of a Curator: Q&A with Tasneem Chopra
Q. What was the ‘Faith Fashion Fusion’ exhibition all about?
Tasneem Chopra: We wanted to showcase the contributions of Australian Muslim women through fashion, faith and identity. Faith, Fashion Fusion (FFF) first appeared at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum; it acknowledged Muslim women's dress as a component of the ‘modest’ fashion industry with an emerging market here in Australia. Moreover, the confluence of faith in determining identity was explored in tandem adding a crucial dimension to FFF that has long been ignored in the public fore.
Q. I understand the Sydney FFF showing, at the Powerhouse Museum, was the template for the Melbourne exhibition. Does the Melbourne show differ in any way?
TN. I believe it does. Our FFF candidates—the four designers and six women profiled—reflect the multicultural breadth of Melburnians from ten diverse cultural backgrounds and a range of different occupations as well. Crucially, the Melbourne exhibit also includes an additional 'Wall of Fame’, which profiles eight Muslim women from Melbourne using photos and quotes all tied up with 'identity'. This feature wall occupies the entrance to the exhibit and makes for a bold testimony to the impressive and diverse face of Australian Muslim women. It adds a unique feature to the Melbourne exhibit, and showcases (albeit briefly) some of the amazing talent to be found in this city.
Q. How long did the exhibition take to put together?
TN. From inception to launch date, my curatorial role took six months.
Q. What did your role entail?
TN. Firstly, to source the candidates for profiling, then to refine this massive list down to four designers and four women in profile- two women from the Sydney Powerhouse component were added to our Melbourne quota: Victorians, Susan Carland and Randa Abdel Fattah. Selection was difficult owing to the sheer wealth of talent in our community. Breadth of achievements, and contributions to the community were the criterion we used in developing a shortlist. The women were then approached and invited to participate. Fortunately, they all agreed. Following this, the task of interviews, photo shoots and monumental editing efforts ensued. After this point an intense marketing and PR campaign took place, which even after the launch date, is still being maintained. Though I've officially completed my curating role, I'm still involved with media promotions when required, and occasional event moderation.
Q There are so many influential Australian Muslim women in Melbourne. How did you manage to narrow it down to eight?
TN. We needed four designers and four women in profile. The selection process was gruelling owing to the sheer number of candidates. My criterion was to reflect as much Melbourne versatility into the final cut as possible, encompassing a mix of culturally diverse backgrounds and professional skills. I believe I achieved this with an extraordinary selection of women, which was ultimately fine-tuned in tandem with Immigration Museum management.
Q. There were two parts to the exhibition--the fashion/design side and the identity exhibits. How were they linked together?
TN. FFF was proof that there’s always a story behind and beyond how women appear.
The link was to acknowledge the external appearance of modest dress as a component of women's identity, and then to celebrate that in tandem with the diverse accomplishments of women in the community.
Q. Was it all smooth sailing—were there any 'nail-biting moments?
TN. Honestly, aside from meeting deadlines for editing and review purpose, which at times amounted to 3am shifts for me, there were no tense times. I was blessed to work with an amazing team of women.
Q. Where does Tasneem Chopra, curator extraordinaire, go from here?
TN. Gosh! From here, I’m scoping far and wide. I think its safe to say I’ve acquired the ‘curating-bug’ and am keen to hone these skills further. This experience also piqued my desire to promote creative talent. Since the FFF launch, I've recently co-produced my first indie artist gig in the form of a book launch and show for an internationally acclaimed Spoken Word Artist at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre. I'm finding an affinity both professionally and aesthetically in promoting creative artists that tell their stories with profound impact.