Born in East Africa, moved to Australia at age 4
Cross cultural consultant, Author and Activist
Photo credit: Tasneem Chopra
Tasneem Chopra calls herself a cultural broker.
She’s the owner of a cross cultural consultancy in Melbourne and a regular commentator in the media on issues to do with Islam, women, gender, race and culture. She’s appeared on QandA, ABC News, The Project and Salam cafe.
In 2013, she curated the Faith, Fashion and Fusion exhibit at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne (which I saw firsthand and loved). The exhibition focused on Muslim women and fashion in Islam and profiled women like Susan Carland, Muslim female authors and fashion designers.
Born in East Africa, Tasneem says her Indian heritage, African birth and Australian upbringing has equipped her to handle the challenges she encounters when it comes to complex issues like multiculturalism and gender in Australia.
I talked to Tasneem about what life was like for her growing up in country Victoria in the 1970s, her curator role for the Melbourne Immigration Museum and her work in the Australian community.
Q How did you get interested in cultural issues?
Growing up as a migrant in a western country you’re always aware that you’re different. I was also interested in where other people came from, their backgrounds, their stories and enjoyed communication. So it was a natural progression from all these issues.
Q What work are you currently doing in the community?
I have a cross-cultural consultancy and I deliver training, workshops and presentations on diversity and race across Australia. I also talk about gender issues.
I’ll talk to any organisation from corporate level on cultural confidence training, to government organisations where I’ll do training on misconceptions of the Muslim communities and how they can engage better with Muslim clients.
I also deliver lectures to students in schools where I talk specifically on racism and identity.
Q You curated the fashion exhibit Faith Fashion and Fusion at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. What was that experience like and was that your first time?
It was my first hands-on experience in curating. I created the Melbourne content for the Faith Fashion Fusion which originated in Sydney by Sydney curators. The Sydney exhibition happened a year before.
They decided to bring it to Victoria and the Immigration Museum wanted Melbourne representation. So I got the position of curator. We selected the women, interviewed them and found objects for their story.
It was one of the most enjoyable career experiences I’ve ever had. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and the groundbreaking work in shifting people’s perceptions of Muslims being very one-dimensional.
You can see so much more of what they were and what they can contribute. For me, it was an opportunity to challenge those notions.
Q From your work in the community what are some of the things that you’ve learned that you would like to pass on?
I’ve learned that we probably underestimate the collateral within our own cultural communities where we have a lot of resources and talents.
Migrant communities, in general built the country. You have increasing numbers also going to universities and entering that sector. I think the contribution we’re making to entrepreneurship to medicine, law and engineering does get underestimated.
You mainly hear about Islam or Muslims traditionally when there’s a reactive story or a bad story.
Q.What would your ideal world look like?
Peaceful coexistence towards people and lots of tolerance.
I think tolerance is a very negative word. I think understanding is what I would prefer to have.
So if you have understanding of each other, where we’re coming from, what we believe and acceptance of that across faiths, cultures, sexuality, economic status, with all of those issues I think there’s a lot of harsh judgment and critiquing going on within communities and between communities.
Q Can you tell me some key things that you think your Australian upbringing has given you?
I think it’s probably given me a less judgmental perspective on things. I grew up in country Victoria in a very Anglo-Saxon Community. The racism and if you understand it and experience it today in a city like Melbourne is far worse than anything I would have experienced as a child growing up.
Ironic considering, you know it was only 30-40 years ago. I think that’s a reflection of perhaps the way politics particularly has shaped the way we think, the media and politics together in shaping the way societies read differences about other people.
Visit Tasneem Chopra’s website at http://tasneem.com.au/ Follow her on Facebook
and Twitter @TasChop