It is a great pleasure to have Avinash Weerasekera author of What to Expect when you’re Immigrating for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. For the unknown, Nash (as he’s commonly known) is a Sri Lankan born multi-disciplinary designer artist based in Melbourne. To help celebrate the release of his debut book, we sat down for a chat. Read on!
What brought you to Australia?
Nash- The idea of moving was at the back of my mind for a lot longer than I actually thought about it consciously. I was looking to study architecture; I was looking at various universities to go for. Australia just seemed easier to get into a Uni. I guess it’s the process of elimination like I looked at what countries I didn’t want to go to and in the end, Australia was the best option so to speak.
It’s been nearly nine years! What is your most favourite part about Down Under?
Nash- Coming from Sri Lanka and having an interest in the arts. I realised that there were a lot more opportunities for me to pursue my passion and make money. There are so many ways to make money here. And it just so happened that Melbourne has a thriving enough art market that I can make a living from. It is still a lot of hard work. You know, I’ve been still working for close to 40 hours a week as a bartender to pay my bills but I’m also pursuing my art career at the same time and I feel like it’s a lot more satisfying to be able to pursue something that you really like, and that opportunity is what I really love about Australia so far. I also met my partner here. So, the human connections here are lovely as well.
Can we safely say your debut book ‘What to Expect When You’re Immigrating’ is based on your own life?
Nash- A lot of the things that I’ve mentioned is more of a self-reflection rather than an observation of direct interaction with someone. I think that’s an important distinction to make there.
There’s a tagline in the book where you wrote- ‘people may try to put you into a box, just don’t make sure you jump into yours’, what do you want to convey through that?
Nash- I think the obvious point of that is you know the stereotype. The stereotyping of individuals based on immutable characteristics so it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the race itself, it could be anything. The point I was trying to make there was to make sure that when people start looking at you a certain way, you start believing their opinions of you even if it’s not true. I remember I was applying for jobs in cafes at one point. Fortunately for me, I spoke English fluently enough to be able to interact with people so I didn’t have the same difficulties or had to go through possible judgements that some people might have had which I’m very grateful for.
Immigrating can be extra hard on some days. What kept you pumped up during some not-so-great days?
Nash- I thought about what I was gaining from being here that I wouldn’t gain from being anywhere else. The way I explain it to someone with regards to my art is a very big part of who I am and is passionate about. I’ve fought too hard and worked too hard to get my art to a place where I am able to get noticed by people and get interviewed because of my art right now. I would be a fool to give this up and look for a more comfortable life.
How did this idea of converting your everyday art into an illustrated book?
Nash- I’m a big fan of challenges, and to try and make something that’s quite serious. No one would go through normal immigration to a country and be like, this was fun. It’s not a carnival ride. So the challenge of making these things humorous, make them concise enough for just an illustration. I found that challenge quite compelling, I took it upon myself to be able to communicate the same feelings that I had, the things that I went through illustrations were funny and, you know what I’m happy with the result.
How much time did it take you to write this book?
Nash- This book was supposed to be published in June last year. The pandemic played a big role in it being pushed to January 2021 because I think my publisher had the final copy, maybe like January last year or February last year. We were just figuring out the final details. It didn’t take that long, because what I used to do was, at that point, I had like an hour and 30 minutes tram ride to get into the city every day in the morning. I would sit there, and I would always model over it because you can’t really do anything else. You either listen to music, or you read something. I would write down those taglines. Whenever it came to my mind and then I would think of illustrations for them on those frames back and forth. I think there’s around seventy-six in the book. But I probably came up with like hundreds of those.
Can you pick your best moments in Australia?
Nash- I feel I’ve appreciated the highs, because of the lows. I can’t really pinpoint. The selling of my first artwork here was pretty good as well. Meeting my partner here has also been one of the highlights.
If you would change anything in this journey from start to now?
Nash- I wish I didn’t come with certain pre-informed biases, based on what the people might be saying. I wish I would have made my own mind through experiencing without being overly careful because I’ve heard of something.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the whole immigrating journey?
Nash- Independence, working without a safety net and having a reliance on yourself, because when you’re in your own country, at the back of your mind regardless of what happens, you’re gonna have family around. You know, you’ve got a safety net whereas here, you kind of need to work, you need to earn your own way, you need to figure things out and work on the friendships you build when you’re here.
Is there any message for the new migrants out there? Do you have any piece of advice for them?
Nash- Be open-minded to experiencing new things and not be afraid of going outside your comfort zone and interact with new people. It’s a real shame if you come to this country and you don’t experience what the country has to offer.
Nash’s funny, insightful debut book #WhattoExpectWhenYoureImmigrating is out now from @affirmpress!