Departure is an ongoing community-based art project facilitated by Christine Ko and Louis Lim, dedicated to sharing the experiences of first and second generation migrants in Brisbane. In each iteration of the project, Christine and Louis collaborate with migrant community members to hand make kites. The artists view kites as symbols for the migrant experience – while flying through the sky, kites inspire hope and joy, but they are also vulnerable, at the mercy of the external environment.
We sat down with Christine and Louis to learn more about their residency project and their art practices.
Departure features kites that are both visually stunning and conceptually rich. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind using kites as the central motif for Departure?
When we first started developing this project we knew we wanted to work with the stories of migrant communities and we brainstormed some options of what motifs we could use to visually express the migration experience. We landed on the symbolism of kites and their expressions of flight as ones of joyous and naive child-like wonder that is simultaneously at the whim of external circumstances. Just like the migration journey, kites inspire feelings of hope, adventure and freedom. However, they are also constantly buffeted by the surrounding environment that can sometimes lead to deep disappointment when they crash land.
Flying kites also seemed to be a universal childhood experience. It seems like everyone has a story of flying and making kites with family and friends so the joy and nostalgic memories associated with kites was experienced across all cultures, which made it the ideal motif to bring the participants’ varied stories together.
Your project Departure invites first and second generation migrants to participate by sharing their stories and making a kite. What does this process look like and how does it feel to share in these moments of reflection?
The process of working with the participants starts with a conversational interview that we usually try to conduct at the participants’ homes over a shared meal. This allows us all to relax into the interview and also gives participants the chance to share photos and mementoes they have relating to their migrant experiences that they may end up incorporating into their kite design.
The aim of the interview is to find out each participant’s everyday experience growing up or living in Australia as a person with a migrant background. We discuss topics such as their or their parents’ circumstances for migrating to Australia, the challenges they faced settling into the country and their sense of belonging. At this stage we also start discussing ideas for their kites designs, which we continue to work through with them in the weeks following the interview.
Each interview is recorded and then transcribed into text which allows us to edit each participant’s experience into a letter. The letters are exhibited alongside the kites and visitors to the exhibition are invited to read the letters. The act of opening each envelope and reading the letter inside creates an intimate connection between the participant and the reader, as if the story is being told directly to the reader.
We work collaboratively with each participant on the kite making process. We ask them to look for family archive images that are significant to their migrant experience and also to think of a kite shape they may like. We then help with designing, printing and making the kite frames and finally we invite the participants to partake in a workshop to assemble their kite and make finishing touches.
It has been a very rewarding and humbling experience meeting all the participants and hearing the range of experiences people go through as migrants. Undertaking this project has allowed us to broaden our world view and empathise with a range of different people and to see experiences from different perspectives so we hope this project will have a similar impact on visitors too.
Museum visitors are invited to participate in Departure by sharing their own stories. What do you hope people will get out of this experience and what will you do with the stories gathered?
Since there are only a limited number of participants we can engage with in each iteration of Departure, having visitors participate by sharing their own stories means we are able to capture and share a broader range of stories of the migrant experience. We hope that visitors who read the letters on display will be inspired to share their own experiences through the letter-writing station. These visitor letters will be collected and shared through a digital platform and we anticipate that these additional stories will help to showcase the variety and complexity of the migrant experience. Through this sharing process, we hope to cultivate empathy and understanding within the broader community; to better understand each other and to develop a more accepting and tolerant multicultural society.
You’re both established artists in your own right. What drew you together to work as a pair?
We have been friends and worked together professionally for a long time, but we had never collaborated together creatively until the Departure project. A big part of what connected us is the shared experience of being first generation Asian immigrants to Australia (Christine is from Taiwan and Louis is from Malaysia). We’ve had many conversations over the years about our families, our experiences of not feeling like we ‘fit in’, things we find weird and funny about Western culture and so we thought the everyday migrant experience could be a way to bring our practices together through the development of a community art project. We felt that often mainstream media sensationalises or politicises migrant stories so that as a society we don’t have much idea of the experience of the ‘everyday Australian migrant’ so we felt that it was important that these experiences are heard and shared.
Developing our individual art practices and being involved in the arts community has been a key way for us to process and come to terms with our identities as Asian-Australians and so being able to facilitate that process for others and to provide a platform for them to share their stories was a big motivator for why we wanted to develop this project.
We’re fortunate to live in a city with lots of different migrant communities. How do you hope Departure will enrich the lives of these communities and the Brisbane community more broadly?
From our own experience as migrants and having friends who are also from migrant backgrounds, we have witnessed how the everyday migrant experience is often overlooked and also how many migrant youths often go through a phase of active rejection of their cultural identity in an attempt to “fit in” Australian society. We hope that Departure will be able to provide the wider migrant community with a platform to share their individual and diverse stories; to provide them with the opportunity to be seen through a communal exhibition; and to foster understanding between different community groups. It is a celebration of the range of migrant communities we have in Brisbane and gives participants the chance to reflect upon and share their experiences that can hopefully help other migrants come to terms with their cultural identity and contribute to a more tolerant multicultural society by bringing these stories to the broader Brisbane community.
View Christine and Louis’ work as part of BrisAsia 2024. Open daily, 10am–5pm. Free entry.
This residency is delivered as part of Brisbane City Council’s BrisAsia Festival 2024, produced by Sounds Across Oceans. Official Media Partner SBS.
MoB’s Artist in Residence program is supported by Tim Fairfax AC.