meraki (μεράκι) : the soul, creativity or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.
Being the daughter of a Greek Cypriot man, I learned this concept very early in life, long before I learned there was a word that summed it up with such clarity. I’ve told this story countless times over the past year, but it is one that hasdefined my work and my life for as long as I can remember.
When my family emigrated from England to Australia in 1994 we resided in my auntie’s granny flat (that ordinarily was the residence of my Yiayia, Dad’s mother) until our house was built. I would often watch Yiayia make bread by hand, and Dad would say to my brother and I that it tastes much better because she made it. And when I’d ask why, he would answer, “Because she puts love into it.”
Since then, the merits of almost every meal that my parents made would be attributed to the amount of “love” put into them (particularly my Dad’s sandwiches, and Mum’s soups). Being someone who loves to eat, but hates cooking, I’ve always channeled my love and self into making art and writing stories and creating paracosms for myself and others to visit. As I matured, my work became filled with past experiences of comfort and nostalgia.
In 2014, my parents, brother, husband and I travelled back to the town we left behind 20 years ago: Northampton, England. The excitement of planning to revisit places we played in as children, ice cream we once shared, smells and sounds that we remembered with such pleasure became almost unbearable: I craved to be 4 year old Barb again, and revisit my childhood. This trip inspired my BFA Honours body of work.
My honours work became an installation of nostalgia and comfort, like a shrine to a previous time and self. Installed at Watt Space Gallery in June 2014, the room was painted a dull grey and was filled with a continuous mantelpiece that ran the entire length of the gallery space, to evoke the sense of a cosy living room where one may have sat before a warm fire. Atop the mantelpiece were 36 trading card sized graphite drawings of objects I experienced between the age of 3 and 5 that held significant nostalgic value to me; these objects were deeply embedded with memories of comfort, so much so that I hoarded them and references to them as a way to subconsciously travel back to that time, to feel comforted once more.
These objects and memories are the foundation of myself as a person and an artist. I put care into each drawing, perfectly rendering these objects that I cherish in graphite as to immortalise them. By putting every ounce of emotion I possessed into this body of work, I was able to portray myself to the viewer, and also evoke unique memories in every person who visited the exhibition.
But most importantly I put love into it. My soul, my creativity, my essence of self all poured into this work, and that made it something that I’m truly proud of and will always be proud of. Meraki is my mantra for life; everything I do, I put love into it: relationships, art, writing, the little cooking I attempt, even cleaning the house. Love in this sense isn’t a romantic, whimsical love; it is the best of you, the care, the soul.
It took me a few years to realise that love isn’t a flavour or physical ingredient, or a tool or material. It’s a state of mind, a sense of self. When we make things, no matter what it is, it should always come from within us: to be filled with our own life and soul. Whether it be a sandwich or a work of art, love is vital in all that we make.