I feel like it has been a whole year (of mostly excitement) that I’ve been imagining what it would feel like to have a completed entry worth submitting in this notable art prize, because it was a whole year ago that I spotted this image (see below) of Yassmin when the lightning bolt struck!
Anyways, who ever this person was, she had an uber cool look and a confident and youthful vibrance about her. I forget who was speaking at the time, but who ever it was they had the audience laughing and Yassmin (who I still didn't know of at the time) had this fantastic laugh. The kind that projects from the diaphragm without any hint of hesitation. As with every TedxSouthBank event I’ve been fortunate enough to attend since 2012, it’s not rare to find yourself sitting among total strangers, laughing warmly and nodding at each other and really feeling like you’re all witnessing something so special that it bonds each of you, despite never actually exchanging a word. But usually those belly laughs, that hold no hesitation take at least half the day to come really come out.
Later in the day when Yassmin took to the stage, dressed head to toe in a long black gown with a colourful hijab - I didn’t make the connection. It wasn’t until her story unfolded and the layers of clothing for each of her revealed personas came away, that I spotted her shoes and realised this was the cool chick with the great laugh that I was standing next to up the back earlier. Again this kind of thing happens all the time at TEDxSB, the people you sit with, stand next to in the line for coffee or even waiting for the loo all have something interesting to relay about what it is they do or what it is that inspires them, whether they are speakers or not. For me it’s always been super exciting to ponder what kind of people you will ultimately meet, connect with and have your world opened up by at this fantastic event. So sitting in the audience close to the end of that day, with a room full of inspired and openly positive people all listening so intently to Yassmin as she spoke about 'unconscious bias' in an upbeat and animated fashion, it truly was for me one of those special ‘world opening’ turning points that you hope to happen but never really know how much it can move you. I felt so special to be one of those audience members, so enlightened to now know of this incredible human’s existence and voice - despite the fact that many many many other people already had and had long been singing her praises!
"I can walk down the street in the exact same outfit and what the world expects of me and the way I'm treated depends on the arrangement of this piece of cloth. But this isn't going to be another monologue about the hijab because Lord knows, Muslim women are so much more than the piece of cloth they choose, or not, to wrap their head in. This is about looking beyond your bias." Yassmin Abdel-Magied for TEDxSouthBank 2014
1. I had a platter of food
2. My partner in life was already in conversation with her (thanks Matty!)
Turns out Yassmin was hungry so she seemed pretty happy to see me and it seemed she was in no way tired of being approached by admiring fans despite being well over 10 hours into the day - and if she was it didn’t show in the slightest. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her after I asked if she wanted something to eat, but no doubt I told her she was my favourite speaker for the day - which was 100% truth. She was so easy to chat with and I still didn’t really realise how amazing she was and how many events far bigger than this one she would have previously attended and spoken at. Yassmin was friendly, gracious, funny and just seemed like a really nice person, I just thought she was pretty fantastic and Matt agreed! We talked about her a lot after that day and enjoyed spotting her face on the telly or reading of her recent successes on social media and were both delighted when she was named young Australian of the year for Qld in 2015. Like proud friends she had no idea existed!
Anyways that hopefully catches you up to speed as to where I was in terms of admiration, before I even had the light bulb idea of asking if I could paint her portrait, When Yassmin kindly agreed to my proposal back in July of 2015, my excitement levels were at an all time high! I really really admire and respect this young woman and everything about this potential painting adventure just seemed too good to ignore. I also felt that in some small way I could help Yassmin get her story out there that little bit more, using the very small platform that I've created for myself through sharing my own art and insight. While she's beyond capable of getting herself out there, it feels good to show my support for someone I truly believe will change the world and inspire a hell of a lot of people in the lead up.
PLUS I GOT TO ACTUALLY HANG OUT WITH THIS SUPER COOL CHICK!
The two sittings we managed to make happen were so wonderful and truly are highlights I will always treasure from this whole experience. It was just really nice to have that time to just sit with Yassmin and chat about all sorts of things like; music, eyebrow shaping, not spending enough time with parents, education, having a younger brother, growing up in Logan, being a tall girl and praising fellow TEDxSB mega friend Laura Stokes. We also laughed A LOT, which I'm sure may have annoyed people that were at the Library to actually do some work...oops!
Those sittings were huge get-to-know-you sessions added to that I had the advantage of reading her memoir 'Yasmin's Story - Who do you think I am?' cover to cover, TWICE, before I put any paint on that big ol' canvas. 'Who do you think I am?' not an easy question to answer for most people. I made a lot of notes when I was working through a number of sketches and recalling things Yassmin had said both to me, her body language when she was relaxed vs when she was really listening to me or talking about something she is truly passionate about. Her confidence and self-awareness is really undeniable and yet she's extremely grounded despite her many many accomplishments. There's no ego getting in the way either and I like that too. Her age was something that she mentioned as playing on her mind. When we first met she was still 24 and was genuinely pondering the end of her ability to be labelled a 'youth' once she turned 25. I laughed this off thinking she was crazy, surely she couldn't have made a bigger impact in the first 24 years of her life. But the more I got to know of her story and the long list of what she's achieved, I really realised what she meant. She would have to soon step down from her 'Youth-led' organisation, and she couldn't officially represent the group of people that she so passionately advocates for...young people! The youth of Australia. When you've achieved so much at such a young age it would certainly define a large part of your identity, but from the outside it's just exciting to ponder what else lays ahead for Yassmin. It's inspiring to watch, read and hear about her adventures and see her voice further strengthen.
So yeah, seeing as I have so much respect for Yassmin, it was really important to me that I paint her in a way that showed that admiration, without letting it over-shadow or exaggerate her true essence and self, her inner and outer strength and her magnetism. She knows who she is and she's proud of that and her book reveals a lot of that knowing comes from her equally amazing Mum. There was a lot to take into consideration and pay homage to. Bu as always worrying doesn't do any good, in the end I knew that however I portrayed her it would be authentic, because this is how I see and perceive Yassmin and I think I managed to capture a good few chunks of this lady in her first quarter century of sheer amazingness. If anything, I hope it captures people's attention, just as Yassmin indeed can do!
Below are some images from our two sittings as well as some of the progress in between.
The BIG reveal!
By Tamara Armstrong
Acrylic on canvas
1.2m X 1.5m
So here it is, my completed portrait of Yassmin Abdel-Magied signed sealed and ready to board the truck to Sydney. This is my first attempt at the Archibald Prize, which I wouldn't have had the courage to even enter without having first found a worthy subject to paint. I needed someone I believed in and someone I truly admire.
If you don't know this name or face, I promise you this - YOU ARE MISSING OUT!
Yassmin is a 25 year old multi-faceted Dynamo of a human (hence the 25 shapes in the background of my painting). She pours her energy and time into her passion for social advocacy and notably founded the youth-led organisation ‘Youth without Borders’ at the ripe age of 16. In this capacity Yassmin has helped many young people in her community and around the world gain access to valuable experiences and also provides other young Muslim Australian women (and women of colour) a face and a voice to positively identify with. She does all of this when she's not working her day job as a mechanical engineer on an oil and gas rig...surrounded mostly by blokes!
Yassmin can hold her own and she's an absolute credit to her incredible parents, as well as the long line of strong Amazonian-like women in her family. I might be 9 years older than Yassmin, but I totally admire her as a role model. I wish we had crossed paths earlier, I wish my younger self could have witnessed this kind of unique self-assurance, but undoubtedly I'm so very grateful to have found her when I did. This experience and connection has been something I will treasure forever and if the painting doesn't make the cut this week, it doesn't matter because my gift for painting has been used to help bring Yass to all of your attention. For me that's reward enough.
So regardless of what the trustees think (or don't think) of my entry, I hope each and everyone of you continue to send me clips and videos and links and images of ‘that chick’ I'm painting, my mate Yassmin! Because while you might not remember how to spell or pronounce her name, you will hopefully continue to recognise her striking face and more than that I hope you listen to what she has to say - when indeed you do spot her again. And trust me, you will!
She's super smart, insanely kind and all about breaking down the barriers that attempt to divide us.
BIG THANKS TO THIS HUMAN.
Couldn't have dreamt this kind of goodness, so stoked to have had this experience - such a pleasure to share it with you all too! Xx
Here's to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.
#archibald2016 #agnsw #paintingyassmin