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Who are we? An AWU Member Story

December 3, 2019

I met recently with AWU member Tahani to discuss her recent success at the Association of Sculptors of Victoria 2019 annual awards exhibition.

Tahani with her sculpture

Every year around the 16th of September, Tahani and her family celebrate their move to Australia, immigrating from the Middle East (Jordan) in 2014. Tahani had a dream of being able to pursue her art and sculpting. “When I came to Australia, to be honest with you, I thought that I would come and find that everything is easy, and that I would be a famous artist.” In Jordan Tahani was a science teacher and her husband Nassan worked in the art department as a supervisor. The dream of being an artist was always there in the background, and as time passed in that first year in Australia, Tahani said the reality was that she, like many, had to work to survive.

Tahani studied welding to create sculptures. She was unable to pursue her passion for sculpting, because she needed to find a job in order to make a living. In October of 2015, with her newly learned welding skills, she found herself a job in the steel industry. Working long hours, she would come home physically exhausted and mentally drained.

Tahani was making reinforcing cages for various construction sites, a very different job to that of a science teacher. Tahani hadn’t wanted to be a science teacher or a welder, but the work paid the bills. As she puts it “You cannot just live by doing and selling art, it is tough.”

Sculpting is an outlet for Tahani, it allows her to be herself. The piece that is featured in the 2019 Association of Sculptors annual awards exhibition is about her and her coworkers experience on the job. An idea started to form as she noticed that, at the end of a shift, workers would remove their gloves, clothing, and jackets, sometimes throwing them away as they were just too dirty and ruined. Tahani would get home with her clothes sweaty, dirty, and smelly from the working day. Seeing them on the floor she thought and felt they were not just clothes, they were more than that. They represented life, the difficulties, the pain, the struggle and the hard work that she and her workmates dealt with on a daily basis.

Much to her workmate Larry’s amusement Tahani decided to collect some of the dirty work clothes. Larry said he would give her a clean jacket, but Tahani responded that she needed the dirty ones, otherwise it would be missing the point. The sculpture is about the people that work with her, side by side, day in and day out. Doing it for more than just money. Tahani’s reason is her daughter, behind all that hard work is her family. But not just her family, all of the guys families too, Tahani said “It is not just shoes and clothes, it is more than that.

Having the clothes displayed within a glass cube sculpture, I asked what the guys at work thought of her sculpture. Tahani said most of them felt moved and understood where she was coming from. And having a piece in an art show I enquired, that must be something? “A dream come true, it was a very nice night” she said. Tahani is working on a new sculpture for a show in January, and then there is the flower show exhibition in March. “I wish I could be an artist. Be sculpting all day. To leave the job and spend time doing my art.”

Tahani is the only woman at her workplace. Being surrounded by men of different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs, she said when she first arrived some didn’t think it was right having women in the workplace. She had to work twice as hard to prove she was good enough to stay, but also whilst learning the work, was learning the language, not just meaning English, but also the names of tools, processes, and materials. Understanding all of those things combined she said was not easy. But now after going through all of that, she is a Team Leader and works alongside the guys hoping that women can be treated equal across all fields.

Tahani has been an AWU member from day one on the job. Tahani had no reservations in signing up. The agency she started with gave her advice that the union would be a good step for all new employees. Tahani said “I just had a feeling that if something this big was united, people gathering together for something good, that should be alright.”

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