The Footscray melting pot offers a welcoming and engaging home for artist and emerging cultural leader Roberta Joy Rich. She speaks with Benjamin Millar


What is your connection with Footscray?


I have lived in Footscray now for about seven years. I grew up in Victoria’s south-west region, on Wathaurong land on the Bellarine Peninsula, and moved to Melbourne for university. I needed a change from the east once I finished my undergraduate studies. Considering this, I guess I’ve always been west-side oriented. I feel at home in Footscray and can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.


What do you love most about the area?


The west has always been a home for many diaspora. I feel relaxed and extremely comfortable in Footscray. I would not change anything – except for rental increase! However, the area has been changing very quickly, especially over the last few years. I love that Footscray is a melting pot. I hope it stays this way and the local entrepreneurs thrive in the area.


Do you have a favourite local place or places to spend time?


That’s hard to answer, there are so many places I enjoy! I love eating at Dong Ba, Pho Tam, To’s, FAB Café, Bò De Trái, Dinknesh (Lucy), Ras Dashen, Footscray Best Kebab House and Africa Town. Shout out also to my cousin’s joint, Up in Smoke – it’s good too. I loved visiting Little Saigon Market and was very sad to see its burnt fate.


How did you get into art and what can you tell us about your practice?

I’ve always been engaged with art and have been creative from a young age. I studied at Monash University, completing First Class Honours and subsequently a Master of Fine Art by Research. My arts practice is multi-disciplinary, working with a variety of mediums such as video, installation, textiles and screenprinting. My work explores identity and how identity is constructed and represented. In particular I draw from my diaspora African identity and my experiences in Australian and South African contexts.



Roberta Joy Rich at FCAC. Photo by Damjan Janevski.

Roberta Joy Rich at FCAC. Photo by Damjan Janevski.

In what ways has living here influenced your creative voice and output?

Living in Footscray has influenced my desire to engage further within my community in my arts practice and with Afro peers. Participating in the Emerging Cultural Leaders program has been a part of this, and I hope to collaborate with Footscray Community Arts Centre in future projects, as I see FCAC as a centre in Melbourne for diverse cultural and intersectional practices.


What drew you to FCAC’s Emerging Cultural Leaders program and what has it meant to take part?


I learned about the program after returning from South Africa. I have an ambitious project in mind of a creative exchange program between South African and African diaspora artists in Australia. This mentorship program came at precisely the right time for me to further understand the work and logistics involved of my goal in a challenging and unpredictable industry. I feel privileged to have participated in a program that has introduced me to amazing creatives and producers, while absorbing so much valuable knowledge.


What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?


Also known as DJ BOB in certain circles. Former athlete. Lonely Hearts Choir member. Zelda: Ocarina of Time fan.


■ The 2017 Emerging Cultural Leaders showcase and celebration will be held at Footscray Community Arts Centre from 6.30-8.30pm on Thursday, November 9.