'Trying to survive': Artists share their experiences of the pandemic

Zainab Kadhim.

Zainab Kadhim.

Fairfield singer-songwriter Zainab Kadhim was getting rejection emails left, right and centre.

"I had to rely on my family and friends to get me through that period because I was applying for jobs but because of all the uncertainty there wasn't a lot of people hiring," she said of the COVID-19 lockdown period which wiped out her entire creative livelihood overnight.

"I lost my contracts and gigs overnight. I do songwriting and poetry workshops in schools which stopped, and so did the gigs. I was forced to move out of my place.

"I was just trying to survive and stay afloat, especially as an artists, when JobKeeper isn't an option for you."

The artist, who uses her music to raise awareness of social justice issues, inequality and feminism amongst young people, was one of several from diverse backgrounds who were part of Settlement Services International's recent online discussion and report which aims to build awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector, including the livelihoods, creative practice, and wellbeing of artists from culturally diverse backgrounds.

The SSI Artist Voices: experiences of the pandemic and a desired future report proposes a range of measures to ensure Australia continues to develop an arts and culture sector that truly reflects the nation's diversity.

"Our findings highlight the importance of arts policy, appropriate funding models and the imperative to support our artists in times of crisis and beyond," SSI Arts and Culture Program Manager Carolina Triana said.

"We've seen the negative effects of the pandemic on artists' mental health, personal and professional networks, audience engagement and creative practice.

"Artists, including newcomers, are vulnerable to financial insecurity, and this situation has been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.

"It's important to build an understanding of the crisis of the arts and cultural sector in Australia by amplifying the voices, experiences and aspirations of culturally diverse artists.

"We've seen artists adapt their practice and business models to online platforms, however, these platforms pose significant creative, ethical, copyright, financial and audience engagement challenges."

Zainab Kadhim.

Zainab Kadhim.

Ms Kadhim, aka Zeadala, was one of the artists that participated in virtual in-depth artist roundtables facilitated by SSI earlier this year.

Her acoustic rap music which is influenced by hip-hop didn't translate easily to the virtual world.

"I wasn't one of those artists that were quick to make transition to live stream events on social media platforms because the audience are so much a part of my performance without being able to feel their energy or get a sense of how they're feeling I can't perform at my best," she said.

"I did a few live-stream events which I wouldn't normally do because I'm a live performer but given the situation that was one way to get income and still be able to share my work and perform as an artist."

She said she would like to see more funding for arts as a whole and particularly organisations who focus on supporting artists from CALD backgrounds and more spaces and venues available for people to share their work.

She has recently started to do a couple of live gigs which had a "different vibe" due to restrictions.

"I missed performing and seeing people's faces," she said.

Meanwhile, SSI will curate the Motherland - Exile/Refuge - Migration (repeat) exhibition in partnership with the Australian National Maritime Museum from January 6 to 26.

The exhibition features 14 artists from First Nations, refugee and migrant backgrounds, exploring views and experiences of displacement, migration and settlement including Liverpool Iraqi-born artist Hedar Abadi's work commenting on the human tragedies and fragility of those fleeing persecution.

Co-curator and producer Laura Luna, from the SSI Arts and Culture team, said: "The forces that drive migration are sometimes natural, but mostly they are man-made: armed conflicts, climate change, weapons of mass destruction, political and social unrest, discrimination, persecution, war. This process can be an incessant tide shaping our human story of shifting identity and place-making."

Motherland - Exile/Refuge - Migration (repeat).

  • Dates: Every day including public holidays, January 6-26, 2021
  • Opening times: 9:30 am to 5 pm
  • Location: Australian National Maritime Museum, 2 Murray Street, Sydney.
  • Cost: Free.