Nadia Ingrid Hooton is an Indonesian Australian woman, raised in Riyadh, Nairobi, Suva, Apia and Canberra. She now lives and works in Sydney, Australia, freelancing in illustration and design. Through her personal art practice, Nadia utilises drawing, animation, ceramics and textiles to explore themes around identity, memory and folk tales.
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I wouldn’t say I’m well-known for my ability to clearly recount happenings from the weekend, or an interesting piece of information that I heard on that podcast I listen to weekly – or to even describe what I did last night. My thoughts are often intangible and my sentences lazily cobbled together, my mouth reluctantly making shapes as my mind becomes distracted by feelings, surroundings and faces. I’m given daily reminders – when I’m asked to speak of something that I didn’t think of bringing up myself – that the autopilot in charge of connecting words to my mouth is almost always off duty.
But ask me about something I’m somehow always switched on to. Ask me how my mum and dad met, and I will spin tales that span generations. These stories are not always linear, but I’ll invite you into a well-rehearsed piecing-together of the disconnected tales that make up my understanding of my family history. This tale will hardly ever start in Dar Es Salaam, where my parents met. I’ll probably travel back further, to Tanjung Pinang where my mum has recounted moments that form a chapter of her childhood – a time full of both joy and deep sadness. In order to try and understand the individual characters in these stories, then – their motivations and their actions – I might also pop out a few sentences set in a kingdom in Java decades before.
To this day, these stories have been essential in the development of my own narrative. I hold them with me, as disconnected, fragmented and ungrounded as they may be. In the past few years, I’ve come not only to notice their constant presence in my life, but also to question their weight – in what way do I hold them? And in what ways do they hold me?
I don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia and I haven’t met the majority of my extended family, yet there is a depth and connection to my cultural heritage that I can’t explain. Growing up in so many different schools in different countries, surrounded by people with very strong frameworks and structures that seem to form their understanding of self and place and belonging, I’ve often felt like I’m floating in a space in-between, where I’m all too often asked – and at times demanded – to explain where I’m from. Why do I look the way I do?
I have a checklist (one of many). This includes:
- become fluent in Bahasa;
- understand more about Indonesia’s political history and geography; and
- unpack and expand these stories that I’ve collected.
This illustration is a fragment of that process. My mum received a printed A4 document last year, dedicated to the life of one of my great uncles – a prominent political figure in Indonesia’s history. This is a man to whom another family member has happened to turn their attention, and the document is all in Bahasa. I decided one night that I would try and read it (ie, Google Translate every word – my self-taught evening language lessons haven’t been going quite to plan). I gave up about five minutes into this ineffective and pretty ridiculous process, and instead started to aimlessly sketch the face of the woman on the front cover. A great great… great (?) aunt, I believe.
I examined the black and white, cheaply printed, high contrast and washed out lines of her face, and by the end of my sketching session, I had made something a little more tangible. It was a step. In what direction, I’m not sure. But a step.
© Nadia Ingrid Hooton, 2018