Artist Spotlight: Rima Zabaneh

Artist Rima Zabaneh writes the inspiration behind her work Street Directory. “In late 1990, I emigrated to Perth from Jordan with my partner and three children, in the hope of building a new life for ourselves and very young family in a country that I hardly knew and had never even visited before. Technology has changed how we navigate and the speed with which we can adapt and become familiar with our environment, but at the time of my arrival in Australia this option was as yet unimaginable.”

Rima Zabaneh, Street directory, 2005.

“The local street directory became my bible and my key to the city –  its innumerable streets, avenues and cul de sacs the crisscrosses that marked my life journeys from grocery stores to schools and to more adventurous excursions.

The street directory got worn out, some pages more than others: a portrait of my life and places I’d been to in those early days could have been rendered by looking at those tattered pages. I remember how I used to envy people going from one place to another assuredly and with purpose, and I remember dreaming of the day I too could go from here to there without needing to reference the maps. That would be the day when I belonged, the day I owned this city, the day that I would make it mine.

By the time I started working on Street Directory, I’d been living in Australia for 14 years, and by then the map of the city was mostly scrawled in my brain and my hands knew which way to turn the steering wheel. I felt that I did now own the city, it was my place and I did belong. I started bumping into people I knew around corners and I started to recall memories and events that happened a few years back in this location or that, and what happened to the lovely shop that used to be on this street?

I always knew that the hours I spent on carving the streets in the street directory were hours of reflection, contemplation and perhaps honouring the process of navigation and discovery. My fingers feeling along the paths. The carving of the pages of the street directory was slow, time consuming, delicate and at times seemed never ending, but so was the process of carving a new life in a new country and a new city, mapping the streets in your head and being able to locate things north, south, east or west. The careful, repetitive movement of the scalpel on paper was reminiscent of the careful, tentative movements of life in the first few months. The work on the carving of the pages may have seemed endless at times but I also remember it as being joyous, with purpose and unwavering dedication.

Time gives us the gift of hindsight, and what I realise now is that while I was busy getting to know the place I now called home, the place had already accepted me. Life was already being navigated, memories were being made, my sense of belonging was no longer questioned. The time spent on the carving of the street directory became the point in my life where I started to realise all of this. No wonder that producing the artwork became a pivotal moment in my life. I find myself now with a bit more maturity realising that what I make or how I make is only the by-product of why I make. In short, it’s the story, the narrative that drives the work.”

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