What is Aussie?: An Interview with Peter Drew

In the age of globalisation, national identities are not fixed or given, but instead depend critically on the claims which people make in different contexts and times. Today, a national identity is selected and adopted. Peter Drew’s latest project explores this notion of national identity.

The Adelaide-based artist’s campaign simply opens the doors of assessment by posing this question – “What is Aussie?”

My project is all about collective identity, especially national identity. It asks people to question the assumptions behind it – Who are the people we include? Who do we exclude?

Drew is currently on a journey to visit all the major cities of Australia to put up one thousand of his posters of Monga Khan. It is as though the cold and concrete walls of the cities of Australia have become living canvases – demanding our attention to be heard, as though they have come alive with every smoothing of a poster.

Small+AUSSIE+poster+Peter+Drew+2Image Source: Peter Drew’s Website

Monga Khan was an Indian hawker, who came to Australia in 1895, and according to Drew, applied for an exemption from the White Australia policy around 100 years ago.

The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, better known as the White Australia Policy, was a racially-motivated approach to immigration that sought to exclude non-white Europeans from 1901 until 1958, but it was fully dismantled only until the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.

While visiting the Ghan last year, Drew learnt of the crucial role played by immigrants from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in Australian history. Drew realised that bringing light to this fact was crucial. This inspired him to find an image of Monga Khan in the National Archives of Australia, transform it into posters and “make him famous”. However, it is important to note that it was under the British Raj that Indians, Pakistanis and Afghanistanis moved to Australia to aid the development of the Australian outback, due to the fact that their environments mimicked that of the outback.

Today, people move to Australia willingly to adopt this land as their home. Drew states that his posters can act as a “linking piece for people who consider themselves Aussie and people who have recently arrived here”.

Perth+Aussie+PostersImage Source: Peter Drew’s Instagram

Drew recognises that there is a lot of global tension regarding race, religion and ethnicity. However, he states that projects like his “dispel fear and tension”. Further, Drew believes that by placing posters in public spaces, he is encouraging discussion on a crucial topic.

Public space is a forum for discussion, it is an ancient aspect of democracy

Drew is also commissioning a book about Monga Khan reimagined as an Aussie folk hero. He states that this is a lot bigger task than “just putting up a 1000 posters” and that it takes a “longer time and more creativity”. Drew is also encouraging submissions from young writers, poets and artists.

Australian folk heroes [such as] Ned Kelly and Waltzing Matilda, traditionally had contempt of authority. Wouldn’t it be great if we had an Aussie folk hero who directed that contempt of authority towards the White Australia Policy?

Thank you Peter Drew, for shining a light on a multicultural Australia.

Keep up with Drew’s adventures via his Instagram and Facebook.