FAUSTINA AGOLLEY: A Radiant Human Being
When Faustina Agolley, aka Fuzzy appeared on our televisions that Saturday morning on Video Hits, her impact was BIG. For many of us, it was the first time somebody appeared on Australian screens who truly represented our mixed-race generation. Born to a Chinese-Malaysian mother and Ghanian father, Agolley was a welcome embodiment of a creative, youthful, exuberant, energetic, exciting person of colour. She was someone who had, for the most part, grown up here in Australia, despite her outward ethnic appearance. For many of us, she is an idol. She's continued her work on The Voice, is DJing internationally, including being Oprah Winfrey's resident tour DJ across her Evening With Oprah tour. And with her quest to continuously work abroad, she's opting for less screen time in Australia for a life in the US and the UK.
THE PIN. What was your experience like growing up in Australia?
FAUSTINA AGOLLEY. Wonderful. My family migrated from England to Australia (via Malaysia) when I was 18 months old, so my earliest memories are of Malaysia and Australia. My father passed away in England, so I grew up in suburban Melbourne, in a multi-generational home, with my retired Chinese grandparents, mother, brother, and two of my Chinese cousins. My Grandmother gave me my Chinese name, Jade Lau (刘玉石) - Lau after my grandfather's surname. In the house, I was called mei-mei which means "little sister" (小妹).
Despite not being fluent in Mandarin or Fuzhou, the enormous love my grandparents had for us was the reason why I identify so strongly with being Chinese. It was love in action. Through food, music, celebrating Chinese holidays. I’m so grateful for that time.
Did your mother ever give advice or express much of an opinion on growing up biracial/bicultural?
FA. There certainly was the acknowledgement that I was half-black/Ghanaian. Though not much else until I was about 15. My mother had so much trauma from my father’s sudden passing that the way to get through it (especially in the ‘80s where counselling wasn’t advocated) was to carry on working. I grew up learning not to talk about him so I that wouldn't upset her.
When I was 15, my father’s sister travelled to our old home in England to find us. When she got in touch with us over the phone in Australia, Mum made the decision to go on a big, round-the-world journey which included Ghana and England. This began the ongoing discovery of my Ghanaian side.
What did that trip mean to you?
FA. That trip was overwhelming, for many reasons. A discovery of significant roots, identity and an introduction to a history and culture I had never been exposed to. I had no idea that I was linked to an African tribe. There’s so much to be proud of and to be grateful for.
Did it impact your understanding and/or perception of your own identity?
FA. The experience was transformative and I know the impact is immeasurable and lifelong. Short-term, it made me far more studious overnight - I became an average student to a straight A student, and it made me grateful for what I already had at home in Australia.
In terms of me identifying with being Ghanaian, it was an introduction to claiming that identity more than I ever had. Another family, another culture and way of life.
At Media Talks (2012), you talk about being brought up as Chinese-Australian despite being perceived as a “black woman”. What have been some typical misconceptions people have made about you based on your appearance?
FA. Those words spoken in 2012 don’t entirely apply today. I identify with being black more than ever. A lot of that has to do with the fact that since 2012 I’ve spent a lot more time in the US and England.
What I realised a good couple of years ago was that, although I was raised Chinese, subconsciously I’ve been identifying with being black since I was a child (the desire to work at Network 10 because The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast on that network, and being empowered by the music of black artists on Video Hits etc).One typical misconception from when I was a child, especially from people that would see me with my mother, was that they were astounded I am half Asian. Often it was assumed I was adopted.
Where does the nickname Fuzzy come from?
FA. My two best friends from primary school, Florian and Natalia, realised that everyone in Australia had nicknames when we were in about grade five or six. So they named me Fuzz-Ball. Which was then Fuzzy or Fuzz.
When I started on Video Hits we chose to work the nickname in partly because the network was trying to gain back a younger audience they were losing to weekend morning cartoons. So the nickname has stuck in my career. Now I just use it for DJing.
Do you think social media has helped or hindered the representation of racial and cultural diversity in Australia?
FA. Helped. Tremendously. And it’s just the beginning.
Do you think your appearance on a national television show impacted the way we saw Australia’s racial identity in the media?
FA. In retrospect, yes. Though it wasn’t front of mind when I was working on Australian TV. My focus was following my passion, learning the ropes and keeping my job. I think I’d gotten so used to not seeing people that looked like me working around me, my focus was solely on the work. Now I look back I remember so many black artists that would visit Australia and tell me, “You’re the first black person I’ve seen in this country."
When you came out to the public last year on your blog you wrote, “As black as my skin, as Chinese as my blood, and as Australian and British are my nationalities, I’m also a proud Gay Woman. Most importantly though, I’m a happy human being”. How important is expressing your sexuality to your identity?
FA. For many people, the realisation that you are anything but straight can be isolating. I had a life-long emotional stress and anxiety. And until I realised I was gay, a lot of that was misinterpreted as something else.
The intention of my coming out blog was to also make an opportunity for those who may be closeted to feel the same sense of support I did when I was coming to the realisation that I’m gay.
I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin than I do now. I have far less anxiety in life, though it would be better if people could live an openly gay life without prejudice.
Being a visible member of the LGBTQIA+ community is important in a time where there is systemic, obvious and covert homophobia, where Australia is the last English speaking country to not have marriage equality, where LGBTQIA+ people are six times more likely to suffer depression and take their own life, where people purposefully inflict violence on LGBTQIA+ people.
With home being the UK, USA and Australia, does changing the country change the way that you see yourself, in terms of identity and race?
FA. Yes, massively. Because I consciously identified with being Chinese so much growing up and I didn't have a black collective experience to draw upon, there wasn't a black community. This has meant that living and seeing life through a black prism in the US and UK has been far more profound. It has opened me up to a greater understanding of myself and having an awareness of the sensitivity and complexity around race. Remembering our history is important. In the U.S. I'm always reminded of the time I visited the slave ports in Ghana and Maya Angelou talking about the black experience, “our people stood on auction blocks, were bought and sold, so you can stay alive today."
What does race mean to you, and is it important?
FA. Race is inherently linked to culture, history and customs. That’s important. Though, throughout history people have used race - amongst many other forms of identity - as a means to throw dominance or power over others. We are a human race and our lives should be shared and enjoyed fairly, equally. Easier said than done.
Overall, humanity is important. Though in this time, because of the history of race and racism, it’s also important to address issues of the past and present.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
FAUSTINA AGOLLEY. I’ll be cheeky and give myself two. Always be excellent. Always have gratitude.
- This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo credit: Marija Ivkovic