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Home away from home: creating and maintaining meaningful social connections

With Ravi 

Season 3 - Episode 10

21 Dec 2021
Podcast 30:42

Building and maintaining social connections with friends and family is essential for our health and wellbeing.

However, staying socially connected and maintaining social expectations can have its challenges. In this special episode we talk to one of our Future Healthy Community Champions Ravi, and discuss the value of meaningful social connections, the importance of creating safe spaces for young people and why trusting yourself always pays off.

  • Transcript

    VicHealth ad: This series is produced by the folks at VicHealth, Victoria's health promotion agency.

    Ravi: And I think that's what the social circles in my case have done, that like, you know, they've given me confidence that, yeah, I can get through that particular day and then I can make something of myself.

    Dr Sandro: Hello and a big welcome to In Good Health! I’m your host Dr Sandro Demaio. I’m a medical doctor, public health expert, VicHealth CEO and foodie. 

    Dr Sandro: It’s our final episode of the season, and I wanted to start off by thanking each and every one of you for joining us this season. We hope you enjoyed the amazing conversations and stories as much as we did.

    Dr Sandro: In today’s episode we’ll be talking to Ravi Bodanam    , one of our fantastic Future Healthy Community Champions. Ravi made Melbourne his home in 2018 after moving to Australia as an international student. As a member of the LGBTIQA+ community, Ravi is a passionate advocate in this space for young people, working with the organisation Out for Australia.

    Dr Sandro: In today’s episode, I’ll sit down with Ravi and discuss the value of meaningful social connections, the importance of creating safe spaces for young people and why trusting yourself will always pay off.

    Dr Sandro: Ravi, welcome.

    Ravi: Thank you.

    Dr Sandro: So nice to finally meet you. I feel like we kind of know each other from watching your incredible content, and information about you on the Future Healthy website and social media, so it's an absolute pleasure to finally meet the real man himself.

    Ravi: Likewise, Sandro thank you for inviting me.

    Dr Sandro: So, Ravi, I just want to ask you, first of all, tell me a little bit about your journey and how you found yourself in Melbourne.

    Ravi: That's quite an interesting story. I never wanted to move to Melbourne, and then it was not at all on my radar to begin with. So, I graduated fresh out of Uni with a degree in information technology. Then I got a graduate role at an IT consulting firm, and then I was doing IT consulting for 2 and a half to 3 years.

    Ravi: And suddenly I was like, is this what I want to do with my life? And then like, you know, you know, all that, all the thought process and questions of like, you know, I don't think I'm doing the right thing.  

    Dr Sandro: So where were you at this point?

    Ravi: I was in India. I was, I was in Hyderabad. Yeah, so and then I took a break, travelled to Bhutan for like 10 days and kind of did a bit of soul searching and then kind of understood that this is not meant for me. And then I came back home and then I was like, hey mum and dad, I think that this is not meant for me. And then they were like, shut up, just go to work today.   

    Ravi: So, I went to work. I was, I was doing this presentation to a client, and then once my part was done, I was just sitting down. And then I saw myself like writing my resignation letter without even like knowing that I was doing it. And that's when I knew that, like, yes, this is a life change.

    Dr Sandro: A big life change.

    Ravi: Yeah, life has to change. This is not for me. So, I went back home and then I had the discussion with my parents, and then they were like, okay yes, if you 100% sure. And then if you don't want to do it, that's OK.

    Dr Sandro: Wow. Okay pause, pause. So, you grew up in India?

    Ravi: Yeah.

    Dr Sandro: OK, so where? And for those of us who don't know a lot about maybe, you know, India tell us a little bit about where you grew up and where you were at this point in your life.

    Ravi: Yeah sure, so India is a lot more than just New Delhi and Mumbai.

    Dr Sandro: It’s a beautiful country.

    Ravi: Yes. So, I'm based in South India and then Hyderabad is the capital of Telangana.    So, it's on beautiful Deccan Plateau too. Like, you know, you have like constant seasons, like you have 4 proper seasons, unlike where we are right now. Yes. And then, so it's known as the city of pearls.

    Dr Sandro: Oh wow.

    Ravi: Yes. And it's the food capital of South India.

    Dr Sandro: Now you’re talking. OK, so, you're in India.

    Ravi: Yes.

    Dr Sandro: You're at your job and you know, life's going a certain direction and suddenly you have this epiphany. Tell me about that because it does sound a bit Hollywood kind of, you know, almost like the plot of a movie. But like what, what were you, what were you thinking, what were you feeling?

    Ravi: So, it was, there was not a lot of thinking behind that. Work wise, I was really happy with like the kind of thing which I'm delivering, but it was just like, I was not really being satisfied, like, you know, there's no wholesome feeling as such. I was like, maybe this has got to do something with me. And yeah, so I just wanted to find out. And I've definitely taken that idea from a lot of Hollywood movies about like, you know, when you're having some sort of sort of an existential crisis, you just do soul searching, go to a place.

    Ravi: Yeah. So, I also had like a bunch of amazing friends who wanted to go along. So, it was not just by myself, but we went together. So that was really good. Like, you know, I had my time to focus on what I really wanted to do. And then that's why I was also like, you know, coming out of that trip, I knew that I wanted to create some kind of impact. And then I was really sure that like, you know, working 24/7 or like, you know, making corporate companies richer was not my thing. And then that's not what I wanted to do with my life.

    Ravi: So, yeah, that's when I like, you know, while I was while, I was still working, I started looking. What are the other ways that I can do? And then prior to that, I was still, I was already like kind of volunteering with a local pride organisation and then like, you know, trying to organise prides. Mind you, at that time, you know, your sexuality was still not legalised or recognised in the country, so it was still hard. But we were trying to do with a group of people like, you know, trying to organise that awareness sessions and like, you know, organising those kind of events and things which still keep things going.

    Ravi: And then like you know, still making, yeah, making a little bit of awareness and then like, you know, wherever possible.

    Dr Sandro: And at what point did Melbourne come into the picture?

    Ravi: My dad was like, maybe like, you know, get a post-grad and like, you know, you will have a better awareness. And then he was like, try doing it in a different country so that you will have a better exposure. And then you will also try to like, you know, learn the living independently part of it. Because at that time, I was still living with my parents in India, and it's very common in India, like, you know, even if you're 40...

    Dr Sandro: I think it’s pretty common for 21 year olds everywhere, in Australia as well.  

    Ravi: Yeah. And that was not the first time the discussion of like, you know, moving abroad came into the picture because, when I was an undergrad, it's a very common thing for graduates in the IT industry, especially to move to the United States to get a specialisation and work in the United States.

    Dr Sandro: Okay.

    Ravi: All of my close friends were already in the United States at that point when I'm having that discussion with my parents. It's not about the idea that I want it to be at Uni, but that I wanted to do something other than tech.

    Ravi: I went, and I had a look at both University of New South Wales and, as well as The University of Melbourne, and then that year Melbourne was the most liveable city,

    Dr Sandro: The world's most liveable city yes.

    Ravi: So, I was like, this is interesting. I would, and then I applied for the University of Melbourne, and then I got through it.

    Dr Sandro: Awesome. And so, what did you think when you were sort of, you've got in, you're about to leave India, to come to Australia to start as a student, a post-grad student here in Melbourne. What, what did you think life was going to be like in Melbourne?

    Ravi: First of all, I was very excited. I was excited that like, you know, I'm not doing the thing which I'm not liking, which is good. So, I was like, this is, this is a new beginning.

    Dr Sandro: Check box number 1.

    Ravi: Yep, check box number 1 that's done. And then I was like, this is a new beginning. This is, this is the exact opportunity which I was kind of looking for, so I was excited for it. And then second, I was so nervous because this is the first time that I'm moving to a country where I knew nobody, like no one. And then so to kind of add on to that, my parents were even more anxious about that. And then they were, that kind of increased my nervousness about the whole thing.

    Dr Sandro: So, you arrive in Australia, when was this? When did you arrive in Melbourne?

    Ravi: In 2018.

    Dr Sandro: 2018. So, what was it like? What were the first months, what was your first year? Did it, was it what you expected and tell me more about that kind of new beginning opportunity that you talked about. What changed?

    Ravi: It was not at all like what I expected it to be, like watching movies, especially a lot of Bollywood movies, which are the Indian movies, make up stories about how studying in foreign countries would be like. And they, like, you know, have like, you know, how you get to roam around with your friends and can just hang out and then party and all those things. And then like, I did have a fair share of that, but it was, it was a different experience.

    Ravi: It was not something which I saw in the movies or anything. Luckily, when I moved just before, when I moved to Melbourne, one of my friends in India referred me, not referred me, but then introduced me to one of his friends here in Melbourne, who had just moved like two years ago, along with their partner. So, it was very kind of them. They were like, you know, initially, like, you know, while you’re trying to sort out your accommodation and everything come stay with us. That initial support was so helpful.

    Ravi: They like, when I went to the Uni for the first day, they dropped me at the Uni. They were like, good luck, and that felt like I still had someone along with me and that I was just not going there by myself.

    Dr Sandro: And so, what was, what were some of the, what were the big challenges that you faced when you first arrived in Melbourne? You know you've just left your family. You've flown thousands of kilometres. You're starting something really exciting. But also, I mean, I would imagine quite scary in many ways. I mean, what were what were you feeling?

    Ravi: The way people sell international education to you is completely different as well. Like, you know, you go there, you get, you get a part time job, you work, you study and then like, you know, it's all, it's all an amazing life. But how do you get that? So yeah, and then you still have to keep up the grades.

    Ravi: And then, then came the hustle of multitasking your work, plus your study, plus your social expectations and everything.

    Dr Sandro: So, tell me about your social expectations. Tell me about, tell me about life. You're a very, you know, you're a very sociable person and you come across as sort of someone who would make friends really easily. But I mean, tell me about the journey of coming to Australia and also just trying to build social connections in Melbourne.

    Ravi: I would, I would say this. Let's, let's take a step back and let's see what kind of person I was when I was in India and then versus this. And that kind of played a lot of importance in terms of social relationships, which I've built here in Melbourne.

    Ravi: So, when I was in India, I was not out to everyone.

    Dr Sandro: Okay.

    Ravi: And so, the kind of friendships which I made was like, from like, I had my friends from my school, my schooling to high school and then my undergrad and everything, all of these friendships, like super quality friendships and everything. But then they only saw one side of me like, you know, I was I was leading these dual lives where one life was like, I'm straight and cis, I'm a cis straight man doing like, you know, my friendships.

    Ravi: And then like, you know, faking dates and all those things and then like hanging out with friends and everything. And then there was, there was this other part of me where I'm still like, you know, connected to a few queer people within the state and then like, you know, trying to hang out with them and then I was like, my whole self.

    Ravi: That, that kind of had a lot of impact on my mental health, which I did not realise until recently. And when I moved to Melbourne, when I, when I was like, you know, starting fresh initially for the first one month, I still was basing my relationships on that lie. Like, I was still leading dual relationships, I was like...

    Dr Sandro: Two people.

    Ravi: Two people. I was like, you know what, I have a girlfriend back in India and then like, you know, she's going to come out later. And then for the one month I was just testing out the waters, I was testing what kind of people I'm hanging out with. And then one night at a friend's birthday party, at a friend's birthday party, we were talking and then we had a really good time.

    Ravi: Like, you know, we hung out until like late in the morning to 2:00 or 3:00 and then I went back home. And that night I was like, I think this has to end. Like, these people are really nice, and I have an opportunity here to start everything fresh.

    Ravi: So, I called one of the friends who I'm very close to, like, you know whom I could like, you know, form that really close bond, whom I met back in India, and then she came along with me. We took the same flight as well to Melbourne, so I called her and then she was like, why are you calling me at 3:00 in the morning? I'm like, look, I want to tell you something. And she's like, what? I'm like, I'm gay.

    Ravi: She took a, she took a pause for like a minute or so, and then she was like, that's totally OK, like then why did you lie all the time? Because that's what I'm used to. It's really hard to tell that to people. And then like, you know, because, yeah, you just can't because you're scared that like, you know what if someone would out you or what if someone would like, you know, treat you differently?

    Ravi: So that went very well. And then she was like, you should tell other people as well. And I'm like, I don't think so. I'm really scared. So let me just take some time. And then I took some more time, and then I came out to two other friends at another event, and that went very well as well. They were like, don't worry, like it's not even a thing, and it's not a, we're really glad that you actually, you actually told us and that you thought that you could trust us, that's really great.

    Ravi: And then, then slowly, one by one, I came out to all, all of the people within my social circle and then everyone was like, really great and we and the level of friendship which I built with them after that is still continuing and ongoing.

    Ravi: And then I think that is something which I am really grateful for. And then they were my yeah, supportive system in the last 3 years.

    Dr Sandro: And how much did it mean to you that the people around you at this point reacted in the way that they did?

    Ravi: It meant a lot like, I think, even if one of them said no, I think that would have, yeah, I don't know where that path would have taken me, but that would have been a really rough.

    Dr Sandro: And it must have been, I mean, you were going through an incredible life transition already. You're moving from one country to another. You're starting, you know, all of these challenges you're facing of just building a new life, let alone coming out or merging those two Ravis that you had in India into one and being your true self.

    Dr Sandro: I mean, it must have been an incredibly difficult journey for you just in terms of managing that level of change. What, what were your feelings at this point? How did you how did you manage all of that?

    Ravi: It was really tough. There were a few days where I wouldn’t, like where I've had insomnia, I would just not, I could just not sleep. There were multiple times where I like questioned myself and then say, is this the right thing that I have done like, you know, maybe I should just go back to India you know. Maybe I should just do what I was doing before.

    Ravi: But, whenever I hung out with these people, whenever I spent time like, you know, being at the Uni with them or like, you know, just outside it was, I did not have to hide myself for like, you know, I did not have to lie or it, it was just so free. And then like, I think that made everything better and then that kind of gave me confidence that I can be something and then I can do something in this country.

    Dr Sandro: Building and maintaining social connections with friends and family is essential for our health and wellbeing. Now more than ever with the impact of COVID, we've seen just how crucial it is to check in and stay connected with those around you.

    Dr Sandro: However, staying socially connected and maintaining social expectations can have its challenges. In fact, our recent Coronavirus Victorian Wellbeing Impact Study revealed that for 7 in 10 young people, staying socially connected with others has become one of the most important issues during the COVID pandemic.

    Dr Sandro: So, how can we best maintain these meaningful social connections in a healthy and sustainable way? Ravi is here to share his experiences.

    Dr Sandro: Tell me more about the importance of that, you know, social connection that you were building with people around you at that point?

    Ravi: Yeah. Look being all by yourself in a country which is foreign to you, where people don't speak your language. Where, where sometimes people say that it's hard to understand your accent or where people, sometimes people just don't get you. And it could be very lonely. Additionally, adding to that, the master's degree education it’s, it's really intense. So, with all this, it could, it could get quite lonely and then it could get like, you know, you would question yourself, as I said in the past.

    Ravi: So, you really need that, need someone to support you. It could be, it could be just a friend, or it could be a group of friends, or it could be a family member. It could be a cousin, could be your partner or anyone. But then you need that support system to go, to keep yourself, you know, like going, like, you know, to get up every day in the morning.

    Ravi: And then like, you know, that motivation to get through that day.

    Dr Sandro: And how did the pandemic then affect, you know, you're in Melbourne during, you know, then a global pandemic, a once in a century pandemic, you've been here for, what, 12, 18 months at this point? How did you maintain, you know that, that sense of connection that you built that had become so important for you in this in this time of incredible transition?

    Ravi: Yeah. So, I think the initial lockdown was really hard because you go from seeing, both seeing people every single day, go to Uni every single day, you see them, you hang out with them. To not at all seeing them. And, initially, it was, for the first 15 to 20 days I was just trying to get used to like, you know, what's happening around, I did not really even think about like, you know, what's happening? We were just trying to like, you know, make sure that like, you know, everyone's safe or like, you know, everyone's getting to know what's happening with the law changes and like, you know, with the new rules and everything.

    Ravi: But after that, like, you know, when we have settled down into the lockdown and then like, you know we all graduated straight into a COVID situation. So, all of us we're talking about like, you know, what's going to happen, like, are we going to get a job or what?

    Ravi: And I was really, really fortunate enough to find a job really quick. So, I had that financial stability through the initial lockdowns, which was good. But at the same time, few of my friends were still trying to find jobs and then like, you know, they would hit, sometimes they would, they would just call you and then say that like, you know, am I ever going to make something like, you know, is it ever going to happen? Or do you think I should just go back?

    Ravi: And then at the same time, there were a few of my friends who just moved back to their countries, either because they found, they found jobs there or they just thought that like, you know, this is not a great idea to stay back anymore. Yeah. So, friends have dispersed first and then second, like, you know, their circumstances have changed.

    Ravi: So, it was like the people whom you reach out to when you are, when you're feeling down are now feeling down. So, we all are in the same boat and then have to be, how do we navigate the situation. That, that was kind of a question mark, which was, which we all were going through.

    Ravi: And then like, so through all that period, we try to stay connected through Zoom calls. We tried to do FaceTimes like, you know, sometimes we would just, just FaceTime each other, put the phone down and then we would just work, like you know, we would still be there.

    Ravi: And then straight after work, you know like a phone call to see how was their day like, you know, what are you doing or you know in the morning just before, like, you know, starting work, I'm like, hey, you got up? What's up? Like, what have you got planned for today?

    Ravi: And in the weekends when we were allowed to like, you know, have a bubble buddy. Like, I had my close friend as my bubble buddy. So, we used to go for, go out for walks. We used to hang out with each other. So that was good, kind of, that way we still kind of kept the connection and then like, it was really sweet, one of our friends organised an online graduation ceremony for us.

    Ravi: So, she organised a Zoom call with all of our parents and us and like, you know, she did like, you know, a mock virtual graduation ceremony which was really nice. So beautiful. So, through all these ways, we still tried to connect. And then that's one of the reasons why I think online connections are so important and just so grateful for the technology.

    Dr Sandro: And what about specifically for the LGBTIQA+ community, because you're a, you're a really passionate advocate, you know, in this space for young people navigating those parts of their life as well and that part that important part of their identity. What you know, what role do you think kind of social connections, but particularly digital connections play for young people, you know, navigating these important parts of, you know, the first couple of decades of their life.

    Ravi: Yeah. Outside of work, I volunteer for an organization called Out For Australia. I'm the national communications director for that organisation. When the COVID hit, we were, we were not really sure what we were going to do, because we are, we are Australia's largest LGBTQIA+ mentoring. We offer the mentoring program.

    Ravi: Yeah. And so that that's a place where, like, you know, people could connect with one another like, you know, you could go find a mentor or a mentee. And along with that, we organise a lot of networking even so that people could come together. We organise a lot of panel discussions on being your authentic self at a workplace. So that's, that's our primary mission as well. So that, so it was, we were not really sure, now that there are no face-to-face events or face to face meetings where people could come together. We were not really sure what we could even do.

    Ravi: And then like, you know, we took a month break as everyone did and then be reassessed and then we tailored all these online events as an offering for our people to attend. And then we, we did a lot of quality events in terms of having discussions around sexuality, gender and navigating those workplace difficult conversations, about your sexuality or like, you know, even if you're like, you know, just starting your career in a workplace, how is it going to be as a graduate for example.

    Ravi: And then we offered a lot of support for queer students through events and everything. And then that, we had a huge influx of people participating because now you could make it online. Like, you know, you don't have to, a lot of people who are closeted, for example, they may not feel comfortable coming to a queer themed event because they might be afraid of like, you know, someone seeing them or someone like, you know, outing them.

    Ravi: So now these online spaces kind of created them, that safety net around them that like, you know, you don't have to switch on your camera like, you know, it's a webinar, so you could just sit there and listen to what's happening.

    Ravi: And then you could just connect with people. And then, for example, the Out For Australia mentoring program, it's all online. And then you could, you could connect with real, authentic people because they have, they have their bios and they're like, you know, clear description of what they are, what they are and what they're looking for.

    Ravi: So, you can actually match, with these mentors and mentees as well. So, all these ways I think we have, we were able to create that support system for queer young people.

    Dr Sandro: And I suppose in a way, making it digital, as you say, it gives agency. It allows people to kind of choose how much they want to share or not share. But also, I would imagine it allows more young people from different parts of Victoria or Australia or even beyond to be able to join. Because physically you don't have to be in a, in a place which can often be a barrier, financial or physical.

    Ravi: Yeah, definitely. And then because we were, we are a volunteer led and volunteer organisation, so we have very limited budgets to work with. So, the reach was very limited like we could spread as much as we can to all metro cities. But in regional areas, it was very limited. We could do, we could do a few workshops in regional New South Wales. We could do a few workshops in regional Victoria.

    Ravi: But reaching out to other areas was very difficult to do cost and whatnot. But these online offerings and then like, you know, targeted advertisements and everything, we were able to reach retail to like, you know, regional or regional Australia overall and then try to like, you know, provide that support to people in those regional, rural and remote areas as well.

    Dr Sandro: And how much, Ravi, do you think your own experiences of at times feeling lonely or going through these incredible life transitions, how much is that informed your leadership in your work in the LGBTQIA+ community more broadly or your work in creating safe spaces for young people?

    Ravi: Yeah. So, I think my personal experience was quite helpful in shaping up those activities and engagement activities for queer people because I kind of I know what it is to be, to be scared or to be like, you know, to save yourself from humiliation and prejudice. I know what it is, what it would make you feel when you have to live in that life or like, you know, when you have to be closeted and everything. And at the same time, I kind of understand that it's not like, you know, one size fits all like, you know, we all are very different people.

    Ravi: And they're like, you know, the rainbow community is so diverse, and we have so much to offer at the same time, like I knew that I was good, I was good with communication. I knew that I could use the marketing knowledge, which I'm learning at the university to put it to some good. And then that's what I was doing with Out For Australia.

    Dr Sandro: And what advice would you have for young people who might be listening, or maybe someone who has a younger brother or a child who, you know, is going through a major life transition and the importance of social connections or advice, even for yourself if you speak to Ravi from 2018.

    Ravi: I would say be patient. I would, I would say trust the process.

    Dr Sandro: And what do you mean by that trust the process?

    Ravi: As in trust that you're doing right, and then like, you know, you have come where you have come because you're destined to have come there. Yeah. And then have a bit more faith in yourself.

    Dr Sandro: And where to next, Ravi what's, where are we going to find you in the next couple of years? How can we be part of your journey? What's, what's getting you excited at the moment?

    Ravi: The one thing that COVID has taught me is to pace yourself and then enjoy what you're going through, and then not overthink about what the future is going to look like.

    Dr Sandro: Good advice.

    Ravi: So that's what COVID has taught me as well. And then. For now, I'm planning what I'm going to do in the next 2 to 3 months, but not more than that. The major thing which is coming up is I'm planning to go to India in February and finally officially come out to my parents. So, fingers crossed for that.

    Dr Sandro: Oh wow, and how do you feel about that?

    Ravi: Nervous, anxious and excited at the same time.

    Dr Sandro: Amazing. One final question. You're a community champion with us here at VicHealth as part of Future Healthy, which involves, you know, using your voice and your wisdom and your leadership to, you know, I suppose, think about and advocate for a better future for all people across Victoria and even beyond. What does a future healthy look like for you, Ravi?

    Ravi: What does a future healthy look like for me? The day where everyone can be their authentic selves truly and where everyone's supported, everyone feels that they're encouraged, that’s what the future healthy is.

    Dr Sandro: Cheers to that, I say.

    Dr Sandro: Ravi, it's been absolutely amazing to spend the last half an hour with you. Thank you so much, your leadership, your voice, your wisdom and your strength is to be admired and we can't wait to keep following your journey and to stay in touch. Thank you for joining In Good health.

    Ravi: Thank you, Sandro. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Dr Sandro: Well, a big thank you for listening to the In Good Health podcast. I really enjoyed recording this season, and I would love to know how it was for you.

    Dr Sandro: Please share your thoughts with us with a review, a rating (hopefully 5 stars) and share it with your friends and family.

    Dr Sandro: For now, we’re taking a little break, and we’ll be back in 2022 with more episodes for you! A very big thank you to my incredible team that makes this podcast possible Alice, Makie and Victor in production. And in the meantime, to find out more about our work, head over to our website and make sure you check us out on social media under @vichealth.

    Dr Sandro: Well finally team, I just want to wish you all a very, very safe and happy end to 2021. It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many out there. Make sure you take some time at the end of this year to reflect and digest, reconnect with those you love. From all of us here at VicHealth and particularly myself, stay safe and see you in 2022!

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.