Becoming Home: Interview with the Curator

Published on 08 February 2022

Becoming Home

ArtSpace’s exhibition, Becoming Home: Stories of Chinese-Australians, explores Maroondah’s connections to the local Chinese-Australian community.

We caught up with curator, Tammy Wong Hulbert, to discuss the exhibition’s inspiration and the artists involved in Becoming Home.

What inspired the exhibition?

The exhibition began as a conversation between the Maroondah Arts and Cultural Team and I, on developing a project that explored the Chinese-Australian community through a creative collaboration. 

I was intrigued by the story of the significant Cheong Family who established themselves in Croydon in the late Victorian era. In my work as a curator, I have often developed historical exhibitions and contemporary art exhibitions as separate projects, but with this project, I wanted to bring together the voices of an earlier generation with current, new-immigrant voices. I saw that as an inspiring and interesting challenge.

Four of the ten children of Cheok Hong Cheong and his wife Wong Toy Chen. From left to right: Christina, Benjamin, Grace Mary and Nathaniel Cheong.

Four of the ten children of Cheok Hong Cheong and his wife Wong Toy Chen. From left to right: Christina, Benjamin, Grace Mary and Nathaniel Cheong. Photos courtesy of Paul and Penny Cheong

How did you begin the curatorial process for the exhibition?

We started with the interesting history of Cheong Park, but we also wanted to bring this together with more contemporary voices in the community. In doing this, I enlisted Siying Zhou, a multimedia artist with a keen interest in Chinese-Australian history, and Ai Yamamoto, a sound artist who was able to capture the emotional landscape of the local environment. Together, we collaborated with Chinese Community Social Services who supported us in finding local participants with interesting stories to tell. They introduced us to Jenny Zhuang, Jiawen Lin, Fiona Wu and Leo Ren, who all had their own interesting journeys in making Maroondah their home.

How did the collaboration process go?

We had an amazing team of participants to work with, but it was challenging having to work under lockdown conditions. Under pre-pandemic conditions, I focussed on spending time with participants, so we could really get to know each other, but during the pandemic, we had to rely on video meetings to establish the project and at one stage even asked the participants to make their own videos for use. These were then edited into Siying's video and Ai's sound files, so the production was truly collaborative. We also worked with Paul and Penny Cheong who provided their personal historical materials from their family collection and the Museum of Chinese-Australian history. They provided reproductions of photographs and materials to tell the Cheong families story more from a historical perspective.

What was the most exciting part of the process?

For me, it was meeting the participants in real life at their favourite places around Maroondah such as Ringwood Lake Park and McAlpin Reserve. These public places had really become safe places to retreat and escape to during periods of lockdown in Melbourne; and were, in some ways, an extended loungeroom for these families. We found that they all had an enhanced appreciation of their local public parks during this time.

Ringwood Lake Park

Left to right: Ringwood Lake Park, McAlpin Reserve.

The Cheong family have an amazing lineage in the Maroondah area. What was it like to work with the Cheong family?

Meeting Paul Cheong and Lesley Lowe (nee Cheong) in Cheong Park and hearing them speak about growing up next to Cheong Park was also a very special moment. We also had a guided visit to Cheong Wildflower Sanctuary with Maroondah staff, and seeing all those delicate indigenous flowers was really a wonderful experience.

Wong Toy Chen and Family at Pine Lodge] [10. Cheong Family playing Tennis Wong-Toy-Chen-and-Family-at-Pine-Lodge.jpg

Left to right: Nathaniel Cheong preparing to play tennis, Choy Ying, Daisy (wife of Joshua Cheong) and children on the hill at Pine Lodge, Croydon. Photos courtesy of Paul and Penny Cheong.

Where is your favourite place in Cheong park?

After hearing Paul and Lesley speak about their upbringing, I think my favourite place in Cheong Park is under the tree they used to play in at the back of the park. We filmed them under that tree; it bought back great memories of their childhood.

Visit Becoming Home: Stories of Chinese-Australians at ArtSpace from 10am to 5pm till 20 March.

Cheong Park playground

Cheong Park playground 

Becoming Home is presented in partnership with Museum of Chinese Australian History, RMIT University Contemporary Art and Social Transformation (CAST) and Chinese Community Social Services Centre Inc.

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