libra moon makes her fall in love with 10 people at once. She is so open and warm, I can imagine it would be easy to fall in love with her too. Alice’s face lights up with the glow of her phone screen. “I’ve got some Thelma Plum, Avril Lavigne,” she giggles at herself, “Mitski, Weyes Blood, and then for some reason Usher.” That’s her recent Spotify search history. She admits she’ll never grow tired of listening to Mitski. The Usher presence? Inexplicable. ​ “I love sad soundtracks. I listen to a lot of different ones. Any Cranberries album is a good go to for me.” Alice says The Cranberries cover the full emotional spectrum for her, from melancholy to angst. “Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer, just makes me feel. She just has such a beautiful voice,” Alice sighs. Joni Mitchell is reserved for when she really wants to wallow. However, sometimes Alice avoids listening to music. It’s a lot of emotional work, see. “Music makes me reflect a lot and sometimes... I don’t want to reflect.” Instead she’ll listen to podcasts or watch TV. “It’s kind of like a little bit of a solace. A thing you like, that gives you something that you need.” She is adamant on the importance of that space. “I don’t really feel super entangled with music making at the moment,” Alice admits, “I am still working on things but, sometimes I’m just a really boring person.” During lockdown she’s been watching a TV show called Vida. It’s about two Mexican American sisters she tells me, “It’s also just really queer”. She says it dips in and out of English and Spanish. Alice likes that it’s not subtitled. Keeps her guessing. Recently, Alice found out she can’t eat gluten. So, during lockdown she’s been exploring the realm of gluten-free cooking. For comfort, she leans towards liquid deliciousness, like lentil soups and curries. Garlic and chilli. However, flourless chocolate orange cake is her pride and joy of this venture, even if it did end in a non-COVID related trip to hospital for her border-collie/kelpie, Gizmo. So, it’s not hard to imagine Alice as the normal, mundane science student she once was. Maybe her cooking’s gotten better. But that’s where she was at in 2015. Uninspired, lacking direction. Never played a gig in her life. It was her older sister that sent her CAAMA Music’s call out, seeking young women to apply for the Alkura competition (Alkura meaning ‘woman’ in the Arrernte language). CAAMA is Australia’s longest running Indigenous music label, having worked with Aboriginal artists for over 40 years. Alice was selected. ​ The experience took place in Alice Springs, where a young Skye got her first studio time. “Also, just meeting other people doing the same thing. Such a game changer,” she reminisces. There, Alice was mentored by the likes of Stiff Gins and met one of her closest friends today who has become a sort-of sister. “It definitely made me feel like… I could keep writing music and that it was a viable option for me,” she stumbles trying to encapsulate the significance of this turning point in her life. It seemed CAAMA took a liking to Alice because they invited her back to record her debut album. “I’d never even considered that I would do that but I have enough songs and I was hating uni and wasn’t doing anything I really enjoyed. So it was like, why not?” she says with unassuming modesty. Alice has learnt a lot since that point. “It does feel nice to have a bit more of an understanding of the music industry and how it works. It can be really intimidating at first,” she says with relief, adding that she hopes she only keeps learning into the future. She has this soft and somewhat surprisingly determined hunger about her. “I think we were trying to finish the vocals when the bushfires were really bad. I lost my voice because of the smoke in the city,” Alice explains, eyes bulging at the unbelievable chaos that has been 2020. The events of this year have changed how Alice is finishing her second record. The team she’s working with got most of it done last summer. Now, in lockdown, she’s having to send bits and pieces of the new record back and forth, instead of working in the same room as everyone involved. It feels like a big shame to Alice. “We’re just trying to make it work,” she sighs. Maybe it will add something that being in the same room wouldn’t. More time to think? She giggles at my positive spin. Politically active and vocal across her social media platforms, Alice admits she’s exhausted by the recent surge in conversations surrounding Blac deaths in custody and what people of colour face in Australia. As much as she’s glad to see conversations from America being brought over here, and as important as she believes it is that they are, speaking on it for Alice has become a form of difficult, emotional labour. “This year’s been really rough,” she laments, “We’ve been here before and we’ve been saying these things for a really long time. So, it’s hard not to feel pain around it.” Alice feels it viscerally when she speaks on these matters. Sometimes she just wants to make music. “If you have a platform, it puts you in a pretty unique position that some people that have incredible things to say don’t have,” she clarifies. Alice believes that non-Indigenous people with platforms should take hold of the responsibility to educate and start conversations. She says it’s hard to carry the weight of that responsibility as someone who is directly affected by such issues. “For First Nations people and people of colour, there’s a responsibility to rest, as well. You can’t fight without resting first,” her voice jumps in with this point, ensuring it’s heard. Having grown up with the acoustic pub cover gigs of Horsham, Alice is amazed by Melbourne’s music scene. “I feel lucky to live here and see people play. Especially a lot of Blacfullas here, I feel really inspired by them,” the corners of her mouth turn upwards, eyes glinting, “People like DRMNGNOW and Kee’ahn, Birdz and Mo’Ju. There’s more than I can name!” For the most part, Alice has found it to be a supportive community, even if occasionally she finds the amount of talent intimidating. “You’re like, what do I have to add to this? There’s already so many good things,” she admits, openly and vulnerably. Alice reckons we still have a really long way to go to make sure that our music industry reflects real life - with its array of different kinds of people, genders and experiences. “We also have to make sure those people feel safe and valued. There are still spaces where you can feel really tokenised,” Alice acknowledges with a croak in her voice. She also explains the frustration at times when she’s not been addressed at gigs by the sound person, being the only woman in her band, “Or not spoken to, like I know how to use my instrument. It’s just little things like that.” Alice is gentle and admits she doesn’t command the strongest presence. She believes this has inhibited her ability to call out these micro-aggressions in the moment, frustratingly. “I don’t think it makes sense to have a really amazingly diverse lineup without it being the same backstage.” Her clarity in providing this solution to tackling these kinds of discriminations is abrupt and unexpected. Refreshing. “The more people are valued in each individual space in the music industry, it’s gonna be more comfortable for everyone.” The words fall out of her mouth with more ease and conviction than anything else she’s said so far. The week before the pandemic hit, Alice Skye and her band were preparing to head to their first SXSW. She hopes they’ll get to go another year. She’s been involved in a bunch of online events as the music industry has begun adapting to the restrictions placed on live shows. “I thought it would be my introverted dream, but I miss the real thing,” she says with a mournful undertone. Alice has no answers for our industry as we stumble towards a devastated post-pandemic future. For now she’s taking it day by day, just like everyone else. Alice has no big plans for the rest of her day, except buying the necessities for a celebratory damper-fest for her housemate’s birthday. While we’re separated by the bounds of lockdown law, I really feel I get a sense of who she is. I understand now her adoring industry nickname ‘universal little sister’. Looking forward, all Alice really wants is to be able to keep writing and making music. She is grateful that this is where she’s landed. Keep up to date with Alice here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

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