Season Two – Torika Bolatagici

Image credit: Zan Wimberley, courtesy of NAVA

Torika Bolatagici

Season 2 – Episode 3


Instagram handle @torika_B
Instagram handle @communityreadingroom

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Nick Breedon 0:00
Hi, I’m Nick Breedon,

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:01
and I’m Kiera Brew Kurec

Nick Breedon 0:03
and you’re listening to Pro Prac

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:04
A podcast where we explore the professional practice of artists and hear their stories.

Nick Breedon 0:09
Hi, and thanks for listening to Pro Prac today. Today we have with us in the studio to Torika Bolatagici, Torika is a Fijian Australian Mother, Artist and Educator who produces multi disciplinary projects centering around the counter narrative of marginalized histories and knowledges is through curatorial collaboration, photography, video, installation and publication. She’s the recipient of numerous grants from the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and the National Association of Visual Arts and Her work has been exhibited in San Francisco, New York, Taiwan, Mexico City, Yogyakarta New Zealand and Australia. Torika is a lecturer in art and performance in the School of Communication and creative arts at Deakin University and has a PhD from the School of Art and Design University of New South Wales. She has published in peer reviewed journals and presented at local and international conferences on the representation of mixed race identity, Pacific Arts practice in Australia and Fiji and gender and militarism in the Pacific. In her role as symposium coordinator for the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival in 2013, and 2014, Torika curated multiple panels to extend the discourse around contemporary Pacific Arts practice in Australia, and invited speakers to reflect on themes such as art and activism, museums, collecting and curating cultural appropriation and contemporary practice. She also produced the symposium publication, Mana Motu. Torika also produces projects such as the Pacific Photo Book Project, and The Community Reading Room, which foster life affirming spaces for creative communities of color. Thanks for joining us today in the studio Torika.

Torika Bolatagici 1:47
Thank you for inviting me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:49
We are so happy to have you here.

Nick Breedon 1:51
All right, so why don’t we kick off with telling us the story of how you became an artist.

Torika Bolatagici 1:58
So I was born in Hobart, in Tassie. In the mid 70s. My Mum was from northwest coast of Tasmania. And my Dad was from a village called Suvavou in Fiji. (……) And Yeah, so I was born in Tassie grew up there. Sort of between Hobart Mum moved around a lot. So she we moved back to live in my Dad’s village in Suvavou over the first few years of my life. And then she worked in children’s homes in Sydney. So we kind of did this triangulation between Tassie and Fiji and Sydney. We lived in a lot of places. I think by the time I was 10. We’d lived in over 10 places. It was very kind of I wouldn’t say it was a very stable kind of first few years, there was some bouts of homelessness and women’s shelters. And it was all a bit you know, there was lots of crazy stuff happening. But I think the longest we ever sort of we was sort of situated was probably halfway through primary school. And we got a Housing Commission place in Sandy Bay, which was walking distance because I just grew up with Mum, pretty much they, Mum and Dad, separated when I was in primary school. About grade three, I think.

Kiera Brew Kurec 3:25
Did you have any siblings?

Torika Bolatagici 3:26
I didn’t meet them until much much later. Yeah, so I actually have heaps. So Dad remarried. And so I met them all we’re at actually at his funeral and have met other siblings subsequently much later. But yeah, I mean, he came in and out of our lives. For the first few years, he tried to move to Tassie but it was just it was too cold. I think even he stowed away at one point and got sent back to Fiji on an aeroplane and then got sent back. And then I remember he came to see one of my Auntie’s drama productions in the middle of like Launceston in winter. And he was just, this was his first experience of, you know, Australia, and it was just freezing and he’s trying to he’s just sleeping his beanie and yeah, it didn’t work. He got a job at the zinc works. Back down in Hobart, actually near MONA you know, go past it. And I remember having for years, it’s like little sample of zinc that he’d bought home. It was like a 50 cent piece. ridiculous. But um, yeah, so but that didn’t work out. He ended up moving to Sydney eventually and having another family there and I’m really close with those brothers and sisters now. But yeah, um, in terms of our Mom, like, there was a lot of instability in my early years, but that but actually art was kind of like the most stable thing so we didn’t have a lot of money but somehow Mum managed to take me to, like, we didn’t go on holidays a lot overseas, but she We’d like to take me on the boat to go to Melbourne to see the Picasso exhibition at the NGV or something or like, we, you know, we would always go to the Theatre Royal to see, like the Sydney dance company and Philippe Genty and Marcel Marceau perform. So there was, you know, that was not that was my normal, like, that was kind of, really, I guess, the stable thing in my life, and she was a bit of a hippie. So we went to a lot of, you know, folk music was her life. Yeah, always a lot of music and color. And, but neither of them went to, they finished didn’t finish high school, or they just finished high school, but no one sort of went on to any kind of tertiary education after that. So there was sort of No, I didn’t ever have a vision of doing that myself. There was no model for that. And my Dad’s side of the family on my Mum’s side of the family, so I sort of I had never thought that that would be something that I would do.

Nick Breedon 6:01
So was there like a point where you, you know, you were sort of like making things and like doing doing? Yeah, always and and then you sort of kind of started doing that more and more. And then, was there a point for you where you, you were like, Okay, well, maybe I’m gonna maybe try and pursue this a little bit, or?

Torika Bolatagici 6:18
I think, yeah, when I bought a camera, so probably high school, I mean, I’d always done, you know, artistic, creative things in my extracurricular stuff, like ceramics classes and, and things like that, through primary school. But I think in high school, we had a particularly great art teacher who, it was a Catholic school, Catholic High School called Mount Carmel. And because Mum used to work for one of the, the nunneries, that they were attached to the children’s homes, that was the same order of nuns. I was given kind of one of their, you know, charity spots. And so at that particular school, there was a couple of like convent sites that were unused. And so one of the art teachers, they turned it into a darkroom, just and when we were in about grade seven or eight, probably grade eight, which was really exciting. And she bought her own camera and and just taught people who are interested in in using it. And that was the first experience I had with, you know, proper SLR camera. And then Dad hadn’t been paying his What is it maintenance, child maintenance, and then one day, it just, he must have got a job when he was living in Sydney. And it just kind of arrived in, you know, like, $800 or something in my bank account. And so I bought with that money. First of all, Mum said, Don’t touch it, because it’s probably going it’s a mistake, you know, what is it (Laughter) just leave it there. And then she was like, okay, you can use it. So I bought, there was a little camera store, I think on Collins street somewhere and, and they had to deal where you could buy a camera and get an enlarger. So I purchased my first camera and enlarger when I was in about grade eight, or nine and then. So we had this tiny, tiny little two bedroom Housing Commission place. But Mum helped me buy some blackout curtain. And so we turned this little space that was probably just like, about one and a half meters long by a meter wide. And I just put all my enlarged stuff on top of the washing machine and the blackout curtain. And in the bath was the washing thing. And I just sort of picked up where my teacher at Mount Carmel had left off and just practiced my skills at home did my own toning and stuff at home, much to my Mum’s horror. But yeah, it was great. And then went on to continue doing a lot of photography and, and visual arts and painting through year 11 and 12. Had a great art teacher there called Wayne Brooks. I think he’s still there. And he ended up being also because I went on a bit of a tangent then at the end of like year 11 and 12 and started playing in bands. And so I was playing bass guitar for a number of bands through that period, and then so I didn’t think about going to university because we all moved over to Melbourne. Yeah, so I just kind of quit, I guess art and just not Yeah, joined a rock band.

Nick Breedon 9:44
Well its a bit hard to you know, take your enlarger with you when you’re on tour. (Laughter)

Torika Bolatagici 9:48
Yeah so I did that for a while and then moved back to Tassie when the band broke up or I left that particular band had multiple other bands after that and then thought about going to university in Hobart. So yeah, I enrolled at the art school there. It was, that was really hard actually getting my head around just the enrollment process because Mum had not been through that herself. So it was I think I remember her saying to me at one stage, if you can’t work out how to fill out the paperwork, you probably shouldn’t be there. And I was like, okay, but I got there. And I remember it was it was kind of messy the first couple years. I didn’t even know there was like a lab on campus where I could type my essays. So I was still handwriting stuff that was ridiculous. And I was sort of doing subjects half at the Art School, and then half over at the humanities campus. But the, because I’ve always wanted to kind of have both, both things going at the same time. So but UTAS weren’t very, at that time weren’t very good at supporting people who wanted to do kind of a mix like that. So I ended up looking around at other courses that were available, and found the one at Deakin, which was really clear about facilitating that kind of research and practice and, you know, combining all of that, so applied to come over and yeah, and moved over well moved back, I should say.

Nick Breedon 11:27
Yeah. And that’s sort of where you have been at Deakin since then or?

Torika Bolatagici 11:34
Yeah, so I did my undergraduate. So I ended up repeating a few things just because I wanted to get a sense of the different facilities like I probably didn’t need to, I could have got credit for a couple of things. I remember feeling really disappointed though, when I got to Deakin, because they had, it’s different now, but at the time, they didn’t have, you know, couldn’t do any tray enlargement, or anything. It was all just like this machine, we had to put your 8 x 10 in anything smaller would like jam the machine. So it was kind of really expensive, and, and I was living away from home. And so that was really annoying. So I actually had friends who had bigger houses that they, like other people had moved over from Hobart. And they had like a laundry. So I did actually have my enlarger sent over. And I’ll just print all my stuff off site because it was just too irritating to work within the constraints of what they had going on at the time.

Nick Breedon 12:27
Yeah, you must have been so experienced by that point, as well. Like having, you know, started, you know, doing your own printing from such an early age.

Torika Bolatagici 12:38
Yeah. Yeah, it allowed me more time to experiment, I think. And I was, I was, you know, a mature age student by the time I got to second year, like 21 or something. So I kind of didn’t really fit in with the rest of my peers anyway. Because, you know, they’d all kind of come through high school and stuff together.

Nick Breedon 13:05
And so you’re now teaching Deakin

Torika Bolatagici 13:08

Nick Breedon 13:09
You also teach a professional practice course there

Torika Bolatagici 13:12

Nick Breedon 13:14
So we were like, when I heard that you taught Pro Prac course there I immediately jumped on that. Because I find that super interesting. Obviously, that’s why we’re here doing the podcast, looking over your kind of course schedule that you have, it seems so different to, you know, like, Say what Kiera and I had at the Victorian College of the Arts so much more of a focus on like, self care that we saw on it. And yeah, it was a few other things.

Kiera Brew Kurec 13:43
Self care wasn’t really a thing to talk about then. And also, it was kind of joked about, like, one of our classes was actually called “How to keep your head out of an oven in 12 easy weeks”, which is like, actually horrific. And I think that that was like meant to be like Haha

Nick Breedon 14:07
I think we would call that triggering now.

Torika Bolatagici 14:09

Kiera Brew Kurec 14:10
I think it was then except no one, you know.

Torika Bolatagici 14:14
So we set the whole unit like a professional practice unit.

Kiera Brew Kurec 14:16
Yeah had a few that was actually not through the art school that was through, there was a thing called the Center for Ideas that existed for a while where it was kind of a whole school situation. I think that was in my third year. And it was for like dance and music and all the different schools combined. But that was Yeah, the title of the class and it was just like, why? If Yeah, why set your students up like that? Yeah. And another we did have a professional practice class as well. And I, I remember mental health being addressed. And it was kind of taken seriously but not in a way that was very approachable. And I do remember the teacher saying this thing of like, you’ll kind of find yourself at one point in your career crying on a floor like probably while you’re on residency somewhere overseas. And that’s definitely happened to me. But I don’t remember any of the resources.

Nick Breedon 15:15
Yeah you are gonna be drunk on the floor in Paris, you are going to wish you were at home, you’re going to have no way of talking to anyone.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:20
So you can that’s definitely happened in points, , you know, been lying there being like, what was I meant to do???

Torika Bolatagici 15:28
Thats right, that is how I preface like these this, like, this these classes is, I know, this is gonna seem really abstract to you now. So I don’t actually expect any of this to like to land right now. But just download the resources and keep them in a folder. So that they’re there in case you need it. Because it is really hard. They’re sort of at this point, they’re working on their final folio. And they’ve got, you know, multiple units that they’re doing this for.

Nick Breedon 15:52
and they’re super supported right now.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:54
yeah, when you don’t have a teacher, and you don’t have your cohort around you. And those, you know, networks dispersed a bit, it’s so hard. Not even just the mental health side, but like, how to write a grant and get someone to check over it and support you through that. Or I think one of there was a student in that year who had taken some time off and come back to it. And she said, this piece of advice that I think everyone should know, which was, if you have an exhibition coming up, do some food prep. And this wasn’t a thing that people talked about that the fact that it was food prep, but she was like, go to the grocery store, buy food, make some really nutritious soup, and put it in the freezer. So when you’re installing, you’re not like totally rundown and going and buying crap food and then making yourself more tired, because you’re eating crap food and like wasting your money, because it’s the middle of the night and you are still at the gallery, and most galleries will have a microwave and then you can like heat it up. And I was like, Oh, yeah, whatever. And then I definitely remember having a show where I was like, Oh my god, like living off lollies to sustain me and stuck in a gallery for like days on end installing and a friend came who had made lasagna packed with veggies and she was like, eat a meal (Laughter). But now, it is something that I employ of just like, Okay, I’ve got a busy period coming up, making sure that like, I’m prepared to do things like that, so that I actually have physical and mental energy to take on a task.

Nick Breedon 17:31
Yes, yeah. I mean, I feel like coping strategies that we learn when we’re at university were cigarettes and alcohol. And there wasn’t, there wasn’t really anyone demonstrating any other, you know, like, way of being or, you know, like, exercise wasn’t really a thing that was ever talked about. Not like, it wasn’t cool to go like running or do yoga, or, you know, like, there’s just no, there’s not the vocabulary to kind of discuss or talk about that stuff in that way. And I remember, like, I remember being like a closet runner, when I was in university, like I didn’t, I didn’t really tell anyone that I went jogging. And I feel like other people were the same, like people had their own, you know, fitness practices, or whatever that they were doing. But nobody was really talking about it, because it was really daggy Yeah, so it’s, it’s, it’s really interesting to see how, you know, kind of things have changed. You know, now that, that I think younger people now are a lot more switched on about that stuff. And it’s, it’s definitely we’ve got a language to talk kind of talk about it now.

Torika Bolatagici 18:36
and I find that when we, when we get to that part of the trimester, that they’re really able to kind of draw on the practices that they maintain. Yeah, Just whether just in relation to their study, yeah. Not necessarily a creative practice. But getting them to recognize that and kind of sustain that through whatever.

Nick Breedon 18:58
And will do, is there anything that you have kind of brought to that, like teaching that class that you kind of have sort of drawn from your own, I mean, probably a lot of it, but from your own experience, where you’ve been like, this is actually, you know, something that I’ve really found really helpful. And, I mean, we’ll talk about resources a bit later, but you know, that, that has influenced you in in really like wanting to drill down in that class.

Torika Bolatagici 19:23
yeah, it’s physical health and, and diet and like, making sure that you’re eating really nutritious food, and getting enough sleep, as well like making time because you’re just going to be far more productive and clear thinking and, you know, all that kind of stuff.

Nick Breedon 19:37
that’s stuff that I still forget and have to remind myself often that, you know, it’s like, oh, something’s not right in my life. And it’s like, Am I doing those four things? And then you’re like, Oh, no, I’m not. So fix that. And oh, it’s like magic.

Kiera Brew Kurec 19:52
like you were saying before, sometimes it does seem really abstract when you’re a student, that there’s going to be all of these things that I remember when I was in undergrad. Getting my ABN was that was the first step. But I, I wish that I had educated myself more around the financial side of the arts and how to navigate tax and those kinds of things earlier. So that when my practice, you do get a grant or when, how to manage that, how to manage a budget, and what that looks like, in terms of, you know, when you’re working a job, or if you’re on centerlink, and you get a grant, what happens then, like, that’s a really tricky thing to do anything be really scary, figuring out what you’re allowed to do with grant money and what you’re not allowed to do. So yeah, I think, when I was reading over that class schedule that you have, seeing those things being there is, it’s really great to know that students are getting these resources.

Torika Bolatagici 20:56
Yeah, and just be you know, like, we talked about, you know, if, if they’re, if they’re having to save a lot of receipts, you know, we we share ideas about different apps that people are using, you know, what do you do to PDF In, you know, receipts, all that stuff. Yeah. But it is still really abstract for them. For a lot of them, some of them are already, you know, running their own small sort of businesses in, you know, I’d say about a quarter of them.

Nick Breedon 21:24
Yeah, I guess, like, like, micro businesses is much more of a thing, you know, now, but just,

Torika Bolatagici 21:29
but just freelancing. Yeah, you know, and so they’re able to also share, which is really good, because it’s always very conversational. You know, and I think there’s something in there about, you know, setting up their websites, and how to do all their marketing, that sort of stuff. So a lot of them are using different platforms. So I can sort of share the pros and cons of each.

Kiera Brew Kurec 21:48
Yeah, that was definitely something that was left out of marketing, that was only just a word that I kind of came across in terms of my art practice, recently that you would need to, you know, I kind of guessed that I knew that you needed to market yourself, but never had thought of it in that way. And that, like, what is the role of social media and how you can employ that, that you can employ a marketing, like, if you’ve got a new project coming up, you can employ someone to do marketing for you. And that can be a really beneficial thing for your project. And, yeah, it’s, I think, you know, for a lot of people, that might sound really cringy because, you know, you’re turning your artwork into a business, but essentially, you kind of, if you want to communicate with people, that’s how you reach people.

Torika Bolatagici 22:39
Right its about reaching an audience.

Kiera Brew Kurec 22:42
Yeah. And so I think, yeah, coming through uni when we did, it was very, ohhh thats to cringy.

Nick Breedon 22:49
I think I missed I missed the whole, you know, point that being an artist is being a small business or running a small business, you know, and that’s the only way to really be successful. Sorry, I’m doing air quotes, successful artists is, you know, you have you have to set yourself up like a small business, but they didn’t actually give us any of the skills to do that, at that time. So it’s really, yeah, it’s really great to see that’s kind of being worked into kind of curriculum.

Kiera Brew Kurec 23:15
Yeah. And I think some institutions as well as starting to recognize that they have a responsibility for educating the artists that they show an artist run spaces providing those resources, which is good to see that there’s like a shift and that, yeah, those things are more available for people.

Torika Bolatagici 23:32
I think also, like the graduate survey that universities are always chasing their grads to do has also shown that students are you didn’t tell me how to do this, or, you know, we didn’t we didn’t cover this sort of stuff. And so I think people have to kind of include that. I mean, I personally think it should be offered for free after people graduate. And a summer school.

Kiera Brew Kurec 23:57

Torika Bolatagici 23:57
you know, kind of get all the other stuff out of the way. And then, you know,

Nick Breedon 24:01
art biz school.

Torika Bolatagici 24:02
Yeah, focus on the folio, and then come back for this.

Nick Breedon 24:06
I mean, it’s a lot to learn all at once.

Kiera Brew Kurec 24:07
Yeah, I would also like that, for art history (Laughing). I did not pay attention.

Nick Breedon 24:13
Oh yeah

Kiera Brew Kurec 24:14
I feel like what was taught at that time, as well, would be very different to what they’re teaching at the moment. I would love to, like crash some art history,

Nick Breedon 24:23
just to undergrad again.

Kiera Brew Kurec 24:26
And like have more time and energy and engagement because I think I was you know, you’re exhausted as well. There’s so much going on when you’re studying to take in everything.

Nick Breedon 24:35
Yes, and you are also just young. Yeah. And trying to you know, figure yourself out.

Kiera Brew Kurec 24:43
So, after your undergrad, he then went on to do your masters at Monash and then your PhD at UNSW. Were you teaching that whole time as well or has teaching been something that’s kind of come in and out a different points?

Torika Bolatagici 25:00
Yeah it sort of has. So I actually was teaching as a sessional when I was doing the Masters at Monash that was like a multimedia design course. And I was also working in a marketing department for the Student Association. So I was sort of doing three things at once. And then, in the middle of the Masters, I applied for the continuing position. So then I shifted full time into that, and finished the masters and then went into the grad cert of higher higher education, which I had to do for, for the lecturing job. And then the PhD started after that. So I was first year into or my second year into my continuing position when I started the PhD. And at that time, I also met my partner and fell pregnant, so then fell pregnant, that sounds weird doesnt it (Laughter). And so his job meant that we needed to move interstate. And so I sort of took maternity leave almost a year into the new job, and the PhD, and we moved to Far North Queensland. And so I took a year off basically from work, but continued to research and make work while we and have a baby. And then we moved back to Melbourne for a couple of years. Still did PhD. So the PhD took a really, really long time. And I had three children in the space, you know, from the beginning to the end. So when I was doing my final exhibition in Sydney, at the Kudos gallery, my I had a three week old baby. Yeah.

Nick Breedon 26:46

Torika Bolatagici 26:46
So she, yeah, so we did the big road trip to Sydney with all the kids. But yeah, so have moved around a lot while I was studying.

Kiera Brew Kurec 26:55
So how was working on the PhD and being were you living in Sydney at any time during that PhD?

Torika Bolatagici 27:04
No, unfortunately, not. It was always. So it was always going to be a distance arrangement. So yeah, I lived in Melbourne in the beginning, Townsville for one year back to Melbourne for two years, oh no one year and then Canberra for two years, and then back to Melbourne, and have been stationary here since. I mean, it’s all been a bit of a crazy ride and adventure. And I think actually my most productive time has been those periods of maternity leave. Yeah. So be really lucky to have great, I guess, great ABA that supports me being able to take that leave. But it just but I think also having children really kind of makes things really kind of clear. And like become really kind of focused when I’ve got all those different pressures on me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 28:02
Thank you for sharing that that is actually something that we’re speaking with a friend who is pregnant at the moment about who was kind of feeling a little bit like just hearing stories about how children take so much away from your time as an art practice. And I kind of put forward the idea that because I remember my Mum saying that, after having she had my brother while she was studying. And she was saying that she found her times of pregnancy and post birth really invigorating, creative. She was so fueled up

Torika Bolatagici 28:39

Kiera Brew Kurec 28:39
and yeah, and so creative and able to make work that she may have not been able to do at other times. And so I kind of proposed this narrative to our friend, and she was like, I need to seek out other women that have that experience, because it’s not a narrative that we get told often about what women’s experiences are having children and especially women in the arts where, you know, the conversation around Parenthood is, you know, already touchy enough. So it’s Yeah, thanks again for sharing that.

Torika Bolatagici 29:15
Yeah, Well, it’s it was just my experience. And there was a lot of like, really hard stuff being away from support networks and stuff. But yeah, I have to say that my most productive time has definitely been in those periods. And it is just not having to, you know, the nine to five of the the academic job is really intense. And I take them everywhere like that. I don’t, I don’t sort of I try and include them in everything. They’ve all learned gallery walk from really young age. It’s like this, with your hands crossed behind. But it’s hard finding residences and stuff where you can kind of You know faciltate. I’ve taken all five of us went to a residency in Barbados a couple of years ago. And that was just so lucky that the, the artspace, were just really, really welcoming and, you know, when I rocked up on the first day they had set up because Kamasi was I think she was she’s about five months old. And they’d set up on the because it was going into the reading room, that they have their library that they have set up at Fresh Milk, and they’d set up a fan and like a little bed for her on the table, because she wasn’t sitting up yet, just so she couldnt roll off. And it was just the sweetest thing. And you know, and these women were just like, whatever you need.

Nick Breedon 30:45
Yeah. It’s really, it’s really woeful, actually, that a lot of residences don’t allow your family, it’s like a lot of people don’t have the resources to just like, take off somewhere for, you know, a month or three months or something without their family. That’s just it’s, it’s really, yeah,

Kiera Brew Kurec 31:02
that also touches on something that I was speaking with Arie from Testing Grounds the other day about roles and things that art spaces can do to create spaces for people to feel less anxiety going into. And we spoke about putting out water, which is something that Testing Grounds does is having water available for people and caretaking in that role of just like providing small things that mean so much for people to be able to approach a space and access a space and I think yeah, spaces for parents to be able to access and people to be able to approach in different ways is you know, those small gestures, like you said, with a fan, can mean so much for people to be able to like, yeah, work in a space.

Torika Bolatagici 31:59
Yeah, totally.

Kiera Brew Kurec 32:00
So over the course of your practice, has there been any challenges that or things that you’ve needed to overcome to continue your practice?

Torika Bolatagici 32:12
I think apart from the stuff we’ve already talked about, around, you know, moving around, and you know, you know, sharing time between work and family and that kind of stuff, I think the thing that that occurs, to me is the kind of undergraduate education that I had that didn’t really speak to a lot of artists and practices or, yeah, that I that I was really interested in like it was a very Eurocentric curriculum. And I used to write that at the end of, you know, your, your unit feedback. And, I know they knew it was me (Laughter). Which was fine. But, you know, I always found myself having to write my own essay questions. And, you know, suggest people that I could do presentations on or, you know, just kind of find my own, which is, which is also great. I mean, that’s what you should be doing at university anyway. But there was just so many, I think, gaps in and blind spots in that particular kind of undergrad that I had, at that time. And I gotta say, you know, over the years, some of that hasn’t sort of changed as much my observations of things, you know, I’ve had colleagues who’ve said, We need more stuff by dead white males. You know, so yeah, that’s, that’s always been a challenge and finding kind of my, my, my people, I suppose, because, as I said, Before, I was sort of, I was a few years older than the rest of the cohort when I was coming through, but also just kind of finding other Pacifica artists, you know, where, you know, there was a sort of a, I guess, a common diasporic experience. And I think the first the first person I connected with was probably Salote Tawale, which was just doing this really kind of, I don’t know, random search for, you know, Fijian contemporary artists, just to see who else was out there on the internet. And that was probably about 10, over 10 years ago, and then finding that she was just here in Melbourne. So I think that’s actually how I found most the most significant people in my life actually is just contacting people randomly. Yeah, so Ema Tavola same search, but she was in Aotearoa at the time. And yeah, so that, that I think that’s probably been the main challenge is just sort of feeling a little bit ripped off, you know. So I started to kind of, I guess, when I did my honors, that was kind of like my first opportunity to kind of craft my own research project. But at the same time, I had a supervisor who as great as he was kind of just framed it as art therapy because I was looking at mixed race identity, you know. And he didn’t have any kind of context for that kind of work at all. And I think Jackie (Riva?) was, she wasn’t my supervisor, but she was, you know, far more important, I think, in a lot of my thinking at that time. It wasn’t until a lot later, sort of that, you know, through Salote and other artists sort of coming through a particular kind of generation that, you know, I was able to kind of form collectives, but also in terms of in the classroom, just not having a kind of a critical voice.

Nick Breedon 36:00
Yeah, totally.

Torika Bolatagici 36:01
And it just, you know, the stuff that you’re trying to communicate or express is just not understood. And so you kind of have these crit sessions where everyone’s just silent. Because Yeah,

Nick Breedon 36:15
yeah, yeah.

Torika Bolatagici 36:16
They just don’t have the language or the understanding of what you are talking about. One of the, I think one of the most sort of nourishing things I’ve experienced in terms of that kind of critique, was being invited to go to one of Kirsten Littles feedback sessions, when she was doing her master’s at RMIT. And so she had her supervisors there, but then she also invited a group of other Pacifica, creative artists to come so that her supervisors can understand the kind of conversations we were having with each other. And we were able to give her feedback, you know, with with more kind of knowledge about where she was coming from. Yeah. So that was really helpful to her. But also, I think her supervisors really benefited from seeing that different dynamic. As I was saying earlier, like, I, I always really needed to have my humanities studies. And I did, I think I ended up doing like a minor in women’s studies when Deakin used to offer that. And so that kind of that language of intersectionality was, I mean, I sought that out from the very beginning, when I, when I recognized that there were certain voices in the feminist literature that we were being given that just were absent, you know, and, you know, so finding Patricia Hill Collins, you know, feminist standpoint, theory was just, you know, that was, that was what I needed to, to make sense of everything. And that was where I could, I found that I was able to write and speak, and that’s where my writing completely changed. So, I am always really excited when I get students in the classroom who are doing psychology or philosophy, because they just bring so much to the conversation, and it just enriches their work in so many ways. About the kind of, you know, the, the cultural competency stuff for lectureres and academics is so important. And there’s stuff happening, but it’s, you know, quite often the people that need to be in the room, don’t do it, you know, like, it’s just one of those really difficult things. And I think I’m, you know, the end game for me is to have a much more diverse faculty, you know, it’s been, I’ve been lecturing where I am, for over 10 years now, and, you know, there’s so few people of color that have been through. But then, you know, you look at the curriculum, not just where I am, but that, you know, generally, and you look at the way, you know, classrooms and curriculum doesn’t isn’t, you know, validating for certain, you know, marginalized people. So it’s not surprising that people are falling through the cracks or not being seen not being heard. Their knowledge isn’t valued, you know, interactions that traumatic and toxic and yeah, I feel really strongly that that not enough is done to kind of acknowledge that kind of the systemic change that needs to happen so that people actually survive and get through and have the strength and the courage to kind of stick with it. And then, you know, I’m sick of hearing Well, we looked for an indigenous professor, but, you know, we just couldn’t find anyone qualified, you know, it’s bullshit.

Kiera Brew Kurec 39:41
Yeah. A situation happened recently where a arts organization was kind of made this comment about, it kind of reflects badly on us when, you know, we’ve included a diverse group of people, but then they have kind of ghosted on us at last minute it makes us look really bad like where not you know, including, like, a diverse range of people. And we’re like, Well, why are those people ghosting? That’s because they’re not supported? Why would anyone want to pull out of something, it’s because you know, they don’t have resources their to support them or make them feel comfortable.

Nick Breedon 40:18
And if you’re if you’re ending up with a whole bunch of stuff that’s like by, you know, Cis, white straight guys, then you you’ve obviously created a process, which really suits Cis white straight guys, and no one else. So you know, maybe look at why that is and change it. And talk to the people who are ghosting on you and say like, what could we have done to support you better? instead of like, berating them.

Torika Bolatagici 40:42
Yeah. What you just spoke about reminded me of a situation where I was trying infact it was when I had the littlest, no, the second child and I had a three year old and a newborn, and I had to make this writing article deadline. And the editor was, was in Auckland. And, and I remember saying, I’m sorry, I’m just gonna have to pull out, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I just, I’m not going to make the deadline. And there’s just too many changes to make. And she just said, It’s okay, we can do this. And she just, you know, she gave me time, she gave me support suggestions, and made me feel like it wasn’t the end of the world. So then I did get my shit together. And I did it. But it was just that kind of it was that was the voice of support that I needed at that time, when I would have just kind of run the other way.

Kiera Brew Kurec 41:32
Yeah. And people, you know, need to pull out for different reasons, at different times of their lives. But you know, who knows what’s going on for someone personally? And I think, yeah, often as artists we’re trying to, like, be really professional. And that humanity, especially between, like a gallery organization, and the artist is sometimes lost in like, a series of emails or very professional conversations, rather than like, reaching out being like, Hey, are you okay? Or like, Is there anything I can do? Or no problem, let’s include you next time when you’ve got some more time rather than

Nick Breedon 42:07
getting blacklisted You know,

Kiera Brew Kurec 42:08
Yeah, and that’s another really scary thing, I think, as well as not knowing when you can speak up, because you’re scared of like, yeah, being, you know, having a cross next to your name, like, they’re a flaky person, or like they didn’t, you know, do something in a certain, like way that he who knows what that organization wants, and what their version of a professional artist is. So it’s kind of it’s, yeah, it’s very murky on the end of the artist to know, and to see beyond what the front of that institution is like. Even if it is just a small like artist run space. As an artist, on the other end, you don’t know what that board looks like, who’s in the room looking at your proposal, who’s reading your grant. So dont know a little humanity would be like a little bit nice to just know that you’re a person operating in the world, just as that other person is.

Nick Breedon 43:05
So in light of your the kind of different parts of your practice, What does what does being a practicing artists mean to you?

Torika Bolatagici 43:16
I think having the freedom to explore ideas on my own terms, and support myself to do that. So I guess, having the confidence to kind of, to apply for funding to make that possible. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of peers over the years that rhyms (Laughter).

Nick Breedon 43:47
That’s beautiful.

Torika Bolatagici 43:49
You know, that, you know, that that’s kind of that really frightens them is, like stepping into that, that that kind of that world of I guess, asking for money to support your practice, whether it be a residency or an exhibition or, you know, some part of that. So I think, I think getting over that initial fear, and then kind of getting into you know, developing a voice and a confidence to kind of contextualize your work and, and communicate that to people who potentially know nothing about you or your practice, in a way that can Yeah, that, that makes sense.

Nick Breedon 44:47
Yeah, a little bit separate from that. But have you have you found you know, you talked before about how you know, that there was a sort of missing component when you studying of like people to sort of look up to and kind of see yourself in, do you find, you know, there was like a kind of a process of almost stepping into that role yourself where you’re kind of providing more of a, you know, like, as an educator or someone, you know that, you know, people who are younger, or people who are studying, obviously, because you’re a teacher, but outside of that, that, you know, you’re you’re kind of, you’re becoming that person that maybe you would have wanted to, you know, see yourself in when you were, you know, kind of maybe studying still.

Torika Bolatagici 45:33
Yeah, I mean, I didn’t actually ever think I’ll go into teaching that I kind of fell into this sessional stuff, but But certainly, I think it’s sustained me when I’ve had moments of wanting to walk away from the academic, like, the teaching side of things. It’s, yeah, I’ve kind of stayed at times, because I felt like maybe I do have something to offer, you know.

Kiera Brew Kurec 46:00
Also with the Community Reading Room, as well as creating a space for people to gather. To educate, to learn.

Nick Breedon 46:12
To access resources and be with community.

Torika Bolatagici 46:14
Yeah, I was thinking about that the other day, and, and how, how so much of the the collection, like a lot of those books, you know, are really, you know, accessible in, in libraries and art libraries and things. I guess it’s a very, like, it’s a curated collection, because it’s kind of the stuff that I’m interested in, but I think I was thinking about how it’s actually been a way to kind of acknowledge a lot of the acknowledge and center, a lot of Pacifica artists who’ve come before me, so, you know, collecting, you know, catalogs from people like Nicky Hastings-McFaul, and, and (…..) and, and all the exhibitions that Ema Tavola has put on in South Auckland, you know, because she used to send me stuff when she put on shows that, that’s probably the most important part of that. That particular project, to me is kind of, you know, having this collection of things that probably don’t sit, and we know, don’t sit in mainstream libraries. So that there has been this kind of resource for, for younger artists of color to kind of see the ephemera, you know, those kind of those smaller things, those those essays that those catalog essays and things that are probably not documented really widely, yeah, and stuff.

Kiera Brew Kurec 47:40
And you don’t know where to find them online, or, you know, like, to find a specific essay or something can often be quite hard, or you might not even know that it exists. So how would you know, to look for it?

Torika Bolatagici 47:53
Right Yeah.

Nick Breedon 47:54
Or they haven’t been archived, you know, in a way that’s very good. Or, you know, it’s very short term or, you know, yeah.

Torika Bolatagici 48:01
Yeah. And that’s so important, you know, for younger artists to be able to see, especially First Nations artists to be able to see the lineage of their practice, you know.

Kiera Brew Kurec 48:13
It’s an incredible resource that you’ve created.

Torika Bolatagici 48:17
Well, yeah, I mean, there are so many that exists around the place, it’s a pity that, you know, a larger institution doesn’t see the value of that kind of thing and start their own. That’s my hope. I mean, that the library at the Queensland Art Gallery is great in that respect, particularly for this region. But you know, it’s not, it’s not community based, sort of feel very accessible, like other institutional spaces often don’t.

Nick Breedon 48:37
Yeah, with that, that libraries actually come up before in other podcasts where it’s, they have a fantastic, yeah, just Queensland libraries in general have a really great,

Torika Bolatagici 48:45
Oh is that right?

Nick Breedon 48:52
Yeah. Yeah, quite often, I’ve, you know, looked up really like abstract things, and like, you know, Trove, or whatever. And like that the only place that will come up is like, you know, in Queensland and in some library in Queensland, so, yeah, that’s happened quite often. And it’s actually really frustrating because a little bit far.

Kiera Brew Kurec 49:20
So given that you have so many things that your practice encompasses, what does your practice look like? Can you give us a day or a week or a month in your life?

Torika Bolatagici 49:40
So there’s often a plan for for what the week should look like or the month sometimes the year but yeah, um, so a lot of is spent with the children. I you know, like managing and wrangling them things where a lot easier when they were little, because you could just, you know, pop them on your back or on your front and, and just go. But now they have their own lives that need supporting. You know, I spend less time on the road than I used to. And I didn’t even get my license till I was 30 I would just PT it everywhere my mom never drove, we just walked everywhere. So kind of making that transition was pretty full on for me. But um, so you know, a week. So I guess my husband and I have to kind of look at the diaries, like I usually have multiple calendars. So my online calendar on my phone, the one on the wall, and then one, that’s a book. So that’s really messy already. And I need to kind of get that sorted. But I guess I, you know, I’ll get up at like 5.30am. On a good day, winter’s hard, though, I’ve been really just really slipped this winter. But when it’s warmer, I get up at 5.30, I go to the gym, I’m home by seven, and the kids are usually still asleep. I’m still breastfeeding the three year old. So I usually feed her get the kids ready to school, drop them off, get to work, ansewer bunch of emails, if I you know, usually teaching one or two days a week. So my day usually, you know, consists of responding to student queries, marking, working on assessment updating cloud the site like online content, meetings with colleagues, sessional staff can be any number of those things, I’m not very good at like, keeping a full day clear research. So I kind of just try and squeeze it into gaps. One thing I found really useful actually, lately is, rather than sitting in my office, when I do have a bit of free time is actually going to the student library and finding a quiet space to work because it’s so tempting for students to just come and knock on the door when you’re accessible like my office is. And just, you know, setting that time aside, so I don’t have a studio. So I’ve had studios on and off over the years, but I just find that I can’t commit enough time. So I just kind of have to work where I can and when i when i can around everything else that’s going on. So usually if I have to do school pickup, then I kind of have to leave around about three o’clock. Get everyone home, or take them to basketball, dancing or whatever other kind of activities they’ve got on on a weekday, and then have like, reading time research time when they’ve gone to bed. If I can be bothered, I’m usually pretty exhausted. I find I’m more pretty, like productive on weekends or weekend evenings.

Nick Breedon 53:34
Do you sort of give yourself like a day? Like, do you try and give yourself off like a day off where you’re like, this is the weekend? Or do you kind of like you’re like, Oh, it’s the weekend, which means there’s time off to do research.

Torika Bolatagici 53:45
No I try and give myself a day off. Definitely. . Yeah, I enjoy my time with my kids too much. So, yeah. Usually Saturday, I just completely spend with them doing what, you know, ferrying them around to various classes, but also just being with them. Yeah. And turned off all my social media recently, which has made a huge difference. Really loving that. I mean, I turn it on again, when I’ve got projects. Which, yeah, but yeah, Sunday’s usually a good time to kind of just clear and do and like, clear my head and, and plan things and think about and research and do whatever I need to.

Nick Breedon 54:29
So some of the resources you’ve already talked about are some some books and some artists work that you have found really influential, but have you are there any other resources throughout your practice that have really assisted you in continuing or that you want to shout out?

Torika Bolatagici 54:48
Yeah, they’re kind of pretty daggy though (laughter). I really love. I don’t know, I probably won’t say what it is. Well, it’s just Like a yoga subscription It’s really cheap. It’s like $12 a month. But it means that I can do it every day. And like, in my own time, because that’s what I find is the most difficult thing is, like, if I can’t get to the gym in the morning just being okay, well, I’ll just do an hour, or I’ll do half an hour. And so that’s been really great. It’s just having a subscription. And also I can like choose if I’ve got 15 minutes, or if I’m in the office, and it’s just like, you know, so it’s, that’s really helpful, because it’s like, yeah, it gives me more energy, but it’s so you know,

Nick Breedon 55:36
yeah. Well, how do you access that? Is that like, a, like a video internet thing?

Torika Bolatagici 55:42
Yes. So yeah, just my so it’s but it is I have found it great. And like if I’m traveling to like, if I’m in a hotel staying at someone’s place It’s just there.

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:58
I’m freaking out about doing some traveling soon and not being able to go to the yoga studio. And so it’s good to know that Gaia is good because I was wondering about that one.

Torika Bolatagici 56:06
Yeah, I do like it. There are lots of others out there. But I’ve just kind of stuck with that one. And also because it’s got get, it’s got meditations that you can do, but crazy documentaries that I rarely ever watch. No I love it. Highly recommend that one. But podcasts to I really like. Because I spend more time in a car than I would like. Yeah, just finding good podcasts to listen to you. Like I like Alex Elle yeah. Kind of a self help self care.

Kiera Brew Kurec 56:45
I’ll have to look that up.

Nick Breedon 56:46
Is there any other podcast? Yeah, please. We, you know, we love podcasts.

Torika Bolatagici 56:50
Oh, there’s a bunch. But I actually find them like years after they’re finished.

Nick Breedon 56:55
Oh, isn’t that really tragic when you’re just like, Oh, this is the best thing ever. And they’re like, Oh, wait, they’re not making any more

Torika Bolatagici 56:59
Yeah always seem to find those. And they’re just I’ve got this just hundreds that are sort of random. Mostly like people of color ,Academics. You know, I mean, I seek out all the voices I wish were in my life, basically, yeah.

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:19
Can I just share a podcast that we both really love. And I know some other guests that we’ve had on the show, also, that one of our other guests has introduced it to us a while ago. It’s called Still Processing. And it might be one that you’re interested in. It’s by two culture writers at the New York Times. They’re both queer people of color, who dissect pop culture in such amazing ways. It’s the conversation that you want to be having, it’s amazing. And I love them.

What is it called again?

Still Processing, I just can’t like shout out that podcast enough, because it’s, it’s incredible. And they’re both writers as well. Their texts are incredible. Jenner just wrote this amazing piece for pride. That was incredible. And yeah, I can’t sing its praises enough. Yeah, just if you’re and they’re still going as well. So it’s one you won’t be heartbroken about.

Nick Breedon 58:00
It’s, it’s always just way too long between seasons for them. But yeah. So if you could travel back through time, right to the start of your career, or, you know, even further back and tell yourself something or give yourself some advice, from you know, everything that you know, now, what would it be?

Torika Bolatagici 58:46
Probably don’t have a backup plan. Yeah. Don’t have a plan B. Mum always told me to, to, you know, to have a backup plan, and I think that I would rather people just kind of I think people work it out. Be brave. Because I think that that advice was came from a place of fear, rather than encourage. Yeah, I proberbly dont know if I would give my children that advice (Laughter). No, I would, I would. Yeah. Yeah, don’t have a backup plan. Just do it.

Nick Breedon 59:32
I think that’s a really nice place to wrap it up. Thank you so much for being in the studio with us today.

Torika Bolatagici 59:39
Thank you.

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:40
Can you check back in at some point to see if you have given your children that advice? (Laughter)

Unknown Speaker 59:46
And sound like Nike add (Laughter).

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:49
Thanks again.

Torika Bolatagici 59:50
Thank you.

Nick Breedon 59:55
This episode is recorded on the sovereign Land of the Kulin nation. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land the Wurundjeri people and pay respects to elder’s past, present and emerging.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:00:06
Thanks for listening to Pro Prac you can listen to other episodes and subscribe to us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can stay up to date with what we’re up to on Instagram at @propracpodcast, or send us an email