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Diversity spells love in Brighton community garden

Co-founder of Resilient Aspiring Women (RAW) and book author Mariam Issa is seeking artists for a collaborative art project in her Brighton community garden that focuses on social cohesion, international diversity and love.

The project will involve painting four eight-foot-tall wooden letters that spell the word ‘love’ by artists from four different cultural backgrounds in an effort to promote cultural acceptance and community collaboration.

Mariam’s community RAW garden is located at her Brighton family home and has appeared on ABC program Gardening Australia. The space is open to the public for cooking and gardening workshops, talks, and collaborative projects.

RAW, Mariam’s non-for-profit organisation, works to create safe spaces for women of diverse global origin by holding events like storytelling circles, gardening workshops, cooking classes and support groups.

Mariam described the acquisition of the letters as a “crazy coincidence”. One morning, a mother, who had come to the garden after a stressful morning of forgotten lunchboxes and surprise errands, was speaking with her about negative media and a lack of love and understanding in conversations surrounding diversity.

As they were talking, a man walked into the garden offering the huge letters.

“He had recognised me from Gardening Australia,” said Mariam. “He said, ‘I’m letting go of my wedding entertaining business, but I have this thing that I want to gift this garden; the moment I saw it I knew it was a garden of love.’

“It was the universe saying ‘so you want to seed love in your communities? Well here you go!’”

The RAW garden already features several collaborative art installations including a large, colourful mosaic of the world map. On it, each of the countries are made up of a colour chosen by people who identify as members of that culture.

Diversity spells love in Brighton community garden

Mariam’s garden features a mosaic coloured by people from all over the globe. Photo James Noonan.

The first contributor commissioned for the Love project is South American-Australian artist Fabiola Campbell. Born in Australia and moving to Venezuela with her family at age two after her father completed his studies, Fabiola returned to Melbourne at age 27.

Coming from a crafty family and practicing acrylic paint pouring for less than a year, Fabiola had her art exhibited in a Melbourne gallery earlier this year.

“It’s something that is really very out of your control,” said Fabiola of her artistic method. “You control the colours and materials, maybe the techniques you might use, but the final result is always unpredictable.

“I’m really looking forward to all the letters being done in different styles, all combined with one theme of love.”

Fabiola met Mariam at last year’s annual Local Government Professionals (LGPro) conference, where Mariam spoke on an all-female panel about RAW, her garden, and the events she holds there.

Upon returning to Australia from Venezuela, Fabiola was blindsided by how little she felt she belonged Australian culture, despite being a citizen born on its soil.

“It was a challenge,” she said. “In my head I felt as Australian as it gets, but I didn’t speak English well, spoke with an accent and knew very little of Australian popular culture. I realised I was a migrant.

“I think about coming together as a community for the project and welcoming people, those of different backgrounds and celebrating together. I can’t wait.”

Another artist of Indigenous background is currently in negotiation to commit their work to a letter, with the other two awaiting contributors.

“It’s a love project; we don’t know how it’s going to unfold,” said Mariam. “We’ll never plan it specifically or anything like that, we just put it out there. Things come to the RAW garden; it finds its own way.”

Mariam has thought about opening the letter L to a community workshop centred around the importance of “listening deeply”, the first part of her signature LOVE acronym.

As well as publishing a book entitled ‘A Resilient Life in 2017, Mariam sat on the board for the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, serves as an ambassador for the Refugee Council of Australia, and is often asked to speak on the airwaves and at conferences.

The Love project is expected to be underway by the end of the year.


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