Migrant communities uniting through art for breast cancer awareness

This October the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery will showcase a display of three garments made by women from Afghan, African, Nepalese and Bhutanese migrant communities in Tasmania.  

The United in Pink pilot program, first delivered in 2020 by the Migrant Resource Centre North and Breast Screen Tasmania, was designed to help refugee women detect and treat breast cancer early through community conversation, education and art.    

As part of the pilot program, local artists worked with women from Afghan migrant communities across Northern Tasmania to sew scarfs (hijabs), out of pink fabrics.  

In 2022, Migrant Resource Centre North received a grant from Arts Tasmania enabling the United In Pink program to continue and expand in offering.   

The new program coordinated by Gabriela Zampini involved local artists Mairi Ward, Mae Finlayson and Phillipa Julien as they engaged with ethnic female groups to create a series of three unique garments.   

With the original 30 pink scarfs from the pilot program used to create the garments on display, this project represents the sharing of knowledge of breast cancer awareness within refugee communities in Tasmania.  

One technique featured is the art of Kattak – a traditional form of Afghan embroidery passed down from generation to generation.  

Through the use of this traditional embroidery art, various participants were able to rediscover a skill largely left behind since migrating to Tasmania.    

City of Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten said the United in Pink exhibition was a brilliant example of community-based art programs.  

‘This program is a wonderful opportunity for members of our migrant communities to engage in art while connecting with others.’  

General Manager of Creative Arts and Cultural Services, Shane Fitzgerald, said this exhibition aims to not only celebrate the works on display, but share the message of breast cancer awareness in the broader community.  

‘Programs such as United in Pink play an incredibly important role in our communities,’ Fitzgerald said.  

‘They provide opportunity for collaboration, connection and conversation within our migrant communities across Launceston and northern Tasmania.   

‘It’s fantastic to be welcoming this temporary exhibition to the Museum and to share this work with our audiences.’  

Bi-cultural worker for the United in Pink program, Pabitra Subba, said the program was a great initiative for the community to engage in.  

‘The program not only aimed to celebrate women but also sought to encourage them to put their health first. 

‘I feel honoured to be part of this amazing program by MRC North in collaboration with Breast Screen Tasmania.’ 

Program participant Arizo Iria said it was a therapeutic feeling to be able to connect with other women as part of the program, even if unable to speak the same language.  

‘My own mother passed away from breast cancer, as in our community, there was no awareness of breast cancer or early detection,’ Iria said.  

United In Pink was very important in my community because the program engaged women from ethnic communities in an activity that was enjoyable and therapeutic like sewing, something that is known and shared by most Afghan women from early age.'  

MRC North Project Coordinator Gabriela Zampini said the program aimed to encourage women to change their priorities and put their health first.  

'The United in Pink program impacted over 300 women from different communities across northern Tasmania, and resulted in a large number of bookings for mammograms, which was an amazing outcome,’ Zampini said.  

‘We believed that by providing women with a safe place to create and share their creations, we could build an environment in which ethnic women could be better heard and understood.  

‘Encouraging women to change their priorities and put their health first is going to be a long journey. Our aim with United in Pink is to make that journey a lot shorter, and hopefully, save as many women’s lives as possible along the way.’  

The United in Pink community exhibition will be on display at the Museum at Inveresk from 15 October to 6 November 2022 with free entry. 

Issued 13 October 2022.