COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in everyone's lives. Aside from many losing jobs, there is the fear of getting seriously ill or worse, die because of the pandemic. We have to abide by restrictions in our daily life and miss out on a lot of the things we love - sports, stage shows, cinemas, concerts and dance nights to name a few.
It is fortunate that we have technology that has allowed us to enjoy online concerts, replay of sport events, stage musicals and competitions, as well as social media sharing stories of talented and inspiring people.
It was with great delight that I came across a sharing by Cara Lopez of a Casula Powerhouse posting which featured a young Filipina-Australian artist who was reading a children's story book she wrote in Pilipino or the Tagalog dialect. This is Florence Araniego, who is an Art Educator in Casula Powerhouse. Her visual story is about her life story.
You can view the video of Florence's through this link:
Watching Florence in the video reminds me of the female member of the Hi Five kids band. Her overall presentation belies her age of early thirty years. What is the most physically striking part about her appearance is her coloured hair, which she shares gets changed fairly regularly.
"My hair is now blue and purple rather than pink and purple ahhaha!"
She wears glasses and pink lipstick. Her style is very colourful.
"I love to dress out of trends. I like choosing from thrift shops, to unique clothing made by artists and independent brands. People say I generally stand out of a crowd! I love the confidence of being able to express myself both inside and out."
The other part of her appearance that is interesting and draws attention is a collection of tattos on her arms.
"Every single tattoo I have tell a story - the two swallows on my arms represent my Dad who I lost, and the other a lyric of a song that represents my partner. Swallows fly thousands of kms only to return back to where they started- they represent a journey in my life. Fun fact - the swallows were actually tattooed by my ‘kuya’, my dear friend Clint, who also coincidentally came from Bulacan! I met him at my partner’s uni and we became close friends till now.
Another tattoo is‘Totoro’, a pudgy grey creature - a Studio Ghibli character from a Japanese animation, sits comfortably on a cupcake on my upper left arm.. He was tattooed and designed by Lauren Winzer, a now famous woman in the tattoo world, in exchange for an artwork I made- so we exchanged art essentially! On the same arm I have a pin up girl with mermaid green hair, holding a cat - this was designed by a dear friend Bei, who Lauren also tattooed. so in short my tattoos aren't my designs, but designs by friends and characters that mean a lot about the type of person I was and in some ways, still am. Like a photograph, it represents a frozen moment of time, they are all very special to me."
Through Cara Lopez (she is another interesting Pinay story waiting to be told), I have made contact with Florence and glad to share interesting information about her.
Younger years and schooling
Florence who is a resident of Coogee an eastern suburbs beach area, has come a long way from a six year old when her family migrated to Australia. She was born in Quezon City in 1986 and is the third of four siblings. Both her parents are from Bulacan so that is where she spent her early years.
"I grew up in Liverpool, with Liverpool Public as my primary school. English was super hard to learn and ended up being fluent later in my youth. To achieve that, I stopped speaking Tagalog and lost my native accent. It’s probably the only decision I wish I can turn back time on, as today I struggle to speak Tagalog. I can understand Tagalog being spoken to me, and even reading it too, but can’t answer in it, I’m sure a lot of youth with Filipino heritage struggle with this too!
"As a teen, I studied at Liverpool Girls High School and finished my HSC and received the Performing Arts award for coming first in Music, Art and Photography in my year.
"I took a break from schooling to work and travel. I went to Japan and was inspired by their wonderful culture and art.
"I then decided to study film and tv at North Sydney Tafe. Then after a short stint with the film industry, I left and studied fine arts at COFA (College of Fine Arts UNSW, now known as UNSW of Art and Design). From there I graduated in 2010 and worked in the art industry soon after.
"During the last few years I was fascinated with Australian sign language for the Deaf, known as Auslan. I studied for a few years at the Deaf Society, in the hopes to become an interpreter one day.
Profession and interests
Florence is currently an Art Educator at the Casula Powerhouse. She shares her skills to students and the community and creates some amazing art. She works with many schools and relishes working with Hoxton Park High School to create street art inspired works and which was then exhibited at a youth event, GENEXT with the Casula Powerhouse.
"I have also worked with Hurlstone Agriculture and taught a portrait painting class inspired by the Archibald Prize. Finally, facilitating a stall for the Sydney Writer’s Festival a few years back creating poetry and portraits out of cut up words from old books.
"I also love to teach how to draw Japanese comic book style known as Manga, and was my first job at the Casula Powerhouse.
"My other job is as an art facilitator for Studio A. Studio A is an amazing organization where artists living with disabilities are able to work and showcase their creations at the foot of the Australian art world. Some highlights include helping to create a mural for the new building at UTS that I was a part of.
"Both my current jobs are all part of the art industry. I’ve always strived to create a meaningful life with art and communities.
Take on Life's Ups and Down's
To get an insight into this quirky and talented artist, I asked her a few questions and happy to share her responses below.
* what do you hold fondly in your heart as your achievements?
Helping communities and sharing my knowledge in art I would say is the biggest achievements career wise. Being able to do this for work is a great privilege.
*what challenges have you faced and overcome?
Moving to Australia and learning English I think have been the biggest challenges! Being a victim of racism because of my skin tone, the food I eat was also a real struggle growing up.
Racism is rampant in our society, and believe diversity being taught as a young age can help to raise awareness with it.
*what advice can you give especially the young people who have a passion but may be hesitating to pursue it?
It’ll sound cliché but, whatever your passion is, pursue it!
As a Filipino, being an artist was and probably still is a taboo. Your elders will put you down and say that it won’t be sustainable and laugh at the fact your job involves art making. That’s the problem with the older generation, they sometimes don’t see the value in the creative side of people. They see art as a hobby, and value jobs that involve being a doctor, engineer or lawyer. These are all incredible jobs don’t get me wrong! It’s just anything within the creative industry is always somewhat frowned upon.
I feel it’s because we Filipinos know the struggles of life and elders just want the best for you, but they don’t see eye to eye with you sometimes. But to be totally honest, we Filipinos have this in our blood – we are amazing creatives! We are great singers, musicians, artists and it’s all a rich tapestry woven into our culture.
When you put your 100% on something, whether it is art or not, it’ll pay off!
Something I also learnt as I aged is change. Changing is also a natural process as you age, so sometimes your passion at the start may not necessarily be the passion later on, or the first passion then comes back later on in life. I’ve changed careers so many times in my life and people use to tell me to stay put, but I didn’t, I want to live a life with no regrets!
Thankfully my Dad, who I grew up with, was very passionate about art himself and nurtured my interests from a very young age. He taught me the value of self-worth, and as such my successes has been a direct reflection of my own self-worth.
*lastly, how do you define "success"?
I guess success to me are things that I have achieved, even the little things. To some people success is defined with what you have like a car, house, children etc. Those are all amazing feats of success!
But for me it’s living my truth – living the life of creativity, helping people, or even just getting up in the morning! All these I see and value as success.
Listen to Florence being interviewed in Radio Tagumpay on Monday, July 20. Radio Tagumpay airs on Mondays 2-4pm on Triple H100.1FM and can be streamed globally via https://www.triplehfm.com.au/