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Interview with Max Atkins – Furniture maker

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Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Max Atkins and I am a musician and furniture maker from Melbourne, Australia.
How did you become involved in The Two Chairs project?
Soon after Suzie discovered I had begun building furniture she came to me with the story of the ‘European Labour Only’ stamp and idea of building a pair of chairs with the aim to starting a conversation about racism in Australia.
Which project were you a part of? What was your role?
I agreed to build the chairs and we began designing them together. This is among the first of my woodworking projects, previously I have made some percussion instruments, a speaker box, benches and only a few other things.
What are your thoughts about the “European Labour Only” stamp found on furniture?
The existence of the ‘European Labour Only’ stamp does not really surprise me, and it is certainly not the worst of what remains of that time in Australian history. I understand that the “white”, unionised, furniture makers felt threatened by the Chinese furniture makers and wanted to protect their jobs; but the idea of stamping the furniture in this way seems to me like a silly idea, and in fact it had the opposite effect than that which was intended. The stamp was a clear message to all saying which group of furniture makers had built the bookcase or whatever but it also included the maker’s address. Therefore anyone could see, on a ‘Chinese Labour only’  piece, where they could buy more, cheaper, furniture.
Have you experience or seen racism around you?
I live in Footscray which is a very multicultural suburb in a city that is, I think, quite multicultural in general. The main groups of immigrants in Footscray are Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Somali and Sudanese as well as those like myself which we might call ‘European’. Perhaps it is strange but even with all these different people from all over the world living so close together I have not seen or experienced any racism since living here.
Any final thoughts, hopes or dreams?
My hope for The Two Chairs Project is that many people get to see it but more importantly that they start talking about racism in Australia. The Two Chairs themselves are only a medium for getting the conversation going and changing negative attitudes about race.
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