Liam Benson – Artist
It’s funny how life seems to always circle back around, I met artist Liam Benson briefly when he was studying fine arts at UWS with a friend of mine. Over ten years later we ran into each other at event and I was delighted to find out that he had established a great career as a Performance Artist. Liam invited me to work on one of his art works called “You and Me” which is a project that sees him and members of the public embroider an map of Australia that shows where all the different Aboriginal groups come from and is a chance for community members to come together and share stories as the work. It was a great chance to chat with Liam and find out about his journey so far.
The Westies: What was it like for you growing up in Western Sydney and being gay?
Liam: Well, I grew up in Glenorie, (Darug country) which wasn’t exactly western Sydney. It was a bloody long way away from anywhere and friends didn’t like coming out. Well; friends’ parents didn’t like driving their kids out to visit me so far away from everywhere, but it was great! I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was quiet, it was Australia, it was the bush, it was remote and it was beautiful. And still is.
I had no gay people around and I didn’t know what it meant. Originally I thought that I was really unwell; I thought I was in need of help and I needed to be cured. I was a different kid. I was the obviously feminine kid who’s probably going to be gay but we didn’t know what that really meant.
For me ‘coming out’ finally felt like I had found my voice. Before life seemed such a struggle, I was alone and so different, I felt I had to just go back into my own world. I didn’t have to do that anymore.
The Westies: You did go to university in Western Sydney?
Liam: Yeah going to University in Kingswood I was hit by suburban concrete and multiple voices, multiple languages, the grit of suburbia and the heat. As somebody who was different I suddenly felt like I was totally surrounded by lots of people who were really different as well, so I totally fitted in. I loved it!
The Westies: You studied fine arts at UWS, what are you doing now?
Liam: I’m an artist, I consider myself a performance artist. What I mean by performance is that everything I do is a conscious series of actions. As human beings, I feel like the way that we walk, the way that we talk and the kind of messages that we’re constantly portraying. It’s all performance.
A lot of the performance I started with was wearing costume and acting out and then videoing myself singing. I was also photographing myself posing and wearing different things. But now my performance has really transformed into interactions and communicating with people. Finding something else such as embroidering the map or making headdresses whilst communicating with people, that gives us fuel to our conversation and also takes the pressure off what we’re trying to talk about.
The Westies: You recently completed a project called ADORNED, what was that about?
Liam: I worked with 13 women to develop a series of 12 portraits of women who created headdresses using their own designs. These designs came out of conversations to do with heritage, history, where they grew up, their relationships to Australia and their relationships with one another. It was not just about beautiful pictures, but a way for the women to go out and show the diverse community who they are and show that they are part of it, that their voices count and that they matter not only as women, but also as people from different cultural backgrounds and that they make up Western Sydney. It was just really listening to voices that were not my own and celebrating them by bringing them together. I was interested in what different cultures such as Maori people have to say to Chinese people? I wanted to put people in a room and see what would happen, because I know these conversations are happening in Western Sydney and I wanted the project to reflect that.
The Westies: You are currently working on a beautiful project called “You and Me” in which you invite people to embroider a map of Aboriginal Australia. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Liam: Aboriginal Australia has not been accessible to me and has not been something that has been easy for me to tap into for multiple reasons. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s kind of everyone’s fault at the same time. I’m sick of it and I am just trying to find ways to start conversations. I love and appreciate our aboriginal community and I’m trying to find a way to channel that. If anyone came up to me and said “Oh, my God, I just love gay people’’ I probably would be really affronted and think ‘what are you on about’ so I’m trying to find a way to channel that energy and realise that it’s about having a conversation. For me this (the map) is like a beacon. I don’t know where I’m going, I’m just taking it step by step, but I’m pretty sure it’s leading me towards working with that diverse community finding ways to support them and finding ways to help Australia appreciate and understand the Aboriginal community as well.
Liam: We don’t have to come up with any answers, let’s just talk a bit about it. Indigenous people are important because they really are and will always be people connected to place, that’s the whole thing about being indigenous. They’ve been on the land for longer than any memory. They’ve got a better understanding of community and know the importance of community more than a lot of us. I think they can help us make sense of why we are here and find positive ways for us to be in this place and find respect for it. There is so much we can learn and gain from Aboriginal communities it’s just a shame that we’ve never paid attention to Aboriginal people. I really want to pay attention to them!
Find out more about Liam Here
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James