In the waiting room
In times of uncertainty, one grows to appreciate the value of memories more and more. For many, the earliest memories are of family. Perhaps it’s having your father read a bedtime story to you, or strolling around the park with your mother. The family bonds are among the strongest ones known to man and without them, the communities and individuals would not exist, let alone function properly.
Welcome to the children’s room,
Where we find ourselves listening to an intimate conversation of two families - a Mother and Daughter - Harmony Ilunga, from Congo living in Hong Kong, and a Father and Daughter, from Hungary, where the Daughter has moved to London. Two completely different family backgrounds but what keeps the conversation rolling are the endless stories which adorably illustrate the love and respect running in the family dynamics.
GAHSP Media had the chance to interview both creative families one-on-one, creating a fictional room, the children’s room, that stows away treasures and makes it possible for the answers to form a conversation and build a full perspective.
In many cases our earliest memories are connected to experiences with our families. As we grow older, these memories transform and gain new ways of expression that help us to learn and understand more about our beliefs, intentions and actions.
HARMONY: The first thing that pops up in my mind is me, my mother, father and my brother, a while back in Congo. Those images were just that - images. With age, I see mostly myself, my mother and my brother as my dad moves to Hong Kong, and leaves us. My grandmother - who mostly raised me when mum was either busy at school or work, making sure my brother and I were fine at all cost.
Harmony Ilunga arrived in Hong Kong in 2011 with her family, as a refugee from Congo. It didn’t take long for Harmony to turn the challenging situation around and vow the fashion scene in Hong Kong with her presence. As an entrepreneur, model and the founder of Harmony HK, the 22-year-old fights for diversity and better representation in the modeling industry day by day. Since the first fashion show in 2018, Harmony HK transformed from a model agency to a community of inspiring Creatives.
CLARISSE: The first memory that pops up in my mind is of my mother. That’s the woman who has raised me to be who I am. Because of the suffering she had to go through to raise my siblings and me, it will always be the first memory of my family – my mother, the strongest and most independent woman of all time.
Harmony’s mother, Clarisse Akonyi, a former nurse, is easy to spot at the Harmony HK shows even from a distance, thanks to her vibrant traditional Congolese dresses. As the founder of Art Women, Clarisse established a platform for female refugees that organises arts and crafts workshops. Art Women is run by a group of female asylum seekers, with the purpose to provide a space not only for creativity but counseling and healing.
On the other side of the planet, Europe, Berta and Peter Vallo continue the conversation. Just like for Harmony and her mother, creativity flows in the Vallo family.
BERTA: It would be tough to pick one specific memory that illustrates our early family life. With my younger sister Lujza, we had a fantastic childhood, including multiple family trips that we remember with gratitude and love to this day. My first memories are likely to be connected to my parents’ career in theater. A performance here, another premiere there, waving at my mom from the first row during the performance of Dancing at Lughnasa, or watching ‘Richard the III’, directed by my dad.
Berta Vallo is an illustrator based in London. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins, Berta has risen to the top of the industry swiftly. Berta’s work is mostly centered around fascinating characters, exploring the notion of identity formation and female sexuality in relation to consumerist culture. She was recently included on the list of the 100 best illustrators from around the world by the German art book publisher, Tashen.
PETER: It is only me who can remember our first father-daughter experience together ... It happened in the waiting room of the maternity clinic in Budapest, right outside of the labour room.
Peter Vallo is one of the most accomplished Hungarian directors. He has been a defining character to the world of theater, directing countless performances for top Hungarian theaters. Currently, Vallo is the Director of the Radnóty Miklós Theater and the Art Consultant for Vígszínház, another prestigious Hungarian theater. He has been awarded with Kossuth-prize, Jászai Mari-prize, and several more national awards.
A creative mind always finds its source of inspiration. However, being surrounded with Creatives so closely within a family must be a great form of motivation. The parent - child duos reflect on the daily dynamics and how they overcome challenges that were brought to them due to their life circumstances.
PETER: Our family always holds together, despite the large distances (Berta is living in London and Peter in Budapest). Fortunately – or unfortunately - different characters blend within our family, and perhaps this is exactly what drives us. When it comes to theatre, losing inspiration or motivation is not an option. Our work is with people, about people. This only carries enough inspiration within.
BERTA: The dynamics of our family life have transformed a lot during the years but the most significant change was definitely my relocation to London. First, I left Budapest, then my sister followed me two years later. It is not always easy to navigate the difficulties of distances, but we are still very close as a family, we talk more times a week, and with my sister, we live in a kind of symbiosis. Our biggest motivation roots within the desire to establish happiness throughout our everydays. Without our plans and ambitions, this London chapter would have been an even rockier challenge.
Moving to London was hard for our whole family, both financially and mentally. I have been living here for 6 or 7 years, and it still hurts when we cannot celebrate holidays together. This year, some of the birthdays were postponed because of the quarantine. I have a strong belief that when it comes to fundamental questions, our family shares the same principles. However there are some differences in the way we approach everyday life. This might be due to the fact that I moved to London as a young adult, which for sure has affected my perspective.
PETER: Our biggest ordeals are caused by the physical distance. As parents, it took us some time to understand that moving to England, attending a university there, and finding a job after might not be as clear of a path, as it seems from home. We had to realise that our experiences, as Hungarian parents, are not always in sync with Berta’s “reality”.
HARMONY: I grew up in a very religious family, even when I moved to Hong Kong with my dad. Everything was mostly about Christianity based on what we do, and my dad always reminds us how we should put God first before anything, which I think is the motivation I was raised with. When I look at my mum or my grandmother, these women are hustlers, they never let anything stop them no matter the circumstances. That’s something I feel like was automatically passed to me because these strong women are unstoppable, and their love for the family and dedication is a motivation and inspiration route for me.
Respect and mutual support, as well as shared beliefs seem to be the unquestionable principles closely attached to the sources of motivation and inspiration in the family. Sometimes being interlaced with practical approaches, sometimes coming off as simple and clear as it can be:
CLARISSE: The thought of being a good mother to my children, that is my motivation.
After all, nothing is more valuable than the time spent together, in which case the shared moments of working on creative projects as a family, is a luxury.
CLARISSE: We are excited about the upcoming Harmony HK Show that my daughter would be organising. I see her going through a lot for the preparation and I can’t wait to showcase the new collections at the show. I love just being there for her as a supportive mother whenever she needs me.
HARMONY: I love working with my mum, although it can be a lot of work, you know what I mean? I love helping my mum with her work for Art Women and trying to figure out what outfit fits the occasion better or which fabrics would make for better garments – these are the most amazing things. I think what’s most important to me is the time we spend together. That precious moment, along with a chance to learn from each other, is the most valuable thing, something I would not have a chance to have forever.
As the conversation unfolds into a reflection on shared creative projects and experiences, both families agree that trust and guidance are two of the major acts that make family connections so much more special than any other:
PETER: It is tough to talk about creative projects or work in general, as we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. Whenever I have the chance to make a decision about the poster of a play, I ask Berta to create it. Not only because of the family bond but because I genuinely think that our creative styles are surprisingly aligned.
Throughout my whole life, I assigned great importance to providing financial support to my daughters, no matter what. Recently, it has become more professional guidance.
BERTA: In 2020, our biggest “project” was the survival of the pandemic itself. Throughout the years I worked with my parents several times. I have designed multiple theatre posters for my dad and created the cover of my mom’s first book. It would be difficult to talk about magical moments in these cases, as what I do is basically sit in front of the screen, drawing and drawing until exhaustion. But, in the end, what matters is how they like it. If they are happy, I am happy as well.
In our family we talk to each other as much as we can, and we know that we can count on one another. This is especially important as we don’t have the luxury of living in the same country.
HARMONY: I think just being there for each other is the most memorable act. There are moments I feel down, but I know that I got my mum’s shoulder to rely on and vice versa.
Just being black in an Asian city is already a challenge. Being different in a society where people are not familiar with you makes it hard to be accepted for who you are. We have to try our best to prove to people that we can fit in. I need to work three times more than people of other races or even more than that to just fit in, and that's how I came up with Harmony HK because the real world did not accept me and I had to find a solution to my problem of being different. When I was young, I wasn't told that I would be treated differently because of my skin colour. I will say I have learned how to handle it, and I know for sure that I will prepare my children for it in the future.
CLARISSE: Just being there for each other whenever needed that’s the best I can do as a mother.
There are a lot of challenges that my daughter is going to face in the world. All I have to do is prepare her for them and be a supportive mother as much as I can.
When asked what are the most important things the family members learned about each other, all answers expressed a strong system of beliefs more than anything else:
HARMONY: No one is going to be there and love you as much as family would do, with no doubt.
BERTA: My mom’s spiritual strength and her ability to start over during hard times have always been an inspiration to me. I am just as grateful for my dad, for teaching me persistence and humility when it comes to work and profession. It was his influence that awakened my interest in literature, and even though I don’t read as much as I used to as a teenager, it acts as the starting point of my work in many cases.
I am not quite sure what my family can learn from me. They can definitely pick up a thing or two from my sister Lujza, she is a living and breathing lexicon after all...
PETER: In my opinion, the most important thing that one can learn from me is my inalterable belief in diligence and dedication when it comes to one's profession. It feels good to know that I have successfully passed these qualities to Berta, as I witness her making conscious decisions day by day, both in her professional and private life. No matter how challenging a situation would be, she is able to keep her persistency.
Bringing the conversation to an end, we asked all of our interviewees to give advice on how to work smoothly as a family. We couldn’t help but notice the shared perspectives and approaches within both duos, and the power that the family bond provides them with. After all, we can all consider this talk as a great motivation to reflect on and examine the fundamental beliefs that our families can provide to us.
BERTA: It is hard to give an authentic answer on how to work smoothly as a family, as each family is different, and I’m talking from a privileged position here. Each family needs to bridge different problems, just like ours, however I consider us very lucky. In my experience, if one really tries to listen genuinely, actively, all conflicts can be eased. At times, it's even more important to be there for one another rather than handing out advice. On the other hand, one must be realistic about what we expect from each other. One should only expect as much from someone, as they are able to give in return. If we neglect this, our relationships might suffer.
PETER: Whenever we feel at loss of hope, our best option is to hold onto good memories. Planning ahead isn’t the easiest at this moment, maybe it is better not to. We have to try to make the best out of the present - with the help of each other.
Last but not least, to find a way to bring these connections to fruition.
CLARISSE: My advice - to be patient with one another.
HARMONY: My advice - to be patient with each other.
Conversation in the safe room. Written and edited by Gennady Oreshkin and Julia Horvath. Translated by Julia Horvath.