Saturday, June 08, 2019

Same-sex relationships: how inclusive do you think you are?

I tend to categorise the others by one criteria: whether they are good people or bad people. I would like to think I am a good friend. And that I don't see a person's pertenance to a group before I see them, the way they are.
I'd like to think that I am inclusive. And yet sometimes, I find myself asking whether I am inclusive enough.

The question I have for you today is: how inclusive do you think you are, when it comes to same sex couples?

My answer has always been that everyone is free to love the one that makes them happy. Some of my best friends have been in decades - long, loving same-sex relationships that are only going stronger as the years go by. On the same token, I have seen heterosexual marriages dissolving faster than a berocca in a half empty glass. I don't think that the gender is the main ingredient in a relationship. Love is. I have always believed that with all my might.
Yet recently, three different events made me question my own integrity and realise that no matter how inclusive I might think  I am,  I am also subject to society's bias towards reflecting the same-sex relationships.
After a long introspection, my answer to my own query was that if we really are inclusive, maybe we should stop singularizing the same sex relationships and see them just as they are: a normal relationship between two people who love each other.
But more about this later.
The three events were not related to each other in any way, but connected to this topic. 

First, there was a dream. I dreamed that a woman kissed me. (I have never seen this woman in real life, but that is not relevant).
The thought I woke up wasn't "what would Freud think about this?" but rather "wow. I just realised I don't know how gay women protect themselves from STD's" .
This was the first time I  realised how uneducated I am on this topic. Lucky I have great friends who put the record straight for me.

The second event was watching a movie. I found "God's own country" on Netflix  while looking for something to distract myself while I was nervously waiting for the results of some medical investigations.
What attracted me in the brief description was that the story involved a Romanian immigrant who is teaching an English farmer to love. I told myself, "well I would love to see that. I am sick and tired of seeing my birth country and countrymen portrayed in dark colours" . This sounds interesting.
And interesting it was. The movie doesn't mince words, calling a cock for what it is and it certainly  doesn't embellish things, portraying the dating life of a young English farmer, from the random encounters in the pub toilets to finding love in the person of a paid worker, hired to help around the farm.
My first thought was wow, this is a bit confronting. And as soon as I thought it, I caught myself. Why is it that we are so used to see hot steaming heterosexual sex scenes  in the movies that we don't even think much of it anymore? Yet as soon as the couple is changed and two gay men fill your screen, we avert our eyes.
In my case, it is also a little bit of old-school prudery. As a photographer, I know I wil never be able to do male nudes because I am incredibly shy as soon as a shirt comes off, even if it's a friend.
But my reaction to this movie was also due to that society bias that I was talking about.
I have seen my gay friends kissing each other and holding hands and it always filled me with happiness. It's normal and healthy for a relationship to show affection towards each other.
However, this movie took upon itself to normalise gay relationships in ways we aren't really seeing them on the screen. It shows everything: the pursuing, the one night stands, the sex scenes, the aftermath of love-making...
It made me think how little thought producers are giving to inclusion. It is much easier to show a woman's naked body and cash in, rather than educate the public opinion and fight for diversity.

The third event related to this topic was a conversation I overheard accidentally. A group of girls were talking about same-sex relationships from the perspective of being a gay woman. It wasn't a bad conversation, the comments were not  derisive and it probably wouldn't be an out of ordinary talk, if it wasn't for the age of the girls. Hearing children aged 7 to 9 yo talking about same sex relationships, using proper words (lesbian, gay) and articulating what love means gave me hope.
The hope that the future will bring that much needed inclusion. As it is now, acceptance is not enough.

Friday, July 06, 2018

When storms take over

For the second project of my final mixed media assessment, I chose to illustrate an instrumental piece of music by local composers Harvey Welsh and Chris Holly. I have responded before to this work with poetry and photography and no matter how many times I listen to it, it makes me think of storms. 

The "playlist" brief called for execution of a mixed media piece by using at least two surfaces and two techniques.  
My artwork is an instinctive response to the music and it doesn’t have any other concept behind it other than imagining a storm at sea, watched through a window. 

I chose to use collaged elements: paper, bark vinyl imitation of wood and tracing paper. The window is overlaid on top of layers of painted clouds and stormy seas. A boat made out of bark is adrift. The onlooker is alone with their thoughts. They open their window and watch the storm. I illustrated the act of opening the window by creating a lift-the flap look. The strips of vinyl make the shape of the window, the tracing paper is the window opening, looking out to sea.

The surfaces used in this project were Archers paper, Canson paper, tracing paper, bark and a wood-imitation vinyl tile. I kept the colour scheme simple, with only a few colours: blue, grey and brown. To create the storm, I used Prussian blue and neutral grey acrylic inks and ultramarine and white watercolours.

I didn’t have many challenges illustrating this idea or executing it because it was an instinctive response and I didn’t have to think about how I was doing it. I knew how I wanted the work to look just by listening to the music. My main challenge was my minimal experience with watercolours and inks. Another challenge I didn’t predict it will be as time-consuming, was creating the lift-the-flap effect by cutting precisely the tracing paper to create the open window. I managed to rip quite a few sheets before the window was in place.

If I had more time, I would have liked to use real wood instead of vinyl and I would have experimented more with creating the clouds and water textures and with the fluidity of inks and watercolours. 

I would have liked to work on a bigger scale (ceiling to floor), to draw the audience straight into the eye of the storm and I would have liked to add a silhouette next to the window, as a separate layer – possibly realised in a charcoal sketch. Given the time constraints, I think it’s a good trial run but it’s a work I would like to re-do in the future.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


This year I have been busy preparing three exhibitions and if things weren't hectic enough, I decided it was time to follow my dreams. So, with my family's full blessing (and a lot of support), I enrolled in a Diploma in Visual Arts.
It's been a very challenging first semester but it ended in a high note. I have learned so much in only a few months so I thought I'd document the journey by presenting some of the projects I worked on so far. 

I absolutely loved our final mixed media assessment, called Play list. The brief called for interpreting a song of our choice and producing a mixed media artwork by using at least two techniques and two different surfaces.
My chosen song was Freddie Mercury’s Song “Time”. I started to map ideas and concepts and sure enough, (and ironically), time was a very hot commodity in producing such a complex piece in a relatively short interval. I always wanted to produce a body of work by using traditional Romanian Symbols and I knew this was the perfect opportunity.
Rather than interpreting Freddie's words, I chose to look at the concept of time from both perspectives: the immediate temporal and the atemporal dimensions.
Just like time itself, my work encompasses parallel narratives, taken on various levels. Drawing on Jung’s collective unconscious concept, I chose to illustrate my stories based on three widely known myths. According to Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by instincts and by archetypes. Archetypes are seen as universal symbols and as such, my storylines employ 3 different universal symbols. Envisioned as a tryptic, this body of work follows three timelines:

1.” Three Wise Men”
The first story is the equivalent of an instantaneous daily snippet; a modern version of the Three Wise Men. Three men, (the most unlikely friends, coming from different environments with different life experiences and who under normal circumstances are unlikely to socialise), are brought together by fate and they embark on a mutual quest. Theirs is a journey searching for knowledge, or perhaps for the meaning of life. The meaning of their story is deliberately left unclear, through a short poem I wrote for this work. The audience can draw their own conclusions, just like we do in our daily exploits, witnessing random scenes on the street.
I chose to work with both abstract ideas and conceptual drawings.
For instance, instead of drawing the three wise men, I chose to synthesise their characters through their hearts. Therefore “a heart of gold”, “a hearty dream” and “a heart of stone” are rendered through stylised heart shapes I found in nature. (bark, leaf and rock).
And so, they met under those faithful stormy skies:
The Seer, The Seeker and The One Alone
The most unlikely pals and none of them the wise;
A heart of gold, a hearty dream and last, a heart of stone.

2.“Six Seconds”
The second story tackles the immediate temporality dimension, the cycle of life and the fact that nothing lasts forever. It is a personal take on this common belief that one’s entire life will flash before their eyes before passing away. I have always imagined that this takes 6 seconds.

This story depicts the last six seconds in the form of 6 leaves. They signify 6 important moments. Some of them have images on them and they represent precise memories. Some have the resemblance of a map. I have intentionally inked details resembling topographical elements to depict an individual journey through life. Some leaves don’t have much details because memories fade and because some periods in our life are just like blank pages. This segment of the tryptic incorporate the most techniques, as I wanted to illustrate how different one’s life experiences will be.

3.“Infinite Love Story”

The third story is illustrating atemporality through the means of an archetypal myth, the primordial pair. Man and Woman meet under the tree of life. They settle near water and they populate their space, setting the premises for a perpetual future through their heirs.
This primordial pair is depicted through symbols and drawings.
I was inspired by two things – cave paintings and traditional Romanian art. Taking inspiration from my Romanian heritage, I used imagery incorporating traditional Romanian symbols. Some of them date as far as Neolithic and they belong to the Cucuteni culture, where the Great Goddess (the feminine and fertility symbol) is depicted through the womb shape and the primordial water underneath. The male symbol in the Cucuteni culture is depicted through bull horns but I chose to use a more recent symbol in my work, the ram’s horns. Traditionally, Romania has a strong agriculture and sheep is a big part of it.
By drawing the symbols of water and seeds (fertility), my drawing suggests the growing family and the life journey of the pair initially depicted. 

Project stages:
My initial sketches were quite simple:

Next step, was finding the materials, surfaces and art supplies I wanted to work with and decide what techniques will be best to convey my ideas.
I knew from the beginning that organic surfaces such as wood, bark, leaves and tree branches would work best for this project; they provide that intimate connection between the onlooker and the ideas of time and of finite and infinite. 

Initially I didn't plan for so much to happen within the same work, but as it usually happens, each project has a will of its own and it shapes differently.
The techniques used are:
- Ecodyeing – to tie up the colour scheme
- Alternative photography (chlorophyll process)
- Linoprint
- Drawing (pastels, carcoal pencils and ink pens)
- Collage
These techniques are unified by the muted tones of the colour scheme, with only a couple of colour accents. Natural wood tones and the Australian landscape colours will be predominant.
I have given a lot of consideration to the best surfaces for this project and I chose to go with entirely organic surfaces. I feel that wood texture is most appropriate for the idea of time. I spent hours looking for the right bark with interesting textures that would connect with my narrative lines, for the right shaped leaves and thinking about the ways I could collage all these together. The most difficult quest was to source naturally heart-shaped materials for my 1st story.

When it comes to colours and art supplies, I have chosen Art Spectrum pastels for drawing on the bark – they have a special edition of colours matching the Australian landscape and they have a certain likeness to the cave paintings. For the finer lines and details, I used Conte Pastels (portrait colours box) and Derwent charcoal pencils. Fixing them with fixing spray did not alter their appearance too drastically.


No hazardous materials or dangerous techniques were involved, however in using encasing resin, glues, carving tools, eco- dyeing, etc, I took precautions and followed manufacturer’s instructions and safe working techniques.
I paid attention to the processes, minimising dust or chemicals contamination. I looked into ergonomics as well, such as posture and works space.
Project evaluation
This was a very complex project, requiring a lot of thought, lot of planning and the actual physical time for the works to cure properly before assembling them.
The initial challenge was to source bark that was thick enough to support artwork but still thin enough that won’t become too heavy when assembled.
I did not want to affect the trees around my grasslands therefore I looked only for bark that was already fallen off the tree.
My major challenge was given by the fact that most of the surfaces I used are brittle. I looked at various ways to extend their life. Even if their brittleness fits the time idea for this particular brief, I would like to be able in the future to work with these beautiful surfaces.

Experimenting with linoprints on leaves was a turning point.
I wasn’t sure how this would turn out and whether the leaves will disintegrate under the press. It was a trial and error process, repeating steps with leaves of various shapes, dried out leaves, green leaves. In the end I obtained a fair amount of printed leaves.

The next dilemma was how to preserve these leaves and if by using encasing resin I will achieve this. I also had to consider whether the resin will react with the printing inks. Fortunately, it didn’t, but it was a very time-consuming process, waiting for the inks and then for the resin to dry out. In fact, at the time of presentation, I have only managed to apply one layer of resin. I still have to allow the leaves to dry completely, before applying resin on verso.

Ecodyeing was also an experiment where I was guessing which leaves and bark to use and what papers is more reactive. I have done quite an extensive research online but at the end of the day, I am still inexperienced when it comes to obtaining a more refined variety of tones.

Assemblage was a new challenge, particularly the 2nd story. The tree branch is very dry and that made me reconsider my initial plans.
I was going to use tiny screw hooks to assemble the leaves but I soon realised that the screws will compromise the branch before I even had a chance to hang it on the wall. In the end I opted for glue and I think it is a better option.

I put a lot of time and effort in the initial planning and there weren’t any major surprises in terms of execution, i.e. drawing or collaging. Once the unknown factors have been gradually sorted out, the final work came out better than expected.
I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked for this assessment, but in the future, I would like to continue this project and produce a full body of work exploring the parallel between life cycle and the cyclicity of life.

I would like to learn more about working with wood/bark/leaves and any organic matter and about the ways to preserve them. While the fact that the surfaces I used will disintegrate is very fitting to this particular brief (the concept of time), I would love to explore more working with these surfaces and being able to create works that last.
I would love to learn more about the variety of trees I could use for ecodyes and I would love to refine my lino carving techniques, particularly getting my lines straight and crisp.
I am satisfied that I did my best, given the time constraints, the nature of materials used and the high number of unknown factors. It was very lucky that things worked out in the end.
I feel that there is always room for improvement and in the future, I would like to dedicate more time to polishing and refining the final work.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Not a Mail Order Bride

“Not a Mail Order Bride” is a manifest against pre-made judgement, biased labelling and discrimination. 

While the modern society has made progress in promoting multiculturalism, the truth is we are subject to our own stereotypes and we can see only as far as our own bias will let us. It's a daily reality for many: being seen through one's appurtenance to a nationality, race, ethnicity or minority group rather than being seen for the individuals we are.

Based on my personal experience as a migrant, this work aims to explore further the idea of belonging and living anchored at the confluence of two very different cultures.

General opinion tends to see the mixed couples formed by an Anglo-Saxon man and an Eastern European or Asian woman in a mail order bride type of relation.
But what happens when we focus beyond one's race or nationality? If we go beyond their skin, do we start to see the person and not the stereotyped projection?
In many cases, the wife is highly educated, has a career and dreams just the same like anyone else. What people don't realise is that by taking a conscious decision to move, she leaves a great deal behind, in her home country, to make the relationship work.

“Not a Mail Order Bride” is a metaphoric self-portrait, charged with imagery and symbols meaningful to me.
I have deliberately manipulated the portrait to a drawing and I striped off any likeness to myself, opting to fill the blanks of my wedding dress (hence the title) with images of things significant to me. They are meant to give the onlooker a glimpse into what makes my world. In particular, the traditional Romanian symbols speak of a culture that goes all the way back to Neolithic.

The human dimension - the flesh, is replaced intentionally with wood texture. It's a metaphoric question, challenging the public to see a person with different eyes. One cannot see through wood. Nor can we see character through one glimpse. But if we look more attentively, doesn't the wood have a beautiful texture, with an array of refined lines and tones? Just the same, if we start seeing people for what they really are and without labelling them before hand, I think we might discover a whole new world. 

This work was my final assessment in the Digital Techniques course but I intend to turn it into a series. If you are part of a mixed couple and you would like to share your story, please contact me. 

and to give you and idea of how big the printed image was, here is the scale. (Photo courtesy of my lovely classmate Sarah)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Songs from my Grasslands

I had some lovely feedback from friends and even from people I haven't met before, regarding my poetry reading at the National Multicultural Festival. 
Many thanks to the dedicated ladies at Mother Tongue - Multilingual Poetry who are tirelessly ensuring that multilingual poetry is alive and well.
For those of you who didn't make it, here is a different version of "Bajo el Mismo Sol" (Under the same sun). I spent a good part of last year developing "Stories from my Grasslands", writing poetry and recording with ArtSound FM.
I am very passionate about synaesthesia, about combining different disciplines in order to enhance an artistic experience and when composer Harvey Welsh proposed a collaboration, it seemed like a very logical next step, to join his music and my poetry. Thus, "Songs from My Grasslands" is born.
Harvey's music speaks for itself. I felt a deep connection with the way he embodied my vision; the instruments he chose, the way the grasslands sounds are juxtaposed, everything is connecting so well.
So. We have a little announcement. Stay tuned and pen the date in your diaries 'coz soon we will be launching the "Songs from my Grasslands" CD. And because we truly believe in synaestesia, we will have a mixed media exhibition too, with some of Harvey's paintings and some of my photography. We are honoured and delighted to announce that Ginninderry Community will be our host from the 26th of April.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Many Ways We Change

This post would be a good illustration of  what happens when good friends open their hearts and their amazing gardens and what their selfless gesture means to me.

For quite a while now, I have been straying from the traditional ways of photography, rather using my camera in the nonchalant ways I would use the brushes or some pastels. I love to observe transformation - the many ways nature turns and transforms right in front of us, sometimes without us even noticing. And just the same, our thoughts transform too, in the process. We learn to see everything in a different way.  

I have been interested in experimenting with colours, shapes and angles, de-composing an image and re-creating a totally different reality. One where I like to concentrate on smaller parts of the scene in front of me and bring out the unseen.

That being said, my friends' garden was really amazing and the occasional still image of random findings found its way into my usual abstracts more than once.