DIASPORA CREATIVES ARE ‘ON THE WAY’ IN NAARM

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A packed alleyway in Chinatown, on a cold winter’s night in the heart of the Naarm / Melbourne CBD, it sounds cliche’ for the arts capital of Australia, but this night was anything but. Combining elements of fashion, with hip-hop, arts, and the diaspora community’s close-knit cultural ties, ‘On The Way’ was the coming together of two rising creative forces, namely artist and photographer The Dr1fter (Joshua Sim) and quintessential emerging label THE PLAGIARIST .

The exhibition showcased both the latest range of new custom pieces from THE PLAGIARIST as well as a collection of portraits captured by The Dr1fter on Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Land. These images featured local third culture identities including Noah D’Costa, Jasmine Ambarwati and Renata Liu juxtaposed into a mesh of local landscape and architecture, portraying the diaspora challenge of navigating different worlds.

“The works depict the core values of THE PLAGIARIST ethos; acting as both a symbol and mecurial component of the clashing of unassimilated class and cultures in the diasporic landscape. Born of sensibilities of the stark subversive brilliance of the underrepresented, ‘ON THE WAY’ is expressed and refined by the cerebral mediums of social commentary, immersive experience and inclusivity of those around us.”

Currently based in the United States, furthering his creative exploits in the Northern Hemisphere, we caught up with The Dr1fter to reflect on what was a significant moment in not only his journey, but in the reignition of artistic spark in the city.

How did the idea for this collection spark? Do you recall any specific moments of inspiration? 

I guess the overlap between myself and the ethos of The Plagiarist, is that there exists a strong focus and inspiration from the cultures of our parents and the previous generations. In a way, our work acts as a visualisation of what third culture means to us, and how it informs our everyday lives.

The idea itself then, in which there existed visuals of both nature and urban environments coming into contact, came to me when I was taking the train into the city one evening. I just remember staring at our city skyline in awe, and even though I grew up here my entire life, seeing those grand buildings each time I come into the city always leaves me feeling captivated. I then used the momentum of this inspiration to question then, the ways in which I can showcase both the beauty and terror of our city through visual language. If anything this all came naturally, for this is how I view Melbourne through my eyes.

What was the timeframe you spent working on it? From conception to shooting, to editing, and then event planning? Who was involved in the process?

It’s funny you know, I only met the owner of The Plagiarist in March of this year. What I can say about the relationship that we’ve built since then, is that it was since that very first encounter that we knew we wanted to do a project together.

I guess what I appreciate about what we did, is that it really was a project that manifested itself into a reality – thoughts turned into things, and that’s what I always want to represent in my own life. 

The project itself took about three months to really create, involving organising the space we were given, to organising the shoots, and all the extra bits like printing and framing. It sounds simple in words, but the harsh reality was that this took a colossal amount of effort, planning, and discipline to ensure everything worked smoothly. Of course, there were hiccups on the way, but what I can say is that being an artist is as much about being a problem solver as it is being creative. 

In terms of help, it really was the community of creatives I’m around that lent out their hands to help. From just grabbing dinner to lift my spirits, or helping to assist shoots, I honestly feel as if this was a community effort more than anything else.

Each work shares similarities but all very different / unique in their own way. Did u have the same approach to each or were they unique?

Sitting down and curating this project, I wanted to ensure that the concepts of immigration, assimilation and third culture were all prevalent and self-evident within all of the artworks. Hence, you may notice that each of the works showcases a suitcase also made by The Plagiarist, to symbolise the idea of transition and journey.

This was the connecting thread within all of my works, from there I also wanted to ensure that I captured the surrealist and often alienating feeling of moving from one home to another. This is why you see this smashing of the elements of the city, with elements of ‘nature’ and the untouched.

These are all my babies so I can’t say I have a favourite, but if anything each one is connected and tells a story – as if to say you can’t have one alone, they all must be presented together to tell their narratives 

Can you describe the feeling of seeing over 400 people at the opening? Did it meet your expectations? 

Man, even now I am still processing what happened that night. Sure we knew the numbers were going to reach that amount through online analytics, but to really see that amount of people in our space was surreal. If anything, belonging to this generation of artists whose work is embedded into their social media platforms, it was a cathartic moment to see real people, real reactions, and real conversations concerning the work. 

What’s funny, is that ‘400 followers’ isn’t something that sounds lucrative in our spaces. Yet I saw this as a visualisation of what that truly looks like. Social media has really stretched and condensed our perceptions of time and space, and to see 400 people in a room listening to your words is the equivalent of having 400 people listen to your music, watch your video, or like your photos. I think we underestimate our progress because of this – but really it’s about connection, and this can never be quantified.

Who are some of your creative inspirations / people you look to? Anyone you would love to collaborate with?

In terms of my photography, I honestly seek my inspiration from every medium but photography if that makes sense. Painting, music, film, design, and philosophy are all elements and mediums that I draw heavily to inform my work.

Whenever I feel short of inspiration, I like to visit ‘The Salon’ at the National Gallery Victoria. Just a single room filled from the floor to the wall with the most beautiful 19th-century European paintings. Concepts such as form, lighting, and composition are all elements that I draw from in these works to inspire my own. From this, I use my own daily life and experiences to translate them into a modern context. 

In terms of collaboration, I love really just working with individuals I connect with. Whether it be international models or musicians, to a friend I met at an event, I really look for a story to capture more than anything. And as the future chapters may hold, I look forward to continuing making these connections and experiences with people from all across the world. Creating connections despite a difference in our backgrounds.

Melbourne has long been the arts capital of Australia but took a big hit during the pandemic, how would you describe the local creative scene, and do u see it currently making a resurgence?

What I can say that I’ve seen in my experience, is a true hunger in these streets of Melbourne. Although we’ve often been labeled as the creative capital of this country, what I can say is that although the expression is there, opportunities for growth from platforms greater than us are often difficult to identify. I do see a growing acceptance of the art that is created here, and a greater interest in funding it too. 

Yet the trend I’ve seen, and this is exactly what we wanted to express in our event, is that we don’t necessarily need these platforms to help us. The space itself was sponsored by the City of Melbourne that’s true, yet at its essence, the promotion of the event, setting up the space, creating the works, and organising literally every aspect was all controlled and performed by us. 

We’re not the only ones who are tired of waiting to be elevated. The trend I see with my city is that we are beginning to create our own trends, our own events, and our own opportunities. When I first started this career I wanted to badly to be accepted by the larger galleries, the art dealers, and the art collectors. Constantly I felt as if that ceiling that has existed for generations ensured that I’d always be considered ‘underground’ and not worthy of those spaces. My art changed for me when I realised that a seat at the table is NOT the final goal, but rather to create our own table, and not too only survive, but to flourish here.

I don’t eat until everyone around me does – this is a mentality I want to always stay true to.

How did you get into art? Your’re very open about the influence your cultural background has on your worldview and storytelling, when did this start and how has it developed?

I’ve been using cameras for over 10 years now. Since then, I’ve found that my relationship with this art form has been nothing but a cycle of trial and error. 

It goes without saying that social media filters out the hardships that go on within our lives, and falsely showcases the highlights. Yet behind each work, each event, each idea, there are years of failure, stress, and constant development that hides each one.

In terms of culture, I think the reason that it holds such a strong place not only in my life, but in my art as well, is because it has been something that has always been so difficult to access in the White Australia landscape. I always grew up in White-majority spaces, and with the inclusion of being mixed race, I’ve always felt that I’m an outsider in this society. For years I repressed my cultural identity, hiding it away for the sacrifice of assimilation and acceptance – an acceptance that to this day has never been felt. As I grew older and I looked back, I came to the realisation of how harmful this became upon me. When an individual is separated from their cultural values, we become left feeling lost, dazed, and numb to the world around us, for there exists no framework to understand the chaos. 

So in my adult years I looked to my lost cultures to find some understanding of this senseless world. It’s not the I am necessarily using my culture to inform my work because I also feel that because of my assimilated nature, I will never fully be connected to it in a way. Rather, I am my culture, a living, and breathing entity that exists as proof of survival. A survival from all the forces that tried to wipe us away completely. So despite my lack of connection, my blood is still stained with the marks of my ancestors, and this is something that motivates not only my art but who I am as an entity.

What’s next? What do you envisage for your next chapter? Your wider legacy? What are you out to achieve? 

I’m a firm believer in showing rather than telling. What I can say, is that there is a world outside of Melbourne, and the next chapters of my life are set on exploring this too. 

Despite the time or the location, the intention will always remain the same. To stay true to me, to express myself, and to share my art and its messages to the world. That all I want really is to continue to make and share my utmost expressions of myself.

Regardless, you can’t take the Melbourne out of the boy, and I know I want to share our people, and our culture, with the rest of the world. As I said in my speech, I don’t want to see this city to just be a pit stop of amazing international artists, I also want it to be the birthplace of them too.

Photos by Dylan Mclardy. Connect with The PLAGIARIST and The Dr1fter online.

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