This is part of a series of ekphrastic poems presented alongside ‘Hyphenated’ at The Substation. ‘A Letter to My Mother from Her Suitcase at the Start of Her Last Journey’ responds to Tammy Wong Hulbert’s ‘Transient Home City’.
A Letter to My Mother from Her Suitcase at the Start of Her Last Journey
I’m so sorry. After all we’ve shared, it has come to this: a short ride in the back of a long car to nowhere in particular, to the repetitious lawn lozenges of finality, eternity. Even as this was our always destination — everything else being detour/non sequitur/aside — I know we deserved better.
Remember that first trip? The airplane lifting us up and away from the Pasig, you watching the water lillies receding on the swill-heavy water, your face arrayed so joyously on the tarmac, waving, anticipating what was to come. I don’t know why you cried as soon as we touched down. You could not have known it would be nothing like America. Who could have anticipated the dry stale air, the empty streets, the flat rows of Monier-tile houses with no one to talk to, the night free from street vendor’s call, “balut, balut”, nothing to pray to but the overhead fan in the night? We only knew it was sooner than Canada. Maybe we should have waited.
Let’s be grateful together instead for visiting your sister (twice), the rich one, as resplendent as a golden salamander, basking in her radiated heat; the strange ferry journey to that dark, stunted island with its tacky antique stores and terrible coffee, with the man who paid for some things and not others; the electrical storm that came in as we went to the stacked, twinkling boxes of Hong Kong, in the knowledge we would not spend our Sundays in Little Manila, we would Imelda-cruise the shopping malls with our gluttonous credit card and superiority. I know you loved me as a watchmaker loves time, with reverence, holiness. I’m sorry we never saw Disneyland, that America was so disappointing: brown people and black people and yellow people all poor, willing to work for food, just like back home. Surprise.
I’m sorry we lay so dormant for so long, waiting for our Golden Ticket, our lucky ride, that next deal, our big break, the chasm that never came. In the long rain of our lives, we all wish for the clouds to part in glorious sunburst. Surely we were happy enough with the brief respite of light showers? Life has been much better than it could have been, even as it has still been disappointing. I did not mind. Did you?
I’m going to your daughter’s, the child who hasn’t yet forgotten you, despite her very best efforts. She says you linger like perfume. It’s fine there, for now, I wish she wouldn’t refer to me as baggage.
About the Artwork
Transient Home City
Mixed media installation
“To be away from home and to feel oneself everywhere at home” (Baudelaire, 1863)
Transient Home City reimagines the city as a state of flux in relation to a migratory society. The concept for this project originated from an earlier socially engaged collaborative project with the Vicseg Asylum Seekers Social Health Group called Belonging and the Transient Home (2016) where collaboratively we investigated ideas of home, belonging and identity to build a project we presented to the broader community. By investigating these ideas through the project, we aimed to empower and take ownership of the groups new migrant status.
As the group was in the process of resettling, we decided to explore how we related to Australian society as migrants. The project was designed to unpack and express themes relating to the experiences of migrants and to counter the negative perceptions that are commonly expressed in mainstream media and society. Home in this project was expressed as transient, transformed suitcases becoming a metaphoric object representing home as mobile and thus relating the experiences of the group to the contemporary empowered experience of globalising cities.
For this exhibition, I wanted to expand on ideas relating to the urban flâneur, as expressed with the birth of the urban era by the poet Baudelaire. In the twenty-first century, our globalising cities are populated with communities of urban wanderers; our relationship to place is no longer fixed. Expanding on these transient homes, I wanted viewers to reconsider cities as sites of migratory cultural flux rather than fixed permanence and how we may belong in an urban social space of such diverse cultural characteristics. As a culturally diverse society, most of our urban populations regularly experience navigating through multiple cultural spaces.
About the Artist
Dr Tammy Wong Hulbert (b. 1976) is an artist, curator and academic based in Melbourne, Australia. Born in Sydney to Cantonese Chinese parents, her art practice has a particular interest in the complicated, multi-layered and often fragmented space between cultures and is influenced by her families’ intergenerational migratory connection to Australia since 1900. Her recent works have often involved a socially engaged practice working with various urban communities, in particular addressing issues of migration, belonging and the role art in encouraging an inclusive city. As a curator she has worked with a wide range of Australian and Chinese contemporary artists in Sydney, Melbourne, Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou, China. In her curatorial projects she is interested in bridging the gap between Australia and the Asian region through the creation of public dialogue between these cultural spaces. In 2008-11 she completed her PhD at RMIT University, researching The City as a Curated Space, which offered an alternative, yet parallel model of exhibition practices suitable for the globalising urban age. She has taught art history and arts management in Melbourne and Hong Kong and is currently Lecturer of Curating Contemporary Art in the Masters of (Arts) Arts Management, School of Art at RMIT University, Melbourne.