Relocating from Adelaide to Darwin in 2018 has given 27-year-old artist, curator and now record label manager Haneen Martin new perspective on identity, culture and the meaning of home.
When Martin first made the move north a year ago, she hoped to explore the intersection of Indigenous, Indonesian and Malay art and culture. She soon found herself reconsidering her sense of home and identity while living amid a melting pot of cultures and working in a whole new creative industry as general manager of Skinnyfish Music and Settle Down Records.
Despite having placed her visual arts practice on the back-burner since relocating, the move has ultimately enabled her to develop a more reactive creative practice. It has also forced her to reconsider her sense of self and lay down new roots in a city completely on her own, which has in turn provoked unexpected creative results.
“I had a lot more to reflect on that I couldn’t articulate through visual arts, so I started writing more,” Martin says. “Without the pressure I placed on myself to create art constantly, I’ve been able to make things in response to political and personal events as they inspire me.”
Working to promote Indigenous musicians in contemporary and traditional forms through her new day job, and being surrounded by the rich multiculturalism of the Northern Territory, has helped Martin reflect on and redefine her identity (born in Kuala Lumpur, Martin shares Malaysian and Saudi Arabian heritage) in an environment where she does not feel it is under constant scrutiny.
“Working with Indigenous artists has given me a sense of pride and empowerment in my own culture,” she says.
A recent work saw Martin embroider turmeric-dyed fabric with the text ‘I am not a threat’ in response to the Christchurch terror attack – something which she felt empowered to do through the positive affirmation of identity that the move to Darwin afforded her.
“Being in a place that is a lot more multicultural, there’s less shame involved in being different,” Martin says. “It’s enabled me to explore what my culture means to me in a non-aggressive, more introspective way.”
In May, Martin travelled from Darwin to Adelaide on The Ghan as part of a three-day intensive artist residency program in celebration of the famous railway’s 90th anniversary. The residency program invited 10 South Australian and Northern Territory multidisciplinary artists to ride The Ghan and create specially-commissioned works in response to the journey.
For Martin, whose work explores themes of migration, home and identity, the opportunity to travel this culturally and historically significant route galvanised her sense of home and belonging. As an artist whose work has explored what it means to reconcile her Australian identity with feelings of not fitting in, the three-day intensive residency has given her perspective on forging an Australian identity alongside her Malaysian and Saudi Arabian heritage.
“I feel more secure in being Australian,” she says. “It was exciting for me to say, ’I’m from Adelaide, but I live in Darwin’, and with confidence be able to say, ‘I’m going home.’”
Her piece created in response to her experience on The Ghan explores these themes of migration, home, and identity. Abstract linear embroidery connects her current home in Darwin with her former home in Adelaide against earthy stains to represent the central Australian landscape and bright turmeric dye as a nod to her Malaysian heritage.
“It’s representative of what grounds me and what I consider home,” she says. “I have been living in Australia for 18-and-a-half years, and it’s the first time I’ve felt that confidence in my sense of home.”
Haneen Martin will feature as one of 10 Northern Territory and South Australian-based multidisciplinary artists in an exhibition at the Keswick Railway Terminal from June to August in celebration of The Ghan’s 90th anniversary
The Artist in Residence program is made possible by Great Southern Rail and Guildhouse