loading
drag

The Sydney artist using mixed media to combat colonisation

PHOTOGRAPHER – KRISTINA YENKO
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT – CHRIS CAO
STYLIST – OLIVIA SMYTHE
HAIR AND MAKEUP – VERONIKA MOREIRA
SHOT AT SUNSTUDIOS SYDNEY

 

WORDS BY ELIZA SHOLLY

Getting louder.

The magic of Justine Youssef can be felt in what she says, but also what she creates.

Born in the cultural epicentre of Southwest Sydney on Dharug Land, Justine uses her art to take viewers on a complex personal journey.

Long before pockets of Western Sydney were glamourised for their gentrification, Justine lived there alongside many of her family members. Her uncles ran the local grocer and bakery, her cousins were always within earshot, and other relatives were separated by only a couple of houses. 

Throughout high school, however, Justine notes she felt stigmatised by her postcode. Infrequent trips to the Eastern suburbs were inevitably accompanied by casual racism, including racial stereotypes and quips around migration. With this came feelings of segregation.

Having never finished high school herself, Justine claims it took a lot of “shedding” to build up the courage to apply to art school.

“I had romantic ideas about formal education and thought I’d finally understand my place in the world if I studied at university. I still remember deciding to pursue that path because it felt like the most impossible dream to manifest, and I needed something far from me to keep me reaching.”

Justine obtained a Bachelor of Fine Art at the National Art School in Darlinghurst, Sydney. While there, she presented her first solo exhibition All Blessings, All Curses at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, as well as a second collaborative solo exhibition at Seventh Gallery with Duha Ali. 

Most recently, Justine was the recipient of the John Fries Award, an annual $10,000 art prize recognising the talents of visual artists early in their career.

Like so many others, however, attending art school evoked paradoxical emotions for Justine. She says she felt “disillusioned by a Western-centric curriculum,” finding that it was corroding her connection to her own ancestral roots.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that her work is a response to global xenophobia. Through her practice, she explores how this racism is reflected in the smells, sights and textures of her ancestral homeland in Southwest Asia, and their manifestations as a settler migrant on Dharug Land.  She works across multiple disciplines, including performance, video, scent and collaborative works. 

Justine also uses art to consider neo-colonial rhetoric through her own feminist lens, meaning her art practice has become a vehicle for healing.

“Growing up I was told that my parents had escaped something in Lebanon, but there was so much silence masking the political occupation and warfare that displaced them from their homes,” she says.

“My art practice became a tool to dismantle that silence. It’s a technology I use to build counter-colonial narratives and highlight how systems of oppression endure to this day.”

Another cause close to Justine’s heart is in response to the colonisation of First Nations land.

Australia is still the only Commonwealth country that has not negotiated or signed a treaty with our Indigenous population. Such a treaty presents an opportunity to build a relationship that both acknowledges the wrongs of the past and shared goals for the future.

“‘Australian’ society began with colonising people, and its pathologies – capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and human supremacy – stem from there,” she says.

Like so many young people in contemporary Australia, Justine is ensuring that her voice, and unique experience, is heard. She was introduced to protest as a form of activism by her cousin at the age of 16. It was her first glimpse into what activism could look like. She continues to participate in rallies, both in resistance to occupying forces in Palestine and in support of First Nations communities. 

“[It] is an affirming way to recognise that we actually can enact change,” she says.

instagram.com/justineyoussef

A condensed version of this article was originally published in Fashion Journal 190. You can read it here.


Styling credits

LOOK ONE
VIKTORIA AND WOODS ALPS SHIRT, ARNSDORF PATCHWORK CALDER JEAN, BATU ITSUME HEELS, TALENT’S OWN JEWELLERY 
LOOK TWO
ARNSDORF MERINO RIB FUNNEL NECK SKIVVY,  ARNSDORF KAREN PANT, TALENT’S OWN JEWELLERY 
LOOK THREE
ARNSDORF CLASSIC TRENCH, BATU ITSUME HEELS, TALENT’S OWN JEWELLERY 
Lazy Loading