Oztopia is an imagined space within the Australian consciousness. It is a space in which one expects to find an idyllic representation of Australian life. A paradise brimming with barbeques, beaches and no worries.
On closer inspection Oztopia represents no such place in the Australian consciousness. It sits uneasily between the celebrated myths of national identity and the cold truths that tarnish the nations friendly façade. In this space, the complexity that surrounds the process of defining national identity is made apparent. Scratch the surface and Australian identity reveals itself to be a complex milieu of myths, alternating narratives, and power relationships.
Oztopia is essentially a souvenir store, a place in which identity can be bought and sold. Yet the souvenirs from Oztopia are not ordinary souvenirs, they have been reinterpreted. They have been made into objects of critique. Not designed for tourists, these souvenirs communicate directly with the Australian public. From dealing with collective guilt to highlighting the limits of our tolerance, the souvenirs of Oztopia mock the essentialist language of nationalism and allude to the existence of alternative Australian stories.
The opinions expressed in the souvenirs of Oztopia do not seek to represent a new form of Australian identity. The highly subjective content of Oztopia has been employed to provoke debate, but more importantly to draw attention to the subjective nature of all identity creation. The idea of the ‘nation’ is a deeply entrenched concept within society today. It has become a naturalised concept, despite the fact that its very existence relies upon the imagination of millions (Anderson, 1983). The souvenirs of Oztopia ask us to delve deeper into questions concerning Australian national identity creation, the motives behind such a creation, and to consider those who are excluded as a part of this process.
Souveniring the interior implies not just the journey into the interior of one’s country but also the journey into the interior of one’s self. I agree with the writer Alexis Wright (2008) when she says, ‘if we want to understand the threats and fears of the world in this millennium, it would be wise to look right down to the personal’. This project has been for me as much about surveying the cultural and political landscape of Australia as it has been about assessing my position within it. Through this process of self-examination I have been made
aware of my own assumptions pertaining to Australian identity. By discovering my own fears, I have begun to gain a humble acceptance of and appreciation for difference.
Benedict, A., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1983, London & New York: Verso
Tsiolkas, C., Haigh, G., Wright, A., 2008, Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear: Sydney PEN voices; the 3 writers project, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest
Souvenirs of Oztopia
Spoon Feeding Tolerance
Fear of the Interior
Stamping Out Diversity
The Band Aid Effect
The Sacred Sherrin
The Private Made Public
The History Wars
Curiouser & Curiouser Exhibition, 2009