For many of us, Nkechi Anele is best known for her work as the dynamic frontwoman of Melbourne band Saskwatch. Recently, she’s been entering new territory with her friend Lucie Cutting in establishing The Pin – a new website and discussion platform addressing issues of cultural identity and race in Australia. The Pin explores stories and experiences as told by biracial and bicultural Australians with the aim of not only starting wider conversations about what it means to be a biracial Australian, how stereotypes are still delivered within our media framework and different creative works, but also to encourage a community of sharing and collaboration too.
Nkechi tells us some more about The Pin, its origins and how what exciting projects still lay ahead.
Tell us a bit about your project, The Pin. It’s a platform unlike many others currently existing in our media landscape – how did it first come together?
The Pin is a website addressing the issues of race, culture and identity in Australia by looking at the real life experiences of individual biracial and bicultural Australians. Through thought pieces in THINK, interviews in MEET and creative works in EXPRESS, The Pin is a discussion platform for all Australians around what makes us tick and who we are as people.
The Pin evolved from a conversation that Lucie and myself have had throughout our friendship. We have been friends for almost five years now and race, culture and identity are themes that thread through our everyday conversations. I think the conversation really took a turn around the time I read a book by Claudine O’Hearn called Half and Half. The book looked at biracial and biculturalism from a holistic standpoint, which was something that I had never experienced before.
Lucie, on the other hand, had also moved to Hobart that year and had been confronted by multiple experiences of ignorance and weird assumptions that people had made about her, based on how she looked. Via Skype, our conversations became more serious as we wondered what other people felt about race and the Australian culture, especially in the context of identity. We also talked about the role that media plays in stereotyping people and the effect that also has on identity and society as a whole. One night when we were Skyping, Lucie said we should make something ourselves instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
The main idea of The Pin was to have a platform where people could see and connect with people that looked like them or hear stories that resonated with their experience of growing up in Australia. We wanted to look at race, culture and identity holistically like I had read in Half and Half. Especially because Lucie and I are biracial, we wondered what the experience was like for our mothers and fathers who were different races and nationalities, how they were affected by a collision of cultures, respectively.
We also wanted this to be a platform for people in the wider Australian community to understand what it was like to be labelled or have assumptions made about you based on you race/physical appearance, from the people who had experienced this first hand.
Can you tell us a bit about your own cultural background?
I was born and have grown up in Melbourne my whole life. Culturally, I was brought up like most Australians in metropolitan areas. My father was the first son of 13 children to my grandparents born in Owerri, a village near Lagos in Nigeria. Through education he found himself in Australia in the mid-80’s and met my mother at a house party in Fitzroy. My mother, grew up in the pretty Irish-Australian middle class suburb of Essendon; her father was a cop and she was the third child of four kids. I grew up with an awareness of both cultures but not actually feeling a part of either.
Being a writer and musician as well, had your cultural background influenced your musical upbringing any?
I guess one thing that links Irish-Australian and Nigerian culture together for me is music and art. My father would take my brother and I to a lot of festivals and African events and would listen and sing to a lot of African music around the house. My mother would take us to a lot of plays, musicals and galleries and supported my brother and I in respective choices to follow music academically also.
Both my parents love music but, it was from my mother mostly that I really fell in love with soul music. I think it was mostly because I looked like the people who sung soul music and that was really appealing to me. Apart from Faustina Agolley, Marcia Hines and Dorinda Hafner (on Good Morning Australia) I didn’t really see any Australian women of colour in the media.
There’s an aim to break down issues regarding race and culture that I believe is an incredibly pertinent and important one – how do you see acceptance toward ‘the different’ to have changed in our Australian communities today, compared to say, when we were growing up?
I think the kids who felt unrepresented growing up in Australia are developing and growing new platforms and awareness for the generations to come. I think Australia is a very multicultural society and exposure to that makes it normal to be different, it makes the concept of different less alien. I still think that Australia has an identity issue that we are yet to address properly or overcome in the near future, which is sad.
Has there been a particular favourite interview/piece of content The Pin has published so far for you?
There have been many. From talking to Uncle Jack Charles about his Indigenousness to figuring out role models in the African community with Yassmin Abdel-Magied, from Nadiah Brikiah rebelling against family and tradition in 1960s Lebanon to Omar bin Musa’s embracing his Muslim identity in modern day Australia. What I have found is that all stories we have come across have got a spark of inspiration and they celebrate a collection of points of view that are connected by the human emotion felt by all.
What has being with The Pin taught you about any type of enthusiasm or eagerness people have now to share their stories not simply just to share them but also as a way to educate?
The Pin has taught me that stories have great power. Stories affect the people listening to them and the people telling them. They can be a big weight off your chest as much as they can be an educational experience. Lucie and I have had conversations with people that have not been able to have these conversations with anybody else. We’ve learnt new ways to look at things and we’ve found more questions to ponder over.
One of the big things we’ve taken from creating The Pin is that we are definitely not the only people who want to talk race and identity in Australian culture. What we’re doing is continuing a very human tradition of dispersing knowledge through told experience which a lot of people identity with.
What’s been the hardest part about establishing a platform such as this and how have you overcome it?
Finding the right name for the site was definitely a learning curve. The Pin wasn’t the original name that we came up with. We had a name that we thought really covered everything that we wanted to represent, we were set on it. The original name was Mixed Like Us because at the time, our main focus was on biracial Australians specifically.
After talking to a friend who works with Indigenous Australians, we realised that a term that one cultural group or individual found endearing may have had a negative history to another group or individual. It took us a few more days and a thousand more attempts to find a name that we wanted. So evolving on from our initial theme The Pin, pinpoints the individual within the wider society as you get to MEET individual, read opinions and thought pieces in THINK and feel individuals’ EXPRESSions through the site.
It can also be hard to disarm people to talk freely knowing that their words are going to appear on an online site. We’ve found making the first connection with people really important and sometimes it can take us days and weeks to work out what the best way is to approach someone, so that they know that they’re in a safe place with us.
What have you enjoyed most about your work for The Pin and what can you tell us about the future of the site?
I have really enjoyed developing this site with my friend Lucie and seeing ourselves grow along with it too. I think what I have also really enjoyed, as I have gotten to know each person we interview, is that I am getting more and more comfortable with being me in own skin. I am really excited for next year and discovering where we go from here. I am also excited for November which is our music month – we’re hoping to fill the whole month with incredible interviews each day.
We’re constantly on the lookout for people and would love anyone who was willing to share their story to get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org!
For more information about the work Nkechi and Lucie are doing with The Pin, visit their website HERE!
Header Image: Kristoffer Paulson.