I am an immigrant. My sense of self has always been intrinsically tied to the places I inhabit, so I have never felt a solid connection to one particular place. I was born in South Africa, but can only remember my experience there though the lens of a child. I arrived in Australia when I was seven: foreign, new, and desperately teaching myself to say yeah instead of ja. But I wasn't even connected to South Africa, really. My whole family is Greek, and I spoke fluent Greek before I could even speak a word in English. So after migrating, my patriotism fluctuated between a strong connection to my birthland, and a loyalty to the new Australian culture I was trying to assimilate into. Amongst all that I still felt a deep pride for the passion and vibrancy of my Greek culture.
However, after my recent visit to Greece only a few years ago, I felt oddly 'outside' the culture - my accent was that of a slangy Australian, forced to relearn old customs and languages. More importantly, I began to realise that the two countries I had lived in for most of my life came with a dark history of racism, segregaton, and the colonisation of Indigenous communities. I therefore had to reconsider my loyalty to any singular place. Suddenly, I was in limbo - untethered to any singular place, I simply existed.
Growing up, I became more interested in this connection between people and place. By nature, people form groups, whether they are as small as social groups in schools, sports teams, or neighbourhoods; or as large as governing bodies of states. We form groups to make some sense of our surroundings. These are my Australian friends. Those are my Greek cousins. That's a picture of my South African classmates. Each one neatly classified and tucked away. I always seem to emphasise one culture more when I am around people of the like. I do it unconsciously, without really knowing why. Is it an attempt to fit in? Or an attempt to reclaim some sense of community and culture, given that I have three (or none)? It makes me wonder who I really am.
I've been exploring these thoughts recently, particularly in relation to my upcoming residency in Iceland later this year. The basis for my proposal centred on people and place, and how we try to comprehend the unforgiving nature of the environment around us by tethering people to the land. I have coordinates of my birthplace and a compass tattooed on me, a permanent reminder of this concept of people and place. I always remember places most vividly through the interactions of the people that were there.
The vastness of our planet and the grandiosity of nature are overwhelming to the human race. It reminds us that our place on earth is insignificant and temporary. And that may be why we try so hard to attach ourselves to places, because it gives them meaning. Being unattached to a singular place can therefore be a vulnerable and unsteady position. In reality, it actually allows you the freedom to explore boundlessly. Lately I've had this sensation of being adrift. But maybe that just means I have whole oceans open to me.