This piece is part of Bossy’s Visual Interviews series, which aims to put a spotlight on artists and how their work tells the story of their identities and experiences. The statement and works below were created by Elian Au, a first-year ANU student studying a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours).

I don’t often think of myself as a particularly unique or notable artist—like many artists, my work is a means of making deeply personal and meaningful expressions of myself.

Fashion and sewing came to me during a dark period of my life when I was searching for something I could claim as uniquely my own and was apart from my world at the time. I didn’t think fashion would be the thing to help me—but stumbling upon a photo of the first piece I ever made—a simple blouse and skirt made of horribly stiff material that has long since been reclaimed for fabric—I realised it ignited something that has never gone out since.

Most of my work has revolved around one concept: the “Unseen”—ideas surrounding ethnic identity, queerness, and mental health. All the things that might tick within our brains but not necessarily be seen by others. My work tends to come budding up from my own personal experiences and desire to see these ideas formed into solid, observable objects.

My earlier works mainly focused on aspects of identity, things like my Asian heritage or queer identity. They were a way of connecting with the parts of myself that I either didn’t often think about or that have significantly influenced the way I have to interact with my reality and society. Weaving these topics into the decisions I made regarding fabrics, iconography, and techniques meant that each time I was making a piece, I was re-examining the world, its people, and myself. I found that in doing so, I was embracing parts of myself that I had pushed away, didn’t want to think about—couldn’t think about—until I had created this safe space within fashion and sewing to finally unravel them.

And so, when I was given a chance to take the reins completely and make my own collections, I jumped on it. Ever since I made that first piece (and bought the tiny little cheap sewing machine I still use today), I wanted to explore mental health and capture the rawness of difficult emotions. I wanted to encapsulate the overwhelming thoughts that can leave you feeling suffocated—and acknowledge that there is humanity to them. There is connection and community. Given the events of 2020, this message seemed more important than ever.

So I made Catharsis

Taking eight weeks or so, several tubes of paint, metres of fabric, and plenty of long, long hours, the collection was finally showcased on the 12th of November 2020. It’s difficult to describe that night, but it has burned itself deep into my memory. It was crowded, my models were beside me, and my heart was racing. When the music finally started playing—“Someone to Stay” (Revival) by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, absolutely beautiful but very sad—it all fell into place.

I’m not sure if it felt the same for anyone else. But even without the crowd, without the people—to see the work come together and depict something I felt so intimately within me, it truly gave a sense of peace. I believe people can find themselves reflected within the artistic works of the world. I want to believe that they can find joy and love for themselves in these works. And I like to think I got to do that for myself.

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