Michael Fikaris is a Melbourne-based visual artist whose diverse array of artistic talents has recently led him to participate in the 2015 Gertrude Street Projection Festival in Collingwood. The festival, which runs from 10-19 July, features a plethora of creative projection works, but it is Fikaris’ participation in the festival’s animated projection Animatism, that has piqued particular interest in its ability to act as a passage of cultural exchange between Australia and East Timor.

Fikaris began his career in the Australian art scene just fourteen years ago; a jam-packed period that has seen the manifestation of Fikaris’ artistic skill in the fields of illustration, comic book artistry, publishing and artistic curating. For Fikaris, “a combination of natural interest” and what he believes to be a fated destiny drew him towards art. “You could say art chose me really.” His multi-talented artistic identity is fuelled by a love for diversity wherein Fikaris “loves the freedom to explore many outlets of expression.” Since the start of his career in 2001, Fikaris has curated and coordinated almost 100 comic releases and in 2002 he began his own comic collective titled The Silent Army.

In 2013, Fikaris was asked to join the cultural art exchange program Animatism; a collaborative platform created to allow Australian and East Timorese artists to fuse their talents, in a bid to deepen cross-cultural understanding between the two countries. According to Fikaris the aim of the collective is for artists, “to bond and strengthen humanitarian ties” between Australia and one of its closest neighbours. Fikaris joined the collective and undertook a two week residency in East Timor’s cultural centre and fine arts school Atre Moris. Fikaris tells Neos Kosmos that “the outcome of the residency was an exhibition and a set of about 50 portraits” that he completed whilst in East Timor. The artist then turned the portraits into a zine that was sold to raise money for the self-publication of a comic book about the school titled Art as Life. His most recent engagement with the collective is via the projection festival, where his work is displayed alongside ten other artists, tied together by the “digital competence of designer Kate Geck.”

For Fikaris, being involved in Animatism enhances his curiosity in neighbouring states and a deep belief in the ability for art to act as a path of communication between countries. “I believe art is one is one of the finest ways to make a cultural exchange.” he says. The value of art as a cross-cultural connector is further enhanced when it is used as a passage of healing between countries whose relationship has suffered economic and political turbulence, such as that of Australia and East Timor. The current state of relations between the two states is based, among other things, on a dispute over $40 billion of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. Fikaris sees art through Animatism as a way to “heal the damage that has been done. I hope that we can be honest and upfront about our dealings in the future.”

Furthermore, the social importance of a cultural collective such as Animatism lies in exuding the true spirit of East Timor and its people. Fikaris states that through allowing Australian and East Timorese artists to collaborate audiences can “hear true stories from everyday people and families without government, media and/or business” influences.

In a country that prides itself on multiculturalism there is no denying that art as a cross-cultural binder finds itself a humble home in the national art scene. For Fikaris, it is Australia’s culturally diverse demographic that has taught him the value of equality. “I have made the choice to use art as a philosophical and humble reminder of this. By listening and talking with others, my understanding and empathy grows.” he says. For the collective mind of Australia, the multi-disciplinary artist urges “the joy of learning about other cultures and human stories that makes life richer.” Just like the arrival of the first wave of Greeks to Australian shores, he says “the sharing of different ways of living is important to understand and this is what Animatism is all about.”

* The Animatism exhibition at the Gertrude Street Projection Festival will be running at Site Number 5 (Kinobi, 71 Gertrude St) until 19 July. For more information about the festival head to: www.gspf.com.au/program/explore/2015-animatism and www.fikarisart.com/