Bjorn Stewart & Zohab Khan on being an artist of colour & pleasing your parents

published on July 16, 2020

I'm Bjorn Stewart I'm an actor, comedian and filmmaker I'm gonna be meeting with a complete stranger Zohab, who's a poet I've only ever been on one blind friend date before That dude ended up becoming my best friend in the entire world And I'm here at the Campbelltown Arts Centre

Gonna be talking about art and our careers You know, being an artist of colour What it feels like to, you know, pursue a career in the arts And, should be a good time Let's have some fun

Hey Hey, mate How you goin', man? Yeah, good, bro Zohab Bjorn? Yeah Cool Nice to meet you, bro How you doin', man?

Good, good, good (funky intro music) (laughing) How're you finding- This is like an arranged friendship Yeah Yeah

This is what my mum hoped how I'd find a bride OK, right, right through a black fella, out in Campbelltown Yeah, yep OK, so I know you do some poetry,

Spoken word, rapping Is that right? Yeah, yeah you hit the nail on the head I perform a lot I do a lot of motivational speaking in high schools You know what I mean?

You know what I mean? Yep Especially particularly in regional areas, that's my favourite, because I'm a country kid I grew up in like Yenda, which is like Riverina,

Middle of absolute nowhere, 900 people Only my family is the one that's a little bit different OK And I try to be that dude that would go in and you know, talk to me Like you know, a younger version of myself

Spoken word, what do you talk about in spoken word? Like political stuff, like activism, like I'm a staunch anti-capitalist and you know, the racism that I faced as a younger man That kind of stuff And I get to travel the world doing it,

It's not a bad gig Travel the world doin' it? Yeah yeah, yeah – That's awesome Everyone's always traveling the world though, aren't we? Eh? Campbelltown's the world right?

Yeah (laughs) The world comes to Campbelltown (laughing) (funky upbeat music) Why are we here in Campbelltown Arts Centre? I grew up in Campbelltown and the Arts Centre had a big role in my upbringing

I grew up in quite low socio-economic areas, so I'd be coming here a lot doing excursions And I think it was a break from that struggle, like seeing artwork And you might think like art's for the elitists, lefty elitists, whatever that is

But it was for, you know, they were very open and welcoming for, you know, povo kids, come in and hang out Just knowing that there's more out there and getting me to question things around me So would you have a similar area

That you had growing up? I had everything I was lucky that I grew up in small country towns man Regional Australia where the air is fresh and you've got trees absolutely everywhere Growing up being someone of a migrant background,

You stick out like a sore thumb I did find a lot of solace in alone time I think that's one of the reasons I am not too bad of a writer, is because I've spent a lot of time hanging out with myself I know that sounds a little bit sad

No But yeah, when you're picked on a lot, when you're bullied a lot at a young age, you can either, you've got a choice to find strength in yourself And I'm lucky that I found that

I mean I just lucked out (funky upbeat music) Why are you, you're an actor right? That's your main grind? I like acting In the last couple of years,

I started getting more into filmmaking But I wanted to be an actor 'cause I saw Home Alone and Macaulay Culkin, I was like, I can do that Nice Yeah I saw that like three years ago

You saw yourself in Macaulay Culkin? Yeah I saw Macaulay Culkin Blonde hair, blue eyes, and went, "That's me" And I'm like, "Oh yeah, there's me yeah" 28 years old, I'm like, "I could do that" No (laughs) I watched it as a kid and I was like-

Yeah (laughs) I wanted to be like, I wanted to do that And I don't like working, and I thought oh yeah, "Acting – (Laughs) I don't like working I don't like working, acting's, like, would be the easiest job ever

You get famous, you get money, and you can just say a bunch of lines in front of the camera It's hard – No, I imagine it is it's super hard

Did you ever see someone with pigment on their skin and say, "Yeah"? There was no one when I was growing up, a blackfella on television Other than Ernie Dingo and Deborah Mailman Deborah was on a Channel 10 series,

Called The Secret Life of Us And her character wasn't playing a blackfella character Oh okay She was just a character, she was a person, you know what I mean? And that was cool seeing that

I don't wanna be pigeonholed into always playing Indigenous roles Because we're not being Indigenous every waking hour of the day, we're just people (funky upbeat music) You do poetry and you travel

How do you stay focused on, you know, you're traveling around, you could find yourself getting lost? I reckon self care is the best care, you know what I mean? Sometimes you just need to take care of yourself

But I love the stage man, there's something about being on that stage, in front of all those people It's definitely not about your ego, it's about us, you know what I mean? It's about,

I'm standing up here telling a story, I'm standing up here presenting myself in the most raw way I imagine you could relate in many ways How do you manage the ego? That's my question for you

I think just failing a bunch of times, got me to get myself going, "I need to snap out of it" I've managed to just go like whatever, if I'm meant to get the job I'm meant to get it And I'll leave it out there,

Whoever wants me or whatever like that And so that's taken the pressure off myself and it can be a whole number of factors why I won't get something, Yeah age, weight, height, eye colour,

Maybe I wasn't that great that day, maybe I'm not someone they're after But it's all on them and it's whatever they decide and whatever they care about, whatever they take away from that So it's made me just, kind of, relax a lot more now

Nice Yeah, and just going, "I just do the best that I can do" Zohab? Yep? You're at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, but you haven't been to the Campbelltown Japanese Garden Yeah

Shall we go out and check it out? Let's go check it out my bro (funky upbeat music) So how do your folks feel about you being a poet? It took 'em a little bit of time to come around I think they expected me to university,

All that kind of stuff Yeah And there was two moments I think where they were OK with it One was me winning the Australian championships Yep

I think when you're a national champion in something, your parents are like, "Ah, OK Yeah we can work with this now" And the other moment was, I gave my Mum a lot of money Aye! Like it's the stereotype

I see it in, like, Bollywood movies and stuff I don't even know if Pakistanis do it, but in Bollywood movies the son always gives his mum the first paycheck and it's like this big scene, and the music goes, "Dun dun dun dun dun!"

And all that So one day I just decided, I was like, "Here mum, here's a bunch of cash" Yeah that's it That's what it was, only happened once though (Laughing) I'm poor now

From then on they were fine with it? Yeah, yeah That's funny you say that, 'cause I did the similar thing Did you really? Yeah and it felt good, you know what I mean?

Yeah It made me feel like a man I was like, "I can provide for my family" Yeah, yeah It felt awesome But yeah, funny you were saying that And I think that's why we get that question,

"What did your parents think, about that?" Because they just want you to do well and stuff like that Yeah, definitely My folks were pretty supportive all the way through There was never really any hassles or struggle

Like I wanna be an actor, and they're like, "Yeah do it" (funky upbeat music) It's cool that your parents are really supportive of you Yeah, yeah But have you ever had a hater or someone who's like,

"Nah, what are you trying to be an actor for?" Yeah so I've had some trolls online Weird, like, people I feel like, yeah, there's people that are quite ignorant of things, and they just kind of, "bleh, what about-" Just like-

Yeah, yeah And I'm just, like, I'm like, "Do you know Aboriginal people? Or, you know, like, are you, I don't know, like, do you have any compassion or empathy of what other people feel? Why do you – " It's weird, people just trying to bring you down online,

Because they're on a Behind a screen and- Behind a screen yeah They're faceless and they get to have a jab, and you're like, well I've heard that so That's why you just brush it off right?

Yeah I was bad at that for a long time Oh yeah? If someone's taking a jab or whatever, it's like, "Ohh, aww" Yeah, right

It shakes your core a little bit Yeah There's a million and one reasons as you get older you're like, "OK let me just brush that off, I know that I'm of calibre

And I'm doing something that I genuinely believe in" And we all make mistakes along the way, you know what I mean? But you just strive and you remember what that goal is, innit? Yeah, yeah definitely

White Australians gave me like this complex, this issue, like, I had to go to therapy for Yeah All these things that would just pop up, I just had this complex about, Example, I live on this kind of half acre property

Yeah And the neighbour came round and cut some of my plants OK Just pruning and doing a nice thing Yeah, oh OK

And I lost my mind over it I was like, "How dare the privilege of this home owner, coming in to my yard, cutting my plants, thinking that he can get away with it, because it looked messy to him?"

Like, it's my garden People at home might be like, "He's just trying to do a good thing," "What does that have to do with it?" It's years of being pushed and told and put into and

Like your family having to deal with it You know, getting followed, and all of this stuff like that It's paternalism that keeps coming back If it's a good intention or not, Yep

It's, you know, I feel like it affects you And then you get told, "Don't overreact," "They're trying to do something good for you" Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah But it's that behind the scenes

Like, I've felt the same in the past, where it's so heavy, that you've got this huge chip on your shoulder and you don't want the chip on your shoulder but then you're like, "But this and this, and this and this,

And this and this happened" You know what I mean? Yeah I had this review recently from a kid, right? I get a lot of reviews and feedback, and it's always great, and one kid's feedback was,

This is from a poetry show, "When he walked into the room, I thought he was going to be a typical overseas person but then he started talking and changed my mind" Like even kids think you're just gonna be, like, I don't know, like Apu from The Simpsons or something like that

Or, you know, like some terrorist or bla, bla, bla, whatever it is, I have no idea (funky upbeat music) So what's that fight in you to or the drive to keep you doing what you do? I genuinely think jumping on a stage,

Bang, looking at people in their eyes and sharing your story, sharing your poetry, sharing your perspective, genuinely makes a change on this earth Yeah nice That's legitimately why I do what I do

Yeah nice, yeah You're a man of colour, you're an Indigenous man Being who you are, do you feel that you need to be, you know that voice for your people? Or that activist or whatever it is? And how do you give yourself that balance,

That time off or whatever it is? Do you sometimes just wanna hang out and just do a funny thing just for the sake of being funny? Not with your identity involved? I'll always A blackfella gets on stage, it's a political statement

I could say anything to these cameras, you know, like, "Oh look the cat walked past" And that will say something about, you know, you could read something political in that Yeah, it's like, "Ooh, animals – "Yeah animals, invasive species,

What is he saying?" Any kind of art that I do in this country, will always be a political statement And I can't walk away from that, I had a complex with that when I was younger Like going, "I'm more than just being

A blackfella on stage" Yeah But now I've come to accept it in going, well it's them, they will draw that message from it And I don't have to follow the same – I don't always have to be political

I can do something random and I know they're gonna bring something political to it Yeah But whether that's right or wrong, like, my intentions are my intentions (funky upbeat music)

Bro thank you so much for hanging out with me today, it's been a really cool time chillin', chattin' all that My pleasure Yeah yeah Thank you very much Cheers mate Cheers bro

Awesome You wanna, let's go into the cafe? Let's do it Actually bro, do you know what else I do? Yeah? (harmonica beat boxing)

Hey! (hamonica beat boxing) Yeah! Nice! Thanks bro

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