Exploring ‘You See Monsters’: Aussie vs Australian

January 25th 2018

  • Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Cigdem Aydemir, Safdar Ahmed, Sara Mansour and Aamer Rathman :: Interview with Abdul Abdullah

‘You See Monsters’ is an ABC documentary that is currently on iView which explores the work of a new generation of Australian Muslim artists who are fighting anti-Islamic bigotry with creativity, satire, and irreverence.

The following conversation is the second part of our three part audio series. Listen back to the Canvas: Art & Ideas interview with Canvas host, Abdul Abdullah, his brother Abdul-Rahman Abdullah (AKA the ‘Prototype’), artists Cigdem Aydemir and Safdar Ahmed, slam poet Sara Mansour and comedian Aamer Rathman. 

Abdul Abdullah: Look at that Australian identity, and for especially the Cronulla riots, like who was Australian, who wasn’t. I feel out form when I’m entering a country. It’s pretty obvious that I should put myself down as Australian but I can safely say that I’ve never felt like an Aussie. Have you ever been made to feel like you don’t belong in this country? When, how have you been made to feel like you don’t belong in this country? This time shall we start with Safdar?

Safdar Ahmed: I guess my answer to that would be a really long winded, complicated, self-analysing confession. Because I don’t think I belong anywhere. I’m a mixed raced kid. My mum’s British, my father’s family are Indian, Indian Muslims, and I was born in England. But we migrated here when I was a baby, and I’ve always sort of felt like I don’t identify with any particular nationality or group in a way. I never felt Indian enough to be Indian and I never felt Aussie enough to be Aussie, and I don’t really feel British, or whatever.

AA: That sounds like some acculturative anxiety right there.

SA: There’s totally racial dysmorphia for me so I guess I’ve never felt ‘Aussie’. Never really identified with that ‘Aussie’ kind of identity [but] I would refer to myself as Australian — meaning that I’ve grown up here and that I’ve lived here and of course I’m sort of influenced by everything here but whether I see the Australian identity as a positive thing that I would want or proudly be a part of is a seperate question. I don’t think that I would because I don’t even know what an Australian identity is. When people talk about Aussie values or what it means to be Australian, that’s a whole different ball game.

AA: Cigdem, how would you respond to that.

Cigdem Aydemir: I think I agree. It’s definitely really complex. I guess the only thing I could ask is: When have I felt Aussie? And the only time I’ve felt Aussie is when I’ve been overseas. [Laughs]

AA: [Laughs] I know what you mean.

CA: Like, in Turkey funnily enough. My background is Turkish and we spent a lot of weekends at the beach, camping in the bush, and you know, it was only, till I was in Turkey that I realised that was a very Aussie thing. Like getting around in Blundstones and things like that. That’s the only time I’ve felt Aussie, but definitely not in Australia.

AA: And how about you Abdul-Rahman?

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah: Well I am Australian and like Safdar’s saying I’m sort of mixed-ethnicity and our dad is white Australian and mum is Malay, but I make a very clear distinction between being Australian as a nationality and the idea of ‘Aussie’. ‘Aussie’ is this complete cultural construction which I want no part of because what it represents to me is the Cronulla riots, big belligerent toxic masculinity, all of that bound up into one word and chanted out whenever people get the chance, and I don’t want any part of that.

AA: It’s funny. Growing up in East Cannington and there was the Aboriginal kids with the Aboriginal kids, the Muslim kids with the Muslim kids and the white kids were the Aussies. That’s how it was.

ARA: Yeah that’s where it all comes from and it’s built from that, so even if you want to be a part of that, then you know, we can’t sign up.

AA: How about you Sara, you’re Lebanese in Sydney. In regards to the the Cronulla riots, I get criticisms, I’ve got some emails from people who participated in the riots saying it wasn’t a racist riot, it was just about Lebanese people –

[Everyone laughs]

AA: How did it feel for you, Sara?

Sara Mansour: At the time I was living opposite Punchbowl Park and I remember very clearly that about fifty Lebanese boys went and had a meeting in Punchbowl Park and I was just watching them [laughs] and I think they were kind of grappling and scared and trying to figure out what they should be doing, or if they should be retaliating. And going back to that idea of ‘feeling Aussie’, I’m always asked where I’m from and I always get confused about if I should say I’m from Punchbowl or if I should say my parents are Lebanese. And sometimes I just say I’m from Punchbowl, from the Bankstown area. And then people ask me again “no no, where are you from”.

Aamer Rathman: “Where are you really from.”

SM: Yeah, “where are you really from”. I open one of my poems with that rhetoric because it’s something that I experience a lot. Sometimes people ask me “do you like it here?”. Someone asked me that while I was at work once and I was like “oh I don’t really like retail” and they kind of looked at me confused and I said “oh you mean Australia?” [laughs]. “I was born here bro.” So yeah.

AR: Do you like it here? Are you planning on staying?

SM: Yeah, just on a work visa or something [laughs]. I feel Australian when I go overseas and I really realise how Australian I am, because I’m deemed as the other by the people in our country, or like our my parents countries, but I don’t think that I feel like an Aussie because I don’t identify with any of those stereotypes. People don’t particularly think of a veiled Muslim woman as an Aussie person. There is definitely that narrative of Aussie people being the quintessential white, blue eyed, blonde haired kind of prototype and you know sometimes we don’t fit the bill. If we don’t fit the bill, we obviously have to think about what Aussie means and if Aussie should be a thing anyway.

AA: And Aamer, where are you really from and I’ve got to say, your English is really good.

AR: [Laughs] Thanks man, been working on it for over 30 years now. Yeah, like everyone else, I really think Australian is good for white, and I’m not white, and I’ve been reminded of that a lot growing up. I moved here from the Middle East when I was six and it was such a huge culture shock to me to come from a from a Muslim culture to Australia and to be so alien and I think that’s just never left me.

You can see ABC’s ‘You See Monsters’ here

For more critical conversations on contemporary Australian art practice and exciting local projects, tune into Canvas: Art & Ideas each Sunday from 11am.


Digital Producer on Canvas: Art and Ideas.

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