An interview with Sabina McKenna

Sabina McKenna is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and curator who for much of her creative career has been exploring identity. As a writer for publications like i-D, Acclaim, Be and Ladies of Leisure she focused her attention on contemporary culture and art as avenues to do this. But it’s Sabina’s recent curatorial project ‘Where Are You From?’, an online journal and photographic storyboard about Australian cultural identities, that’s taken things a step further. And proven to be the most personal work of her career so far.
Curated by Sabina McKenna
Photos by Chris Loutfy

My whole life I've been asked where I'm from. It comes in varying shapes and forms. Sometimes it's people making a pass at you and other times you’re obviously being singled out because of the way you look,” Sabina explains. Often it's the first thing they ask you. The older I got and the more I understood what it meant — to my identity in terms of the landscape that I grew up in — it stood out to me as a kind of a microaggression that had certain connotations.”
Although at first Sabina thought she was alone, after speaking with friends she quickly realised that her experience was shared by a large number of people of colour in Australia. And so she launched ‘Where Are You From’, with a series of portraits of young people of colour alongside interviews and essays connecting with their identity.
The first edition launch was held at Melbourne’s Blak Dot Gallery, with photos by Jess Brohier and a video by Amy Dellar. It and was a runaway success. “The [Facebook] event reach was over 20,000. The attending list was around 1000–2000. And I was like, ‘Whoa!’ This is no paid advertising, all word of mouth.”
When asked why she thinks the project connected with so many people, Sabina relates its success to the simplicity and authenticity of the idea and its presentation, “I think even though it's a universal experience, maybe I was the first one to put it into that format.” The success of the series lead to a follow-up showing at The Other Art Fair and a new edition of ‘Where Are You From?’ launched recently at Sydney’s Good Space gallery, with photography by Chris Loutfy.
The next stage of the project remains uncertain for now, Sabina has big ideas but after putting so much of herself into a creative project she’s fine with enjoying some downtime and thinking carefully about the next steps. The ingenuity of the project’s online format though is that anyone can visit it when they need to. Even someone who thinks they might be alone on the receiving end of such a burdensome question like “where are you from?”, can find proof that their experience is shared and valid with just a few clicks.
Sabina will be exhibiting her curation at our Melbourne Central from Friday the 15th November for a limited time.