An Ambiguous Identity: On Discrimination and Belonging, with Saba Tadele


Home is where the heart is, we've been told. But what if my heart is somewhere I have never truly belonged? There is a natural yearning deep down in all of us as humans to feel as if we are part of a larger collective. A sense of belonging to a greater community, to connect with others that are similar to you, that share your experiences. To be seen for who you are, understood, know that you are not alone, and to find comfort in that knowledge.

My parents came to Europe as students during the 80's, first to Poland, and after completing their studies, they immigrated to Sweden. I was only two years old when me and my father moved to Sweden, the place that would become our new "home". My father worked for years as a successful architect and when we grew up he moved back to Ethiopia. This came as a bit of a shock for me, even though I knew he had a dream of returning one day, I didn't actually think it would happen. The biggest realization for me in the midst of it all was that, this was a result of him never really feeling at home in Sweden. After all of these years, his heart was in Ethiopia. I started to question my belonging and where my safe space in the world was, I was craving home too.

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During my time growing up, the first question I was asked in almost any circumstance was, "where are you from?" I didn't really mind the question at the time, it was just that it was complicated. I was aware of the confusion my answer usually caused when I explained that I had an Ethiopian father, Afghan mother, but that I was born in Poland and grew up in Sweden. Sometimes I didn't want to bore people with my long answer, and other times I just didn't want to answer all of the questions I knew would follow. I was everything and nothing simultaneously.

As I graduated from high school, I found myself in a world where xenophobia, racism, and hostility against people from ethnic and religious minorities as myself was on the rise. To be a Muslim woman of colour with an immigrant background adds layers of vulnerability to hate-based violence and discrimination. I was tired, drained and retaining joy was a struggle. Sweden was no longer a safe place for me and I felt even more alienated than ever.

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Art became my escape in my battle against all of the frustration from what was going on in the world. I painted it out, wrote it out, any way I could pour it out of my system was liberating to me. My perceptions and observations of the world were turned inward and into abstract forms. It was a way for me to convey my experiences and express myself without judgment. Issues that otherwise were quite controversial and complex were transformed into the simplest forms and it gave me a new sense of clarity on my journey of self-discovery.

With this new creative process I felt free, I had an outlet to help understand it all in a deeper way. This was my way of engaging in these harsh realities while still maintaining some kind of self-protection. Belonging and identity are still topics I explore and I think we all do for as long as we live. But I realize now that home isn't only physical. but the moments and places in which we find peace, that is true belonging to me and where my heart is.


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Saba Tadele

Saba Tadele is a multifaceted visionary, visual artist and writer with a passion to help people cultivate a life of self-love and confidence. In a world of fragmented political climate and growing social change, she uses her experiences as a woman with a multi-cultural heritage and minority ethnic background to examine themes such as belonging, identity and exploring the inner truths of oneself in her art.

Follow Saba at: @sabatadele //

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