Tammy Law, artist in residence, Museum of Brisbane

I hope the exhibition creates a deeper empathy and encourages people to consider their own position ...

The topic of forced displacement is one that is largely underreported and underrepresented in Australian media, but for Tammy Law the issue hits extremely close to home. In 1986, three generations of Tammy’s family were deported from Queensland – leaving her mother (who was pregnant with Tammy at the time) behind to pick up the pieces. The trauma incurred from these events have rippled throughout Tammy’s family ever since, and it’s the inter-generational passage of such hurt that sits at the core of Tammy’s artist-in-residence exhibition at Museum of Brisbane – Fractured Dreams & Indefinite Scars. The exhibition features personal stories and histories collected from Tammy’s family and others who have endured similar hardships, documenting the complexities of displacement in order to challenge perceptions, instigate conversation and inspire change. We spoke to Tammy about the work, which is running at Museum of Brisbane until Sunday April 18.

To start, we’d love to know about what drew you to photography as an artistic outlet. Were there any formative experiences that sparked your interest in the art form?
I would often dream of going places beyond the Sunshine Coast and because of this would photograph the sky a lot. Photography allowed me to escape from what was going on at home and because I was an anxious child it allowed me to feel more comfortable in unfamiliar places.

At what point did you begin to instil more of a documentarian-like approach to your artistic practice, and what were some of the first stories that you elected to highlight with your early work?
After my undergraduate studies I spent a year living in Japan and China. I worked on stories documenting the lives of day labourers in Tokyo and nomadic life in Inner Mongolia. I have always been drawn to documentary storytelling because it allows you to shine light on real life experiences.

Some of the issues your work addresses include themes of belonging, diaspora and cultural difference, as well as your family’s lived experience with forced migration and displacement. What is your approach to wielding still images to convey the complexities, nuances and the emotional depth of these issues?
Although I use audio, video and still photography as a part of my documentary processes, I have always felt strongly about using photography as a way to investigate the subtle experiences and feelings of the places and experiences of the participants involved in my projects. For the most part, it is because I have spent so many years learning and evolving my storytelling processes and techniques. I find still imagery is appropriate for the way in which I am hoping to express the stories.

Can you tell us a little bit about what forms the conceptual basis for Fractured Dreams & Indefinite Scars, which is being featured as part of your Museum of Brisbane residency and the BrisAsia festival program?
The exhibition looks at how immigration processes impact family histories and the idea of how trauma can be intergenerational and be passed down.

In addition to the contributions supplied by your own family, the exhibition also includes perspectives from families that have endured similar hardships. How did you go about unearthing these stories?
Through my research I was fortunate enough to come across the work of academic Rebecca Powell based at Monash University who is specifically looking at Section 501 of the Migration Act as a part of her PhD research. She had already been in touch with some of the participants who she put in contact with myself.

What did their similarities to your own tell you about the issue as a whole and its impact on the affected, both emotionally and psychologically?
Though there was a diverse group of participants involved in the project there was a definite relationship between the emotional and psychological trauma between the experiences. The shame and guilt behind the perception of wrongdoing and the impacts on family and loved ones was a reoccurring issue.

What sort of conversations do you hope the exhibition encourages, especially in regards to forced migration itself and the discourse surrounding the larger societal issues it is a symptom of?
For those who haven’t encountered stories like these before, I hope the exhibition creates a deeper empathy and encourages people to consider their own position, in particular when considering the human rights abuses handed down by the governing bodies of this country.

Beyond your work, we’re curious to know what you are currently finding inspiring about the world around you?
I find that ordinary people doing extraordinary things is inspiring to me. People’s selflessness, resilience and kindness keeps me compelled.

Tammy Law’s residency and exhibition Fractured Dreams & Indefinite Scars is running at Museum of Brisbane until Sunday April 18. You can view it from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:00 am an 5:00 pm.

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