A Third Culture Kid's Experience

A Third Culture Kid’s Experience: The Art Upon Gallery Walls

24 November 2020

The art upon gallery walls speak of deep histories, people immortalised in paint, lingering in their own mythologies. My feet always take me to the eighteenth-century European section, desiring to stand before illustrious portraiture of affluent women in creamy gowns, or poised families before pastoral landscapes, their homestead grandiose in the distance—beautiful, amorous, unified. Within my education, it’s intrinsic to study this body of work, to ponder over ancient and classical pieces that have somehow met me in time. To discover their origins, creators, subjects, to think it belonged to someone was made to be hung over their fireplace. The art upon gallery walls captures someone’s present to be viewed by their children, grandchildren, and now me.

It captures legacy and lineage, something I cannot fathom. Partly for its outdated, elitist conception, but also through my own emancipation from familial connection. Would I ever have the opportunity to have such relationships with my relatives, take a photo with them, let alone have us posed together and captured in painting?

My Indonesian side of the family knows of me, but not the real me. My mother’s immediate family migrated to Australia when she was young, her first language now fragmentary. She never taught me what she knew while she knew it—something I do not blame her for; she was navigating a different country she had not grown up in, something I too would experience. But when her sister’s family visited after moving back to Jakarta, they called me orang bule, a “white foreigner”, unable to speak Bahasa, unable to be fully Indonesian. My father’s whiteness is a blight on my persona. I could have asked them to teach me, but I stayed silent with resentment. I did not wish to know the people that did not seek to equally understand my circumstances. There will be no photos, nor art upon gallery walls, capturing my Indonesian heritage.

My Australian side of the family knows me—somewhat. Ever since moving back here, I’ve had more opportunities to interact, drink wine with, talk to as if I’d known them forever. But living in Bangkok for a decade had caused separation from my birthplace I had not felt until we finally spent time together. They were Australians, had lived here since they were children—I could never understand such a belonging, a rootedness, stories and memories. The privilege of having loved ones entrenched within one encompassing place. They did want to know me, but they could never understand how belonging is not tied to the South Australian coast.

I managed to take a photograph with my Australian aunt and grandmother a year ago. Three generations!, my aunt exclaimed, boisterous from our reunion. To view the image was a crack in the dark room of my identity, though it was not happiness that trickled through. All I saw in the photo was the darkness of my skin compared to theirs, their blue eyes next to my brown, me on the far-end as an outlying figure in a circle I had only become familiar with. But it was not sadness that emerged, either. I’d finally received the tangibility of family—and it was bittersweet. There is a photo, at least, capturing my Australian connection.

Still, there is a cavity in my life where this lack of familial art remains. Gallery walls need more than semi-blurry images captured by my uncle’s tipsy hands. The simplest way to express my dual-heritage would be to have my parents posed with me, one half belonging to my strongest Indonesian kin, the other who would tell me stories of growing up in Adelaide when my life revolved around Thailand. Yet to imagine even having my parents together in the same room, now both living in different countries and separated by clashing opinions, would be the greatest feat to accomplish.

There will be litte photos, and no art upon gallery walls, capturing my dual-heritage. What would one portray if I commissioned a painter to immortalise my lineage? There is no family home to stand before as my parents and I have lived in dozens. There are no creamy dresses—they would be too bulky to move across oceans. Where would I hang it? I could not carry it across the globe to display it next to the windows framing every new cityscape. Such a thought made me realise how saturated my identity is with discontent.

But perhaps it is my own image of family that has caused this, distorted by these galleries of forged identity. Perhaps painting and having portraiture is a bygone ritual. I often overlook what the fleeting urgency of digital photography has captured in my other relationships – ones not defined by blood, my found friendships: drunken nights superimposed by light flares from club beams, harsh midday tones reflecting against the crockery of shared meals, warm sunsets and golden glows from beach swims. Perhaps the term ‘family’ has become dictatorial in my mind as something defined by blood, the concept of lineage comforting some part of myself itching to belong.

Then I think of the friends who have held my crying body in their laps. I think of my father who walked me to school every day until I was eighteen. My mother who worked to the bone to provide. The lovers who eased the tumultuous thunderstorms of my heart. These moments are not grand, illustrious, or beautiful—they would not make good photographs, nor good paintings. They would be messy, harsh in colour, not smoothed and unblemished—and they would be real. Such a realisation made me question: how much do I truly need a physical gallery or tangible items to represent my family?

The four walls I crave to display my past exist within my memory, they exist in the pockets of the world where I have walked and dreamed. My dual heritage exists within the fabric of my skin and the shape of my face, and it exists in my terrible Asian-fusion cooking. But it is most poignant, this art, in the embraces of people I love and who love me.

It is true that art galleries sing of family. But it is the blending, merging, fusing of paint that whispers of mine.

The art upon gallery walls speak of deep histories, people immortalised in paint, lingering in their own mythologies. My feet always take me to the eighteenth-century European section, desiring to stand before illustrious portraiture of affluent women in creamy gowns, or poised families before pastoral landscapes, their homestead grandiose in the distance—beautiful, amorous, unified. Within my education it’s intrinsic to study this body of work, to ponder over ancient and classical pieces that have somehow met me in time. To discover their origins, creators, subjects, to think it belonged to someone, was made to be hung over their fireplace. The art upon gallery walls capture someone’s present to be viewed by their children, grandchildren, and now me.

It captures legacy and lineage, something I cannot fathom. Partly for its outdated, elitist conception, but also through my own emancipation from familial connection. Would I ever have the opportunity to have a relationship with my relatives, take a photo with them, let alone have us posed together and captured in painting?

My Indonesian side of the family knows of me, but not the real me. My mother’s immediate family migrated to Australia when she was young, her first language now fragmentary. She never taught me what she knew while she knew it—something I do not blame her for; she was navigating a different country she had not grown up in, something I too would experience. But when her sister’s family visited after moving back to Jakarta, they called me orang bule, a “white foreigner”, unable to speak Bahasa, unable to be fully Indonesian, my father’s whiteness a blight on my persona. I could have asked them to teach me, but I stayed silent with bitterness. I did not want to know people that did not seek to equally understand my circumstances. There will be no photos, nor art upon gallery walls, capturing my Indonesian heritage.

My Australian side of the family knows me—somewhat. Ever since moving back here, I’ve had more opportunities to interact, drink wine with, talk as if I’d known them forever. But living in Bangkok, overseas for a decade, had caused separation from my birthplace I had not felt until we finally spent time together. They were Australians, had lived here since they were children—I could never understand such a belonging, a rootedness, stories and memories and loved ones entrenched within one encompassing place. They did want to know me, but they could never understand how belonging is not tied to the South Australian coast.

There will be no photos, nor art upon gallery walls, capturing my dual-heritage. What would one portray? There is no family home to stand before, as my parents and I have lived in dozens. There are no creamy dresses—they would be too bulky to move across oceans. Where would I hang it? I could not carry it across the globe to hang it next to the windows framing every new cityscape.

Art galleries sing of heritage. The blending, merging, fusing of paint screams of mine.


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