The threads
we hold

Nikki Lam &
Phuong Ngo


The threads we hold together

At the beginning of 2019, in that Old World where the cracks were not deep enough for the majority of us to notice, a joke between friends planted the seed for this project: ‘Why not a biennale 😂 ?’ Three months later, we found ourselves meeting with friends and supporters who were intrigued by our fluidity and our desire to connect First Nations and Asian communities and those in Melbourne’s west. 
Fast forward to 2020. In a year of extreme political, economic, social and environmental instabilities, our intentions are as potent as our exhaustions. 2020 – over the course of the year, these 4 digits have become a verb, an adjective, an analogy, a proverb, a metaphor and a political statement. But 2020 is not an anomaly. It has been in the works for generations. Amongst a global pandemic, climate disaster and political upheaval, in this collective nightmare we also seemed to have found the courage to wake up. To face our fears and insecurities, to persist despite the growing doubt, to keep going.
A family of artists, arts workers and friends, Hyphenated Projects hinges on the need for connections and solidarity. The arts industry prides itself on being progressive but the sector is more often than not guided by neoliberal systems that are transactional and individualistic. Artists – particularly those who are non-white, gender diverse, disabled, migrant or marginalised – are often siloed into pockets of the art world where opportunities are scarce. Isolation or a lack of support became commonplace if you are an artist without institutional connections. We saw a gap that needed filling and with a lot of luck, we managed to slowly become the conduit. Building meaningful connections and supporting artists became our biggest drive. There are plenty of problems in the art world, but we hope in our humble offering that by building genuine relationships we can support each other in this collective (un)learning.
Our (un)learning is guided by our awareness of ongoing colonialism and our roles within it. As we navigate these conversations as settler-migrants, we acknowledge that we are complicit in the system of colonialism and colonial structures within the art world. We want to know if we ourselves are capable of change, and subsequently to make change. We want to challenge what institutional success could be and how it can be achieved differently. The seed of this project came from an existential and ethical questioning of our own independent practices. Instead of focusing on visibility and outcomes, we wanted to focus on the personal enquiries that artists and communities may have in their own lives, bodies and practices. The art world often champions ‘bravery’, ‘ambitions’, and ‘risk’, but we are more interested in values that are intrinsic to our beings, not just our artistic brands. We want to replace scale with process, language with intention, aesthetics with ethics. We are not here for clout. We are, simply, here
And so, at the end of 2020, we embark on a collective journey for a year-long exploration between First Nations artists and artists with Asian and Pacific heritage and their communities. The digital program offers a glimpse of the conversations we’re having as a group, the questions we have for ourselves and each other, and also forms a public moment to mark the end of a turbulent year. And soon, we will be the hyphens between an incredible cohort of artists including Beth Thornber, Jacob Boehme with Nithya Nagarajan and Kalanjay Dhir, Jenna Lee, Moorina Bonini, Ashley Perry with Siying Zhou, Ellen Yeong Gyeong Son with Jacinta Keefe, Elyas Alavi, Sab D’Souza, Jazz Money and Talia Smith.

Led by the desire for a collectivised vision, we intend to build solidarity and connections well beyond the project. Together with our differences and similarities, we are hopeful that the exploration will inspire dreams that are yet to be. We would also like to extend our warmest invitation to you, our communities. We need you to imagine with us but also to hold us accountable. We will certainly make mistakes, many of them, or find ourselves unable to shake old habits and past desires, but we will try our absolute best-est to grow in chaotic and generative ways. In a world that continues to divide us, let this year-long journey be our offering to you, to dream of the power of collectivism and change.

It’s only the beginning.

— Nikki Lam & Phuong Ngo,

Hyphenated Projects


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