Alia Gabres

Woman sitting at cafe table
Alia Gabres
Image: Lahza Photography
Source: Museum VIctoria

 Alia Gabres is an accomplished spoken-word poet. She is an arts producer at Footscray's Community Arts Centre and is undertaking a masters in community cultural development.

Performance poetry is a special interest for Alia, whose stories often come from observations of people and their everyday interactions.

Alia identifies as an African (Eritrean born), female, Muslim and a migrant. Her experience as an artist from a diverse cultural background has influenced her practice and helps her to connect with a wide range of people.

Video transcript

My name is Alia Gabres. I am an Eritrean Australian. I am the Associate Arts Producer of the Footscray Arts Centre.

My main practice artistically, at the moment, is in community arts, so mainly I engage with different community groups, develop projects, implement arts projects, look at community engagement.

My artistic practice is that I am a spoken word artist. Spoken word, essentially, is exactly what those two words are within that title. So there's the performance element and then there is the poetry element, which is what people are usually much more familiar with. I think when I first started practising... spoken word, there was an element of feeling like I was a novelty, and it's really something that I had to overcome personally before I could think about that within a broader framework.

I don't think my spirituality or my faith is something that necessarily needs to be the forefront of my artistic practice. And if people choose to engage with me at that level, whereas in I am a novelty and it happens to offer me opportunities that others may not have been given, then I'm OK with that at this point because I think that... after a certain point, the merit of your work will have to stand alone - the novelty factor wears out.

As an artist, I think there's been challenges both in the mainstream community and within the Muslim community, but, at the same time, I think, in both respects, you're challenging stereotypes.

I've always been a writer, I wrote from a very young age, and mainly it was because I didn't have friends. So my books and my pens became my friends to a certain extent. But, um... I went into university and I actually studied professional writing and I lost a lot of inspiration going through that process! So when I came across spoken word and performance poetry, I think that was when I really started thinking about creativity within a different framework, and I felt really liberated when thinking about the idea of free-form verse and all of those things. I think there was never a plan for me to be an artist. I still don't know what the plan is. I have trouble with the title 'artist' - I don't even know what that means! I just kind of tell stories, and that's really how I see it.

I don't feel like I've gotten very far at all. And that's mainly because I know how much further there is to go, in terms of being a... female, being a Muslim, being an African, being a migrant and all of the rest of those hyphens. There's so much further to go. There's so much work that needs to be done. So I really have trouble in looking at myself within that context of how far you've come. I haven't really started, I don't really feel.

The one thing that is consistent is that I see myself as a storyteller and I, you know... It's going to sound so cliché, but I'm going to say it. It's not about me, you know. I'm not here to get a certain idea across. These are just musings. But a lot of my poems come from people and they come from... just observations in life, and so if I take myself out of the equation, then it's just the story. That's the drive.