Artist statement by Jamie Lewis (Lead Artist)
In this first stage of the Shepparton Culture Kitchen Project I collaborated with 8 women from local diverse communities (the Creative Team) and MAV staff to design and facilitate a pilot Creative Development process. The focus was on relationship building amongst the Creative Team and with myself, exposure to creative ideas through creative references, and sparking a curiosity and interest in the possibility of what can come out of further work.
In this vein, storytelling was central to the process. I shared examples of my previous work with the women, to reflect the breadth of social and participatory experiences possible and through this, I was able to share my personal stories of working on them. This is an important step in building trust when working with community members who don’t have a prior working relationship with you.
We worked together in 2 creative developments over a 3 week period.
Week 1 was focused on getting the women to consider their personal stories in the context of Shepparton and the connected themes of the project: their cultural roots and places of origin; their sense of belonging to where home was and where home is now; their culture and traditions and the evolution of that the longer they have lived here in Australia; their rituals around cooking and sharing food; their families; and more. They were then tasked to create and consider storyboards to sketch out how they might share these stories.
Week 2 focused on the women exchanging recipes, cooking and eating “together.” They traded their traditional recipes, and were tasked to try and make each others’ recipes in their own homes. This allowed insight and connection, bonding over their similarities, and savouring the differences and the experience of something new and unfamiliar.
The emerging artistic ideas that came out of this process reflected creativity, openness and ambition amongst the group. The tangible and visceral experience of sharing with each other allowed them to consider other perspectives. Participatory art experiences fundamentally require the maker to consider how audience members engage and respond to what is crafted and communicated. As the project unfolds, this means bringing these approaches into the process.
Time limitations and COVID-19 restrictions meant that we had to condense the workshops over two weekends into self-guided, small group work to be done over phone, email and Zoom. However, the results far surpassed my expectations. That the participants emerged from the workshops with clear creative ideas to pursue, and an understanding of and curiosity around social and participatory experiences as art that were being referenced, left me energised and optimistic about the depth of work we can get to as the project develops.
The departure point for this work to date was based on the women’s cultural identity as understood by their place of origin, ethnicity and heritage, which inherently ties to their identity as migrants, refugees and other. They have all lived and established themselves in Shepparton over a varying number of years, so moving forward, I’m interested in moving beyond the one-dimensional conversations and categorisations of cultural identity, to acknowledge and anchor the identity that they are not the other, that their multiplicity of identities is a fullness and not a lack.
As the project develops, I envision a creative process in which the participants have artistic agency in creating artistic experiences for their communities and people outside their communities, that are regarded by peers in the cultural sector as rich, sophisticated, high-quality work.