Together Alone: Politics of Indigeneity and Culture in Australia

Uploaded by Dartmouth on 31.10.2012

>> My name is Michael Taylor, the Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College,
and it give me immense pleasure to welcome you to today's panel.
We're so thrilled that you could be with us today.
We celebrate, of course, tonight the opening of the exhibition Crossing Cultures,
the Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Hood Museum of Art.
And today's panel discussion is called Together Alone:
Politics of Indigeneity and Culture in Australia.
Thank you to everyone who has traveled from many parts of the globe to be with us this afternoon,
so you will forgive us for starting 10 minutes late.
And we look forward to a very rich intellectual exchange.
We will have a more formal exhibition remarks upstairs in the galleries, but for now,
I wish to acknowledge and thank the cosponsors of today's panel discussion,
the Office of the Provost, the Museum Lecture Series Fund,
the Leslie Center for the Humanities,
the Dickey Center for International Understanding, and Native American Studies.
We simply couldn't do this without you.
We have in the audience today also Will Owen and Harvey Wagner and I will ask them to stand up.
[ Applause ]
I don't even have to say this bit, but I might as well 'cause you know it all.
We can't thank them enough for the extraordinary gift of the Owen and Wagner Collection
of Aboriginal Australian Art of the Hood Museum of Art.
We consider our collection a global collection and we think that this is a transformative gift
that will benefit the faculty, the students, and the local community
in Upper Valley for generations to come.
You'll get more remarks upstairs but we couldn't leave this one alone.
So thank you.
It's a pleasure to have you here.
So it's now my great pleasure to introduce the exhibition's curator and the organizer
and moderator of his panel, Stephen Gilchrist, who is the curator
of Indigenous Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art.
Stephen is from the Yamatji people of Northwest, Western Australia.
Before him arriving at Dartmouth in September 2011, Stephen held curatorial appointments
at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne
and the National Gallery of Australia in Cambria.
In 2011 he collaborated with artist Reko Rennie on curating the exhibition Patternation
at the Kluge-- I never get that right,
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia.
And he wrote the brochure for that exhibition as well.
Most recently, Stephen was a consultant, an SAS for the Seattle Art's Museum Exhibition
that just closed in early September called Ancestral Modern Australian Aboriginal Art
from the Kaplan & Levi Collection.
Please now join me in welcoming Stephen Gilchrist, who will introduce the themes
of today's panel and its distinguished speakers.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you, Michael.
I personally want to acknowledge the customary owners of the land we're now standing on
and pay my respects to their ancestors.
Can you hear me?
Not really?
Is this better?
I also want to extend my welcome to people who've traveled across oceans in some cases
and to thank them for being here and thank you for being here
for our exhibition and our discussion today.
I wanted to introduce my dream team.
I have two out of three, which is good at the moment, [laughs] you know,
who represent different disciplines, different ways of knowing, different cultural backgrounds,
and very distinguished international careers.
Brenda Croft is from the Gurindji/Malgnin/Mudpurra people
in the northern territory and was the former Senior Curator of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia.
She was a founding member of Boomali,
co-curator of the 1997 Venice Biennale representing Emily Kame Kngwarreye,
and is currently a Senior Research Fellow with the National Institute for Experimental Arts,
the College of Fine Arts, Sydney.
Sonia Smallacombe is a member of Maramanindji people from the Daily River area.
Sonia's work focuses on the stolen generations, intellectual
and cultural property rights for indigenous peoples.
Prior to joining the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,
Sonia was a senior lecturer in the School
of Australian Indigenous Knowledge Systems at Charles Darwin University.
Christian Thompson, who will join us shortly, is a contemporary artist
and has exhibited his photographs, videos, and performance works in numerous solo
and group exhibitions nationally and internationally.
He's one of the first two aboriginal students to study at the University of Oxford London--
Oxford and its history thanks to the Charlie Perkins Scholarship Program.
He's studying his doctorate in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.
And please welcome them to the Hood Museum of Art.
[ Applause ]
Unfortunately, Hetti Perkins, who is listed as one of the panelists couldn't make it today
but she is present in a number of ways, particularly in her role as presenter of the Art
and Soul Documentary that's playing upstairs in the exhibition space.
And I invite you to spend a bit of time with it 'cause it's quite beautiful.
Hetti has also been one of the catalysts for the formulation of this symposium.
A few weeks after I started working at the Hood Museum of Art, she announced her retirement
from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in protest over the marginalization
of indigenous art and culture in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
She called for an establishment of a National Institution of Aboriginal Art and is quite
to saying, "You can only get to a certain point within a mainstream institution
and I have reached that point at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
It goes without saying I have had incredible opportunities,
and I would like to think I have honored the artists at the gallery,
but I think that we indigenous people need our own place, our own cultural institution."
Hetti is disappointed as we are that she couldn't share some of her thoughts
about the creation and vision of this institution with you.
The title and composition of this panel acknowledges the complicated politics
of claiming the separatist space.
It references the incredible people who are, you know--
it also references the incredible people who are champions of indigenous art in this country
who are often working in isolation, collectors, and museum directors.
You know, reference to the problematic of conflating the experiences of indigenous people
around the world, the experiences of indigenous artist and freelance curators,
and what is happening at the moment in Australia,
the polarization of Australian indigenous communities
that has recently been played out in the media.
Being the sole indigenous voice can sometimes be challenging, and I'm sure that this is something
that many indigenous-- that the people on my panel have experienced more than once
in their professional and personal lives.
I wanted to create an indigenous only panel not just because I've sometimes witnessed the kind
of destruction of the conditions of kind of listening to indigenous people,
but because I wanted to channel them.
I wanted to use this platform to privilege indigenous ways of knowing in the same way
that he exhibition does upstairs, to indigenize the space
for the future launch in a direct and embodied way.
I wanted to invite people to think about the--
I also wanted to invite people to think about the micro politics of the museum
and how it relates to indigenous people, people who've worked
within them and worked outside of them.
From 2003 to 2010 I worked in national and state galleries and always like the idea
of indigenizing spaces from the inside out.
I was fortunate enough to have Brenda Croft as my--
as the Senior Curator and Mentor at the National Gallery of Australia where she demonstrated
that aboriginal ways of doing things could really enhance the institution.
Although I have a huge appreciation of the people who fought tirelessly
for those dedicated spaces of indigenous within mainstream institutions,
I know we can't take them for granted.
But I don't remember a time when they didn't exist.
It has become in my mind normalized and uncontested and expected.
I like to positioning indigenous art alongside other forms of art giving it an equivalent value
and potentially opening up new possibilities.
I then move to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and became struggling
with this uncomfortable feeling that I was curating spaces
of indigenous people and not for indigenous people.
And this is a less, a criticism of the institution and,
more of a criticism of the curatorial method.
The local community seemed to have a much stronger relationship to Museum Victoria and,
of course, the Koorie Heritage Trust and not for profit aboriginal community organization
that aimed to protect and preserve the living culture
of aboriginal people of the southeast in Australia.
I took a year of absence from the National Gallery of Victoria to study in New York,
where I became-- I have the good fortune of meeting Sonia Smallacombe,
who was and still working at the UN.
I saw the incredible coalition work she was doing with indigenous people around the world
and so was in this country for the signing-- for the US assigning of the non-binding
but significant declaration of the world's indigenous peoples.
I was also at the time visiting many multi-ethnic neo-organizations that emerged
from the civil rights and American Indian movement of the 1960s and 70s.
I was looking at how they address and facilitate issues of institutional structure,
hierarchical versus horizontal private philanthropy in public spaces
and synergistic relationships with communities and responsive curatorial programming.
I realized that I had lost a bit of interest in going back to the NGV and instead,
decided to come to Dartmouth College where I was really interested
in positioning Indigenous Australian art in a really international context.
Someone who's also imbuing the sense of Australia into the world and has always been
and I've always been interested in his work is Christian Thompson.
Some of his earlier series from 2003 was Emotional Series.
He photographed young urban aboriginal people in front of artificial backdrops
of cultural institutions including National Gallery of Victoria, a museum in Victoria,
holding artifacts as a comment on the historic disenfranchisement
of aboriginal people from their own material culture.
At the same time, the project allowed for these momentary encounters with museum objects
to reconstitute them, to reconnect to them, to let them get under the participant's skin.
This was the year I started working at the National Gallery of Australia
and I saw these works as an endorsement of my own curatorial practice in that I wanted
to be less about cultural preservation and much more about cultural reactivation.
I was interested to see Christian's latest body of work which he'll share with us in a moment,
the exhibition "We Bury Our Own" which was inspired by his response
to the photographic archives at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford that holds one
of the most significant collections of 19th century of aboriginal Australian people.
Along with an intersecting Australian research grant to research
and return four major European collections to indigenous communities in Australia,
Christian's project enacted a performative, devotional and as Christian called it,
"A spiritual repatriation of the archives."
Many of the works in the series depict crystals which have these strong associations
with healing and there is a sense of trying to relieve a move beyond the inherent intentions
of anthropological imagery of indigenous people and for the new museological approach.
For Christian, these objects are a type of notation
but his artistic interventions creates the necessary culture music.
I've come to realize that relationships are my politics and I think I've invited these people
to talk about their relationships to me, to you, and to other indigenous people
and I'd like to invite Brenda Croft to be the first speaker.
>> First of all, I would like to pay my sincere respects to the traditional custodians
of this region, the Abenaki people and to all indigenous peoples who are here today.
I'm very honored to be here and I don't make that statement
as a way of just playing lip service.
As an aboriginal person myself from the Gurindji, Malgnin, and Mudpurra communities
in the northern territory, I do that as a means of paying my respects
and honoring the people whose country I am traveling on.
And for all of us who are indigenous peoples traveling and living within Australia,
we're often living outside of our traditional homelands and working with other communities,
so we do this as a matter of course, it's not simply just a means
of saying that we pay our respect.
Okay. I could take that pause off.
I often show-- I often start with my talks looking at a map of Australia but not the map
of Australia that many people know or certainly not what I grew up with when I was at school
which tended to divide the various states, some small number of states and territories
into those states and territories.
I look at this map as a the guide for how I live my life as a contemporary aboriginal person
in Australia and you can't read all of the different language groups here
but each color connotes a specific nation.
So it's important to consider Australia as you would, say, Europe.
It's a place of many nations and we have distinct languages, customary beliefs
and practices and we follow those traditions and practices, and if we, which I'll be touching
on in my paper, discuss why we aren't able to do that, that's a part of what's happened
since the days of first contact in the late 1770s in Australia.
So the lovely person who's printing out my paper--
I'm going to talk a little bit about my relationship with Stephen.
We go back a very long way which is a bit scary when I was thinking about this morning.
We first started working together at the Art Gallery of Western Australia 12 years ago.
Western Australia is a huge part of the country and it's almost a third of the entire continent.
If you can consider how many different nation groups are within that particular state,
you'd get a sense of the scale of what we were dealing with working over there.
And Perth is located down here in the southwest of the country.
It's the most isolated capital city in the world.
I was born there.
I'm not from there but my father and mother had moved over there in the early 60s
and so I consider myself under the colloquial term of being a sand broker.
Thank you.
And that's where I first met Stephen when I was working as a curator of indigenous art
at the Art Gallery of Western Australia from 1999 to 2001 and Stephen, intriguingly to me,
turned up one day at the gallery with a friend that he was starting with at the University
of W.A. and announced that he wanted a volunteer intern and I quickly surmised
that he hadn't really had much experience in the area of visual arts and culture.
In fact, he was majoring-- doing your honors in French and he's fluent
in French which I thought was fantastic.
He was a young indigenous student who just had great initiative
and quickly reorganized my office and helped work with me on a number of important projects,
very important exhibitions that I worked on then.
So I knew from a very early point in now our friendship that he was someone to really watch
out for in a very positive way and I was very interested in seeing
where his career trajectory would take him and so, being here today, I feel very proud.
I feel like a big sister.
Okay. As I said before, I think-- and now I'm going to get the pause off this.
I'm just going to keep clicking through these.
I thank indigenous custodians in this area for allowing me to visit your lands on the occasion
of the exhibition of Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Works--
Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Hood Museum of Art and curated
by my very dear friend and colleague Stephen.
Many thanks also to Stephen and his colleagues at the Hood
for organizing to bring me to Hanover.
Thanks must also be paid to Will Owen and Harvey Wagner who I seem to see all over the world
when we're at events like this, the private collectors whose passionate vision
and beneficence has enabled Crossing Cultures to be staged at the Hood Museum.
Also, thanks to Dr. Brian Kennedy, Director of the Toledo Museum of Art and whose former role
with the Hood Museum facilitated this important promised request.
Dr. Kennedy was also my former boss during his directorship at the National Gallery
of Australia some years ago and I very much enjoyed working with him during his time there.
I'm extremely proud of Stephen's work on this, his first major exhibition, not only as a friend
but also as someone who has worked with Stephen on indigenous Australian curatorial projects
since our work together from 2000 at the Art Gallery of Western Australia
in the country's most isolated capital city, Perth.
I had an opportunity to walk through the gallery space with Stephen yesterday
and his high standards regarding aesthetic and intellectual analysis are evident, as well as,
in the impressive accompanying catalogue which I managed to raid a number of the SAs last night.
Congratulations to everyone involved in that.
I arrived in Hanover after the past months, spent on the road in many areas
of the northern territory in Australia which is my home state, undertaking field research
for my PhD, visiting my home communities of Kalkarindji and Daguragu which are
about 10 hours southwest of Darwin by road if you know Australia at all,
and also working on a curatorial mentorship with aboriginal arts workers associated
with an organization called Desart, the Central Australian Aboriginal Arts Advocacy Organization
and the accompanying annual exhibition Desart Mob showing works by artists
from nearly 50 Central Australian art centers from the northern territory,
South Australia, and Western Australia.
Being on the road provides me with a great sense of freedom and the opportunity
for so much needed time to process what I've just experienced and think
about where my research is heading or taking me.
With that in mind, the images in this Powerpoint deliberately focus on mainly Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people I've had the good fortune to work with.
Can I also say I'm really pleased to see babies here in this audience?
I love it when people bring their kids along and I'll take any noise
as a sign of positive reinforcement.
[laughs] I've had the good fortune to work with and places
on that journey I have visited throughout my career as an artist, curator, writer,
and most recently academic rather than focusing on works of art as you'll have plenty of time
to look at the amazing collection and gathering of works upstairs later on.
I have also very much taken direction from the title of this panel together alone the politics
of indigeneity and culture in Australia.
From my standpoint as an indigenous person working in this cultural sector,
indigenous Australian arts and culture is inextricably connected to the politics
of being indigenous in Australia today.
In my experience as a multidisciplinary arts and cultural worker there's a tendency
to dissociate the works that we view in galleries and museums from the people
who have created them and by extension genetic knowledge, the disparity experienced
about the majority of indigenous people living in Australia today.
I am also keeping in mind the sage advice imparted to me
by an Arrernte elder Margaret Kemarre Turner at the recent central land council Women's Law
and Culture meeting held just outside the ironically named community of Utopia Northwest
of Alice Springs in the northern territory which I was fortunate to attend.
This annual occurrence was celebrating its 20th anniversary under the imminent threat
of being the last occasion for such a significant event due to a mix of federal
and state funding cut backs, government cut backs.
The on going nefarious undermining of Aboriginal controlled and determined practices accompanied
by a global swing towards religious, spiritual, and secular conservatism
and fundamentalism and reactions against and for.
The Women's Law and Culture meeting was much an open festival or cultural event like that
which I had just attended previous prior to that in Alice Springs at the Araluen Centre,
the Desart Mob Exhibition and Symposium organized by Desart.
Nor visual or audio recording devices were permitted nor could any
of the participants leave the grounds
at the camp site once the ceremonial aspects had commenced.
This was enforced after seeing a community later breached this rule which she
and her group being made to leave by the most senior traditional earnest of the region.
M.K. Turner said to our camp, "Keep your pictures of this in your head
and in your heart not on your camera or your phone."
This is very special.
Comparing the consecutive events, Desart--
Desart Mob and the Women's Law and Culture camp meeting reinforced for me part of the concept
of inside and outside culture knowledge and experience.
Inside being for those participants allowed to know, see, or share in a cultural experience
that is not for outside that is public consumption,
and I used that last term deliberately.
As Aboriginal visual culture expression has too often been treated
as a consumer item by many in the wider public.
This statement isn't directed at any individual but underlines a concern that I and many
of my indigenous colleagues working across the indigenous arts
and cultural sectors have increasingly felt impacting upon our ability to continue working
with personal and professional integrity within these sectors.
It has certainly been a factor and [inaudible] to move
from the public gallery system towards academic research and development.
One of the early images in my PowerPoint presentation shows a group
of young passionate articulate possibly freshen challenged people and not that we were aware
of it at the time groundbreaking cultural activists.
The 10 founding members of Boomalli Aboriginal artists Cooperative established in Sydney
in late 1987 as the first open based contemporary Aboriginal Art Center in Australia.
All artists, some more experienced than others we were determine
to address the disparity afforded to often by its Aboriginal artists
by the broader visual cultural sector which effectively rendered our art
and by extension ourselves as indigenous people,
"invisible" to paraphrase Waanyi artist Judy Watson.
And that what we were creating was often critiqued as second rate art,
neither Aboriginal nor Western but rather a pastiche of both
or relegated to no person's land.
A quarter of a century since that time of optimism
and determination what has been achieved by and for indigenous Australians participating
in not only the arts and cultural sectors but as part of Australian society,
a strange mix of what seems to be two steps forward three steps backwards
when one considers the cultural in class myopia affecting seemingly all parts of the political
and cultural spectrum in Australia.
When Boomalli started we did not realized that we were creating history not by asking for more,
"Please, sir," but demanding our equal place at the arts and cultural tables
and on our terms not the dictates and whims of others.
Through dedication and determination we negotiated our way into the hollowed holes
of galleries and museums not only as artists but also as curators.
And some of the people whose faces you see on the screen here have occupied junior
and senior indigenous territorial positions at major state
and federal cultural institutions throughout the country over the past decade
or so and there are more [inaudible].
These positions withhold with pride in a great sense of obligation and responsibility.
Formers for the artists, art works and communities represented in the collections
which sometimes clash with the expectations placed upon us by our colleagues, supervisors,
and peers associated with the institutions in which we're employed.
After a great deal of consideration in the late 2008, I came to the conclusion that I have
to leave my role as senior curator at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
at the National Gallery of Australia where I had worked since prior--
sorry where I had worked since 2002.
Prior to this I had been a curator of indigenous art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia
which is started before is where I first worked with Stephen.
He then came over to the national gallery of Australia in 2003
under an indigenous curatorial mentorship I had helped initiate
with the major Australian corporation for Wesfarmers.
What had occurred in the relatively short time since the establishment of Boomalli to lead me
to come to this decision particularly as my career trajectory same to be on the rise
through the curatorial ranks of one of the country's leading art museums.
A series of occurrences had incrementally helped me reached my decision.
I had become increasingly uncomfortable with being asked for my imprimatur by parts
of the sector as to which artists were the most collectible.
Who was leading in a given year?
Who was a good buy, investment wise and so on?
I was not naive after I consider private collectors
as bad nor aboriginal artist and curators as good.
I've had many positive lengthy relationships with many collectors
and philanthropists whose passion for contemporary Aboriginal art is comparable
to mine and that of my colleagues.
And the Aboriginal visual art sector absolutely needs the support of private collectors,
as well as, cultural institutions as there are only
so many public collections to support the sector.
It was more that I felt I was being compromised or compromising myself in my role particularly
when a senior colleague accused me of and I quote "Hiding behind my Aboriginality"
when I raise concerns about my department not being properly consulted in relation
to what I considered key aspects of the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander collection.
Another time what I considered to be a clearly racist comment from another curatorial colleague
who asked me rhetorically, "Did I consider indigenous as backward or minority?"
And before I could pick my jaw up off the ground this was dismissed by another senior colleague
with the comment that I was taking it personally, damn right!
When I was sick leave for an injury
and Brian will recall I may well have been the klutziest curator to have ever have worked
at the NGA, I attended the funeral of a very dear friend who've taken his own life,
someone also from the arts and cultural sector who we still missed very much to this day.
In a tragic situation that seem to occur to much higher rate among young Aboriginal man
than young non-Aboriginal men, I discovered on my return to the institution
that my absence had been called a walkerabout.
Walkabout being usually derisive vernacular associated with the alleged tendency
of indigenous people to take off wandering, nomad like, for little reason.
These instances may seem of little importance or consequence or possibly I'm too thin skinned,
but bear in mind that similar comments put down since slights--
sorry slights based on race accumulated over a lifetime become more
than the straw which breaks the camel's back.
The white can become unbearable.
Although many of my non-indigenous peers questioned why I would choose to leave a secure
and seemingly desirable position, I was obviously not alone
in feeling increasingly marginalized with my concerns dismissed or ignored,
as is apparent with the departure of several of my peers from the key territorial positions
at institutions in Australia in recent times.
As previously mentioned, Hetti Perkins, [inaudible] Kalkadoon woman,
who was senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery
of New South Wales for 13 years until earlier this year and someone I've worked
on with many projects with over many years.
And Francesca Cubillo, Yanyuwa-Larrakeyah [inaudible] woman who filled my former position
at the National Gallery of Australia after working
in numerous curatorial l leadership roles in museums and art galleries across the country.
Both have decades of experience between them and they respected their colleagues in Australia
and overseas, yet both felt impelled to leave secure tenures due-- for diversity--
due to a diversity of reasons, although it could be Cubillo currently remains contracted
to the National Gallery, but she's undertaking her PhD and has based back in her hometown
of Darwin in the northern territory.
I cannot nor do I wish on their behalf, but I do know that a desire to work more closely
and meaningfully with my own community and communities, because your community is also
where you're based, not simply just where you're from,
was similarly shared with Hetti and Francesca.
When one considers the miniscule number of indigenous people holding senior positions
at public institutions around Australia, in fact,
there are no senior indigenous curatorial positions held by an indigenous person
at this time, something which should be called into question much more loudly.
Hetti's position is reportedly being downgraded to a junior position
with the newly appointed director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales recently
and publicly stating that perhaps an indigenous person may not fill the position
in the foreseeable future.
Although he has since retracted that statement with a qualification
and we will wait and see what happens.
Other junior positions are held by indigenous curators but the effectiveness
of their roles has to be queried along with the obvious question
as to why a highly experienced dedicated people choosing to leave these institutions
and what is being done to address collective concerns.
It's as if a generation of hard work and intent to challenge the presentation and representation
of our art and culture on our terms in a contemporary,
not solely historicized context has been undone in much the same way as many indigenous policies
and commitment to social justice and equity for indigenous peoples
and communities have seemingly been deliberately wound back or made ineffective in less
than a generation of political upheaval in Australia commencing in 1996.
I was reading the catalogue last night and going through the glossary,
noted that Stephen had included reference to the stolen generations, which refers to thousand
of aboriginal children, mainly, but not always, of mixed heritage who were forcibly removed
from their families and communities since the early 1800s to at least the 1970s.
The impact of the stolen generations underlies the experience of every indigenous person
in Australia today, myself included.
Similarly, the complex issue of land rights for indigenous peoples access
to traditional homelands, associated customary practices and traditions,
and the right to expect to benefit from the incredible resources boom and rising wealth
for select few in Australia today, arguably, underpins every work in crossing cultures and,
indeed, every exhibition of indigenous Australian Art held
in Australia and overseas in recent times.
In my own people's communities of Kalkarindji and Darguragu in the remote northern territory,
these are the day to day concerns for the community.
Like so many across the northern territory, now entering their sixth year
under the despised Northern Territory Emergency Response,
also known as the Northern Territory Intervention, which is in the right
to control individual or communal futures negated through the removal of land--
of rights to land by successive conservative
and also allegedly liberal left learning federal governments.
The quarantining of people's income, allegations of rife child abuse yet to be substantiated,
suggestions that all indigenous people are drug runners, abuses pornography aficionados
and general low lives thanks to the placement
of signs outside these communities declaring them prescribed areas and thereby suggesting
that all who reside within them to be as previously described.
Communities that are effectively helpless, not hopeless, against challenging
such demeaning categorization and classification and soul destroying, insidious inferences based
on race are what indigenous communities are living with everyday.
And experience so far removed from the lives of most non-indigenous Australians
that little attention is paid to the ongoing injustice.
The realm of visualize and culture, literature,
and performance by indigenous practitioners is one of the few avenues available
for indigenous people to have a voice, to hail against the unfair goer [phonetic] being dished
out by conservatives and right wingers.
I saw my role as a curator of indigenous art to enable a platform
for these voices to be seen and heard.
Definitely not out of sight and out of mind.
Whenever I look at works of art in public galleries, I always recall the artists
who created the works, such as those and culture warriors,
the 2007 National Indigenous Art Triennial, which forwarded to the U.S. in 2009
and was partially inspired by the publication of the same name
by conservative U.S. commentator Bill O'Reilly.
I often think of these artists with sadness when I think
of how many have passed away often much too soon which is an indictment on the disparity
of mortality rates between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia.
I cannot stress the importance enough of exhibition such as crossing cultures
and earlier international exhibitions and commissions such as Ancestral Modern
at Seattle Art Museum earlier this year.
The aforementioned culture warriors, the Australian Indigenous Art Commission
at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris in 2006, True Colors in the United Kingdom in 2004,
[inaudible] in Europe and the U.K. in '93, and many, many exhibitions curated
by indigenous colleagues in Australia and overseas which enable our voices
to be heard loud and strong, sensuous, serious, and satirical.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you, Brenda.
If you don't mind holding on to your questions until the very end.
Sonia, would you like to come up and --
>> Sure.
>> So Sonia is-- currently works at the United Nations in New York and the secretariat
of the United Nations Permanent Forum of Indigenous People-- of Indigenous Issues.
She'll be speaking on indigenous rights as the basis of art and culture.
>> Good afternoon.
I am-- I come from an organization that's decided to go green and that we will
in the future have paperless meetings and what
that means is then everybody brings their laptops along
and reads their speeches off their laptop, so I'm just continuing this new way of presenting.
As Stephen said, my name is Sonia Smallacombe.
I'm from the north of Australia, but have lived in New York,
worked for the United Nations for the last almost 7 years.
And this is my first time here in New Hampshire and I'm very honored to be here
to an amazing place and a much quieter place to New York as well.
First, I'd like to pay my respects to the Native American Tribe of this area,
the Anaka [phonetic] people and recognized them as the first peoples of this land.
And I also want to acknowledge other indigenous people who are here as well today.
Thanks also to Stephen Gilchrist for organizing this panel and inviting me here today.
And also thanks to my fellow panelist Brenda and Christian, both who are very well known
in the art world and now I'm-- I feel like I'm a real outsider here because I'm more of a group,
you know, I follow the art, but I don't actually know much about it, but I still love it.
I want to talk today probably more from a human rights based perspective, mainly,
because I work in the United Nations and, of course, Human Rights is the basis of our work.
I think human right does underline the theme
of this panel discussion Indigeneity and Culture in Australia.
And I think you don't have to look very far in Australia or even, you know,
you could look in your own countries perhaps even in the USA, can see the abuse of human
of rights particularly on indigenous peoples.
For Australia, this began at the invasion of Australia
where indigenous people suffered disposition and it continues
to the present day in Australia today.
For me, as an indigenous person living outside the country, the denial of human rights
or the rights of indigenous Australians was very stark on the 13th of September in 2007
when four countries voted against the United Nations' declaration on the right
of indigenous people in the United Nations General Assembly.
And I'm just wondering if you could tell me who those four countries were
>> Canada, New Zealand, Australia and USA.
>> Somebody said that really well.
Who was that [laughs]?
>> Canada, New Zealand, Australia and USA.
>> That's right.
[Inaudible Remark] Yes.
Thank you.
So those four countries as the very smart lady in the white just told us all.
It was Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
However, to their credit, those four countries have since changed their positions.
However, I think this kind of left a fairly lingering doubt in the minds
of many indigenous people and particularly indigenous Australia.
When you look at the current situation of indigenous people,
because on the one hand they won't-- those countries weren't keen to acknowledge the--
or to vote for the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people which sets
out the basic rights, I mean those rights that are in the declaration,
our rights stated in every United Nations convention.
So they weren't new rights.
They weren't rights specifically for indigenous people that we knew.
They were rights that are out there anyway that we just collect it together
and put together for indigenous people.
So the fact that that wasn't supported, I think did leave some doubts
in the minds of a lot of indigenous people.
So the rights of indigenous Australians has been denied on many levels
and I guess there's nowhere more obvious than in the indigenous arts area.
And aboriginal act in its different forms has been the medium through which laws
and customs have been recorded and passed down through the generations.
The designs and images used often carry deep religious significance invoking creation stories
which convey the relationship of the clans with their land.
So from a very early period, indigenous Australians were asserting their relationship
to their lands, the lands that were taken from them by the colonizers.
So, already, you can see that indigenous people came to assert their rights there.
The lack of understanding that indigenous people actually have their own set of laws
and practices also went unrecognized.
These laws often govern the use of artworks.
And if they were breached by unauthorized reproduction, there was often punishment
for those considered responsible for the breach.
In Australia, in the earlier part of the last century, indigenous artworks are being acquired
by missionaries and anthropologists.
And many indigenous communities were more than willing to share much of their cultures
with anthropologists not realizing the extent that it was likely
to be exhibited in books and museums.
For many years, the indigenous people were largely unaware of the inappropriate use
of their cultures that was taking place.
Often, artistic works were displayed or reproduced outside the communities in ways
that were completely at odds with the purposes intended by the author.
By the 1970s, the beauty, and here it talks about the beauty,
not necessarily the understanding of indigenous cultures,
but the beauty of indigenous art was becoming recognized
by a growing number of non-indigenous people.
Not long thereafter, copyright infringements appeared on the tourist market.
Designs being misappropriated for such things as t-shirts, clothing fabric,
beer cans, postcards and cheap souvenirs.
Instances of misuse felted back to indigenous communities, but for a long time,
it was assumed in Australia that copyright laws provided now avenues for protection
to indigenous artists, because the works of the artist
that had been misappropriated were merely reproduction of ancient images and designs
that had been passed down from past generations.
It was thought that the works were not original which is a--
originalities is an important factor in a copyright case.
But by the 1990s, or by the 1980s and the 1990s, however,
there were some very publicized copyright cases brought
by indigenous artists against Australian companies.
And I think this really changed the way people started to think about indigenous art.
Many indigenous artists were upset that their artworks were appearing on t-shirts
and carpets without their permission.
And this then very well publicized cases in Australia called--
one is called the Carpets Case and the other is called the Bulun Bulun Case
if you want to look more into those cases.
But certainly, I think it gave people an understanding or a wake up call
that art was protected and that it was in the realm of indigenous people's culture
and that culture wasn't there to steal.
It was there to be borrowed.
That, you know, this culture was there and had to respected.
Protests against the treatment of indigenous Australians were always evident
in the indigenous people's daily lives.
In 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in Northern Australia sent the back petition
to the House of Representatives which is in the Australian government in protest
against the government's granting of mining rights to a company called Nabalco
over 390 square kilometers of land excised by the Arnhem Land Reserve.
If you know this region of North Australia, it is famous for bark paintings.
So the fact that the protest was written on bark I think is a good example
of asserting indigenous rights to identity as a people and protesting in an indigenous way.
The result was a parliamentary inquiry which recommended
that that compensation was owed to the Yolngu people.
However, in a subsequent court case in 1972 which was called Milirrpum Versus Nabalco,
the Yolngu people were not able to establish their native title to common law.
In the meantime, say, from the 1960s to 1970s, protests were taking placer all
over Australia and, of course,
indigenous Australians were asserting their rights in many protest marches.
And of course throughout-- through the aboriginal embassy
that was established in Canberra at this time.
And Canberra is Australia's capital city.
In my current job as-- within the secretary of the United Nations Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues, I get many visitors and they all ask me one question.
And the question is "What is the biggest issue for indigenous people around the world?"
For me it is marginalization and the lack of recognition of indigenous people's rights.
So right across the board, right across the world, for me I think the biggest issue
for indigenous people is the marginalization or the marginalization of indigenous people
and a lack of respect for indigenous people's rights.
[ Pause ]
This marginalization and lack of recognition
of indigenous people's rights is very evident in the art world.
Indigenous Australians, mainly from the cities were often marginalized and excluded,
people within the public spaces of mainstream cultural institutions
which Brenda just spoke about, and of course this was scenario--
sorry, and of course this was an area also of great-- where great artworks emerged.
In 2004, a collective of indigenous artists is formed proppaNOW that advocated
and produced artist and exhibitions
that questioned established notions of aboriginal art and identity.
Many of these artists wanted to claim their space after decades
of disposition as indigenous people.
Some of the issues that these artists portrayed included racism which was presented
through the lens of urban indigenous artists, whose communities have borne the brunt
of colonization, displacement from ancestral lands
and marginalizations by the dominant culture.
They work formed a narrative which underlined the culture alienation and displacement
of indigenous people since invasion.
Another way of exerting indigenous rights is through the use of language.
For example, the exploitation of the language
of the colonizer is a tactical device used by the proppaNOW artists.
Previously, captive trans-anthropological discourse and unequal pair relations,
they individually and collectively interrogated the histories
that defined them as Aba and Lisa [phonetic].
They used language in the forms of parody, irony, and wit.
And I have to say that same language or that same kind
of language is used by many indigenous Australians.
We use this kind of language in our own homes and it's a kind of survival
for us living in a very colonized world.
One of the artists in the proppaNOW Collective, a person called Richard Bell,
describes himself as more of an activist than an artist and indeed many
of his work is politically charged, addressing issues such as racism
of Australian culture which-- sorry, racism in Australia
and within the Australian culture in which he finds himself.
Bell's vivid and provocative paintings and videos is a challenge to Australia and others
about indigenous peoples and the denial of indigenous rights and its consequence
and frustration and grievances for indigenous people.
For example, Richard Bell uses a wide range of media including painting performance and video
to humorously challenge the co-modification of indigeneity in the Western Art market.
Richard Bell's white washed paintings which had this subtitle-- I think I can't remember this,
but it says something like "If I don't paint my story they will steal my land."
It's about continuing land theft and the erasure of indigenous history and culture.
Bell explains the difficulties this poses for indigenous--
sorry, urban indigenous communities.
And he talks about the Native Title Act which is like a Land Rights Act in Australia
which specifically requires indigenous people to prove that Native Title exists by means of song,
dance, storytelling and to prove that we are related to the birds, the animals, the insects,
the microbes, the earth, the wind, and the fire.
And he points that this is a really difficult task even
for indigenous people who've had minimal contact with the colonial Australia,
adding that the task for urban indigenous people becomes monumental and mostly impossible.
So, basically, if you want to claim your own land in Australia you have to show
that you've had ongoing connection to that land prior to 1788 when colonization first occurred.
And of course this is been a-- great area of contingent for many indigenous people
because colonialism has changed the way that we live and the way that we are today.
So, how do we reconcile Australia's past?
And how do we go forward?
Well, that is that what the Reconciliation Australia was about.
Reconciliation was about unity and respect
between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
It is about respect between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and respect
for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage
in valuing justice and equity for all Australians.
In the past, there was lots of language in reconciliation of Australia about social justice
and there was a great publication that came out that talked a lot about the areas
where indigenous people and social justice could go hand and hand.
And unfortunately I haven't seen that publication for many years
and I don't even know whether it still exists.
And then there was talk about treaty that maybe a treaty between Australians
and indigenous Australians was-- another way forward.
But again that since have fallen off the table so we no longer hear the word treaty.
Reconciliation Australia has gone some way towards steering national consciousness
of the pressing need to remedy indigenous disadvantage not only for the well-being
of the first Australians, but also that of Australians society general-- in general.
So now we talk more about disadvantage and writing disadvantage.
So, the kind of long term issues that were on the table like talking about social justice,
talking about the indigenous rights, talking about treaty right,
all those things are now gone and now we talk instead about disadvantage.
There's been some criticism over the work of Reconciliation Australia because one
of the approaches has been to develop partnerships for success
that involves organizations and people from all parts of Australian community to work together
and find ways to achieve reconciliation.
Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing.
What I'm saying it's kind of a ship without a rudder or there doesn't seem to be a lot
of direction in that way of going forward.
So there's still some confusion about reconciliation.
And a woman that we all well know--
a lot of indigenous people here know is a lady called Kirstie Parker, the Indigenous Editor
of Koori Mail which is an indigenous newspaper in Australia.
She recently stated about reconciliation.
"It's not that I think that current indigenous
and non-indigenous relationship is all bad but it doesn't quite fly either.
We see occasional glimpses of what it could be but where it's a bit stuck.
We bump up against each other and sometimes quite like it
but we're also careless with each other's emotions.
We make assumptions and take each other for granted.
We imagine slights and sweats small stuff because sometimes it's the only stuff we have.
We generally get through life together but feel vaguely dissatisfied, never quite managing
to really take things to the next level."
And I think that's a really good way of saying
that reconciliation needs to go to another level.
Other people have pointed that that we need to agree upon some shared symbols that can be--
that can reinforce cultural identity and form the basis
of respect between the different cultures.
For indigenous Australians, there is a responsibility
that comes with being the dominant culture.
Whatever the truth of the events over which the culture wars of the last decade had been fought,
there is no argument that the impact of your European settlement
on indigenous peoples has involved substantial loses in land, health, welfare,
and dignity for indigenous people.
Whether their intent was good or bad, the outcome was dreadful for many,
and for a long time, and remains so for many despite the advances others have experienced.
We cannot deny responsibility for what has happened nor
for the continuing unacceptable situation.
A sign of respect is an essential step towards reconciliation.
And for this reason, the formal apology to the stolen generations, these are the--
Brenda spoke about just a moment ago.
These are the people who were forcibly removed from their families.
So, the formal apology to the stolen generation body--
Australian government in 2008, I think was critical.
However, I would argue, it did not take long for the momentum to almost disappear.
In 2011, an exhibition was held at the Museum
of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Brooklyn New York.
It was titled "Saying No: Reconciling Spirituality
and Resistance in Indigenous Australian Art."
The exhibition featured sculpture, installation, painting, photography, video,
and mixed media works that highlighted the use of visual art as a form of social
and political protest in the current--
and Australian indigenous struggle for the right to representation.
So the struggle continues.
So, where do we go from here?
I would like to think that since 2007 when the United Nations Declaration on the Rights
of indigenous people was proclaimed in the United General Assembly--
United Nations General Assembly, that would be--
there would be a new era for indigenous Australians and certainly I'm beginning to think
that was a high water mark and we were now going to the low water mark I think.
And I say that because in other parts of the world, the declaration continues
to be an important part of the work between governments and indigenous people
than there are countries in Africa for example and countries in Latin America
that have implemented the declaration through various policies
and legislation in their countries.
And we have not seen this yet in Australia.
So in a sense, I guess, I do feel a sense of gloom and doom and I stand here, I guess,
disappointed having just come back from Australia 3 weeks ago
where I felt very saddened about what was happening.
However, I do at the same time feel that it is the art with the assertion
of indigenous rights will continue to strive.
I still have this faith that indigenous artists will continue to assert their right
to their lands and resources and redefine our political
and cultural place in the Australian landscape.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> We will have [inaudible].
Thank you so much, Sonia.
That was beautiful and, you know, very important for people to listen and, you know,
we don't want to separate the poetry of aboriginal art from its politics.
I'd like to invite Christian Thompson.
He missed his introduction but we all heard it but--
and he's currently staying at Oxford University and is a performance video and visual artist.
So welcome him.
>> Thank you.
Oh, yeah. Firstly, I just like to acknowledge the traditional peoples of this area
and thank those people both past and the present for allowing me to speak on their country today.
And I also wanted to congratulate Stephen on your wonderful exhibition and to thank Brenda
and Sonia for being here and being able to speak with them as well and be part of this panel.
I'm going to talk about the Archive.
I'm-- traditionally, my formal training is in sculpture and textiles, but these days I tend
to work primarily in-- with the mediums of photography, performance,
and video and at the moment I'm undertaking my PhD at Oxford University
and I'm working very closely with the Pitt Rivers Museum Collection
and I though I'd just show a short documentary that we made about the project and then talk
about some of the work and also show some recent video works that I've made.
Yeah, so. Where are you going, Brenda?
[ Pause ]
Should we bring down the lights down a little bit?
Can we go to-- oh [laughs] Oh, is that full screen?
[ Pause ]
[ Music ]
[ Pause ]
>> But I do came to work with the collection and I said to Chris,
the curator, is that don't want the images.
I don't want [inaudible] and give it [inaudible] I literally have come to this space
and I'm going to just meditate on these images, you know, let them sink in.
I'm going to see what comes up.
The archives has permeated my work, it's in my work.
It's entered my subconscious, it's part of my, you know, the continuity to be able
to give clarity and that's why this is fully at work.
And I think it even surprises myself because I don't simply know where it came from so I'm
like it's just pushed me to a new kind of territory,
pushed this along in the [inaudible] students to come forth to [inaudible] this issue.
It just happens to coincide with a [inaudible] with just looking
to connect that sudden [inaudible].
[ Music ]
We try to return archives and collections [inaudible] hundred years ago
or more is increasing, you know, amount in the museum world and academic anthropology
but most importantly, indigenous curators, historians, and artists who really see the work
and that happens still today to connections [inaudible] especially if we look
at how [inaudible] able to get, how we can connect with our ancestors,
it's really [inaudible] behind those [inaudible] into that water.
>> Traditionally where I'm from, we bury our own and so that for me resonates very strongly
with this collection because I thought I was kind of obligated to do justice
to the collection and to the archives and as one of the first aboriginal people to study
at Oxford University and that it's my responsibility
to perform this spiritual repatriation.
>> The phrase spiritual repatriation really came out of a conversation with Christian.
So it's really a term that Christian came up with to describe how the exhibition space was
when you're figuring relationships in the archive, visitors, and the actual ancestors
who are actually residing in those images themselves.
I think it's, you know, a very powerful term because it does touch on all of that sort
of legal museum sort of literature and process which obviously derives
from the physical repatriation of human remains both to draw in all of those meanings
but it also shifts among to the community in a completely different ground by taking it away
from the physical into the spiritual area.
In anthropological literature, repatriation is-- also kind of carries lots of other, you know,
meanings, more than just the legal settlement.
There's a term visual repatriation which is used a lot in photography projects.
Visual repatriation, you know, refers to the process of taking copies and photographs back
to communities, working with them to-- and then generate new meanings, histories,
and also leaving copies for those communities to use for their own purposes
and working with local museums and such.
So there's an established literature and process on visual repatriation.
That's really the term on spiritual repatriation is moving the debate on.
>> The idea of spiritual repatriation is about searching something free.
It's about providing a platform or a new gateway to kind of think about these kinds
of collections and the role of the subjects within those collections.
So it's not necessarily a comment on the collection but it's a departure point
from the archive into the contemporary.
And I think that's something that art is able to do that physical repatriation perhaps can't.
>> So spiritual repatriation is just about having a physical material,
but you notice in a traditional context, objects were only used in a votive capacity so for
so [inaudible] and then they were discarded.
So people would use traditional paintings to build temporary shelters out of
or they would use spears or [inaudible] but for a very utilitarian kind of purpose.
So it's actually the performance.
It's actually the ceremony which is the important part and that's what art does
that physical repatriation doesn't do
because with physical repatriation it's just the physical object, it's not a spiritual content.
The act of taking my own photograph is the ceremony.
It's a contemporary kind of ceremony, that's why I wanted to create an aura in the space,
a set of performative kind of aura that's why I've used votive objectives, things like candles
and flowers and butterflies and crystals.
So, you know, the exhibition is a meditative space and it's a space that can transport ideas
and it can transport this sort of content of the archive into something somewhere else.
>> Christian's engagement with the collections is also working with archival processes
from the past in this institution and then refiguring them in a new way.
So transforming the archival process at the same time and, of course, will change the archive,
you know, as a result of his engagement with it.
[ Music ]
[ Noise ]
>> Of course, as I said in the documentary, this exhibition was titled "We Bury Our Own"
and this sort of came from a conversation that I had with my father.
And actually, one of my aunt's funerals my father said, you know,
"That's what white people love about us because we bury our own."
And this is sort of, like, positive in one way.
This is how it's a very traditional ideology.
It's still very much part of our contemporary reality.
And working with this archive, I was really interested in this idea of returning some sort
of element, the essence of these images and especially the subjects,
these sort of deeply ethnographic images back into the--
shifting the archive into the contemporary and-- with another aboriginal person,
so this idea of setting the subject free.
And I sort of thought the idea of carrying these images around to just be incredibly morbid
and I didn't want to really sort of actually have the physical objects.
What was more important, I think, historically when artists have worked
with museum collections, it's always a sort of comment on the museum space,
and artist late Fred Wilson or James Luna who have--
who often reconfigure parts of the collections to reveal sort
of historical conflicts or events.
For me, this wasn't really, really important because I sort of thought, okay, well, the--
at one stage it was really important for artists to gain access to the museum space
but now it's actually quite common place to see artists working within museum institutions.
And for me it was much more important to meditate on these images as I said
in the documentary and to allow these images to become part of my life, and,
as a consequence, part of my work.
And Roland Barthes talks about this idea of the portrait and the idea
that in each portrait there's a sort of this three sort of modes functioning
and that is the way that the photographer intends to represent the subject,
the way that the actual photograph, you know, manifest itself, and also the intention
of the subjects of how they want to be represented.
So, for me, it was much more important to access the intent of the subject and to transform
that through studio practice which is a kind of different form of research into something
that created an interface or a gateway to think about these collections beyond the sort
of ethnographic and beyond the kind of-- beyond being this sort of heavily laden objects.
So a lot of the work that I've been doing really work is about reanimating
or redistributing traditional ideas or relationships to land and how to think
about doing this within a sort of global economy.
So, in addition to this body of work, "We Bury Our Own," I've also been doing a video work
which is part of this which is called "Brother"
and I've been working a lot with language as well.
As I said, my formal training is in sculpture and textiles but I was--
in my undergraduate years, I was building a lot
of wearable sculptures and then documenting them.
So it sort of just, as a natural evolution, photography became a convenient way
to document the performative nature of my work.
And then the performative has sort of become the focus, so this being this sort of transgression
in my practice from documenting performance to creating videos to real performance.
In 2007, I moved to Holland and I undertook a Masters of Theater at the Amsterdam School
of Arts and I really went there to develop the performative aspect of my work because I knew
that if I was going to grow artistically that I had to take some real risks
and to put my physical body into the art space and to develop the sort of performative aspect
of my work that has always been there.
So, this video work, where I come from we sort of speak a hybrid of Bidjara and English.
We sort of-- we grew up with language and I was always--
I was always sort of taken with the sort of innate lyricism of our language and I wanted
to celebrate that I asked my father once "Do we have any songs left?"
And my dad said "Well, no, we don't."
And I just thought, well, I'm not having this so I started making my own songs.
And, fortunately, a dentist came to work in our area in the '60s and he learned Bidjara
because a lot of the older people in South Central
and South West Queens didn't speak English, so he just picked up the language
and I think that's also a testament to the sort of the--
how dynamic aboriginal culture is and how it's managed to survive
through so many different kind of-- I mean, I'm really interested in this but, I do,
of how culture manifests itself within the context of another culture.
And, I mean, you only have to look at this panel to look at how dynamic our culture is
and how it's really stood the test of time.
So what was I saying?
This work-- yeah, so we actually have access to our language in documented form
and so I began writing songs which were in part sometimes translated by my father
and then also taken from the archives.
So I was really interested in this idea because our language is endangered
and there are very few people who speak it in the world.
I was interested in how to find a context and a platform to celebrate the sort
of innate lyricism of our language to work with very universal ideas about sort of kinship
or difference that have-- the relationship of father and son or sovereignty in connection
to land and how to represent this in the art context.
So I began, when I was at dance arts, writing songs and then performing them,
but I wasn't really-- the sort of idea of just standing behind a microphone
and singing just wasn't really-- I just sort of thought it's been done, not really interested
in presenting these works in that way.
And in 2010, I was invited to be part of the Sydney BNI.
In fact, I'll show that work first because this is the first work where I collaborated
with an opera singer to create these video works where I'd written songs and I create--
sort of create the composition and the melody and garage band and then I worked
with opera singers to do their own renditions of these songs that I've written.
And I think it really, at the center of these works, what I'm really interested in is the fact
that if Bidjara is being spoken somewhere in the world even if it's one or two words,
then it's not a dying language, that it's part of a global--
it's part of a global sort of diaspora and arts is really a context to--
art for me has given a context to archive language and music is a really great way
of sort of communicating that sooner.
I'll show the video.
[ Pause ]
[ Singing ]
[ Pause ]
[ Applause ]
So, I'll show you this as well.
[ Pause ]
[ Singing ]
[ Pause ]
This sort of being a natural progression in these works from the performance
of creating songs to this sort of interpretation of them in operatic form,
and now I'm even moving further away from music
and now I'm actually creating kind of audio environments.
And what sort of attracts me to my own language is firstly it's been a sort of essential aspect
of my own identity in life, but also that language is really such an integral part
of how we define ourselves and how we communicate with each other.
And in 2010, the same year that I made the Dutch Opera video, I was invited to be part
of the Adelaide Biennial of an Australian art called "Before and After Science"
and I created a sound installation which is actually using the word "muna" which means bee,
and "nguwal" which means swarm of bees and I worked with the sound designer in Spain
and we created this work called "Decent Extremist."
I'd like the idea of this of being extreme but standing
up for something that's worth fighting for.
And I think that language is such-- it's such a powerful tool.
And so we actually created-- replicated the sound of a bee swarm using sample--
audio samples of my voice saying the word "muna" and "nguwal" which was actually--
you could hear it in the intro of the documentary, and then feeds it--
inserted the voice samples into the sound algorithms of a bee swam to replicate the sound.
So moving away from this idea of communication,
or the way that I've used language is a kind of form sort of poetry.
I'm now using it to actually animate the actual meaning of the words.
So I'll just play like a little sample of this-- it might be good to turn the lights down
and people want to close theirs eyes that would be cool too.
[ Pause ]
[ Music ]
>> So, yeah.
Yeah, the work goes from about hour and it sort of builds in intensity.
I'm just going to show you one more work which is a work that I made in 2010 called "HEAT"
and this is a collaborative work that I did with Dutch harpist named Anne Van Schothorst.
And-- yeah, I think I'll just show you the work.
[ Music ]
[ Pause ]
[ Applause ]
>> I think I'll leave it at that 'cause I think we're kind of running out of time.
>> Thank you so much.
>> Cool. Thank you.
>> Listen, I just wanted to leave enough time for questions.
So these three girls are actually-- they [inaudible] so.
She's kind of sent her Siren daughters for us.
I wanted to open the floor to questions if anyone wanted
to direct a question to me or any of the panelists.
>> Question for Christian, so this thing in the videos that you showed a sort of naked,
at least from the chest top [inaudible] to see, does that relate to your meaning of heart such
or transition, and if so is it about putting them in a vulnerable position
or what was your reason for doing that and does it relate
to how indigenous people are often portrayed as naked and--
>> No. I did it really as a purely sort of aesthetic decision.
I just wanted people to focus on the on the language rather than any sort artifice,
so that just seemed like a really, an easy way to sort
of simplify the aesthetic of those works.
It's funny 'cause other people have brought up that issue and sort
of accused me of humiliating people.
[laughs] But no, it was really just-- yeah, it was just an aesthetic position to me.
>> Thank you.
>> There is a microphone coming down if you want to.
>> On the map-- on the map that was shown, a very large number of aboriginal nations we shown
and that-- it got me to wondering to what extent, if any, does conflict
or contention among groups play a role in the politics
of art among the indigenous people in Australia today?
>> Did you say amongst the art?
Or, among generally, just generally?
[ Pause ]
I think what Sonia was talking about in terms of touching on the conflict that's risen
out of native title has tended to play a great role in people being played off
against each other and the owners being placed on indigenous groups to prove
that they have connection with country.
And in fact the former Primer Minister Paul Keating who was prime minister--
I can't remember when he started being prime minister, but up until 1996,
he gave an amazing speech called the Redferm speech in 1992, I think it was
or 1993 in Redferm which is a suburb very strongly associated
with urban aboriginal rights.
And he was a great proponent of acknowledging past wrongs and owning them
and not necessarily saying that people need to feel guilty about them,
but to take some responsibility for living in the country here and now.
He has also just recently come out and stated that native title should be turned around
and the owner should be on the people-- non-indigenous people who are wanting access
to that country to prove that they should have a right to access that country rather
than the owners being placed on indigenous groups.
Certainly, with differing nations, depending on who the nations were,
there were sometimes conflict, but there was also a great deal of trade.
There was a lot of exchange between peoples right through that the country.
I was just taking to my cousin recently.
There was a big land rights-- an events, a very important event nationally in 1966
with the Gurindji Walk-off from Wave Hill which was--
which has been acknowledged as the birth of the National Land Rights movement.
And I was asking my cousin "Tell me, I've got to get down all the names
and make sure I've acknowledged all the different groups that are involved, you know,
in the Walk-Off," 'cause even though that's called a Gurindji Walk-Off there were six
different nations.
It was Gurindji, Mudbara, Malngin, Bilinara, Ngarinman, and Warlpiri.
And my cousin wrote back to me "Those first five are all right,
but those Warlpiri" [laughter] which made me laugh.
And, you know, there's contention with [inaudible] of say for example
which is a community near to Kalkarindji and Daguragu.
[Inaudible] is actually on Gurindji country but the population there is Warlpiri.
So, people have been moved around as well since times of our first contact in the late 1700s.
And so there's those kinds of conflicts but there's also a great deal of people, you know,
negotiating with each other and working with each other and--
due to trade or into marrying or exchange of goods, et cetera.
So, you could see it as similar to Europe as well and that not everybody gets along.
Don't we see that all the time with that changing nation state and borders?
>> Mr. Gilchrist assuming-- because I'm speaking from my own ignorance,
assuming that what you are presenting upstairs is in the form that it may not be common
in the indigenous communities but is designed to be consistent
with showing non-indigenous community such as this one.
What you have been-- or showing us here, having an impact on any parts
of the communities, indigenous communities.
Is there a feedback?
Are they're seeing-- are they understanding themselves better as we all do when we watch?
Look at our art in museums.
We go-- we understand more about ourselves.
Is what you've done here, collected here,
having any impact on indigenous communities in Australia?
>> Well, I ask myself that question all the time, you know?
You want to have some kind of benefit, some kind of take away that is positive.
And, you know, I think indigenous people are very proud to be, you know,
they know they're very proud of being in international exhibitions, you know?
They are aware sometimes of their own kind of celebrity in the art world.
I think-- and the agency as well, you know.
They explicitly make work for the art market.
You know, it circulates in, you know, the kind of moneyed economy.
They get a financial benefit.
They also get, you know, the celebrity endorsement of that.
[Inaudible Remark] Yeah, and, you know,
they're presenting stories about cultural sustainability.
They are presenting their ancestor's narratives.
I mean, I think there's enormous amounts of cultural pride, you know, invested in the work.
>> And actually it's kind of legal currency as well, like my cousin recently wrote to me
and they're using my work as an example of how our culture has survived [inaudible].
So, it's a really cool, very practical way that actually has a very meaningful place
within contemporary culture society now, [inaudible].
>> Excuse me.
>> It's all right.
[ Pause ]
>> Following on from that question, both Stephen and Brenda, you raised the--
you raised the issue of a separate institute for indigenous which I think
in a story I heard something that is originally native but and I really
like to hear your thoughts further on that but I would also put forward and be really curious
to hear your response both having worked in major institutions
that in fact a bigger problem is finding platforms for critical engagement
across cultures with indigenous work
and contemporary work being produced around the world.
And I know this is something that you've worked on quite a lot, Brenda doing parallels
with indigenous works around the world, but I kind of wonder if we're starting to think
of indigenous art as the-- not only, you know, the pre-eminent Australian art
but really internationally pre eminent form of contemporary art.
How, in the context of a separate institution like a National Indigenous Center,
we can continue to foster those intercultural dialogues
where indigenous art is placed alongside the world's leading contemporary art and shown
to be speaking the same, you know, speaking the same critical terms if in a different--
if in a different artistic language.
>> Well, I think, I've come to realize that I'm less concerned with the spaces that I work in
and the people that I'm working with.
You know, I don't think we necessarily, you know, have to--
it's a very difficult to come up with first of a building and a collection
for a national institution, you know.
I also like, you know, the cross cultural dialogue
that we're explicitly staging in this exhibition.
You know, not just in terms of internationally but you know between indigenous peoples,
you know, Arakoon and Lockhart River and those kinds of juxtapositions.
You know, I think-- oh say what you have to say [laughter] and then I'll think of--
>> I think this argument is for and against
and they will always be that-- there will be naysayers.
There will be people who champion it.
When I was in the national gallery there was talk back then
of what is now the Australian museum of democracy,
the old parliament house being dedicated to an institution that was solely
for indigenous visual culture from Australian, and I can't tell you the number
of hatted e-mails that I got from people saying, "Oh, no this is going to be--
this'll be another way of ghettoizing indigenous art, blah, blah, blah."
And I-- is that one of those bees?
>> Sorry, I can't turn.
>> Infiltrate it, okay.
I absolutely understand and support the stance in this particular position and I think it comes
after like having worked within those intuitions for many years and you do feel
like you're banging your head up against a brick wall after while.
And just are those-- this is what I think are the simplest of things,
the terminology that gets used around describing or confining how indigenous art is seen
and contextualized and it can be done in multiple ways.
There isn't one way of presenting it.
You know, I'm really interested in saying lots of different ways.
And Shakara [phonetic] what if you did have an institution that was solely dedicated
to indigenous Australian art and you showed non-indigenous art in it as well?
You know, it's all of those kinds of things.
It's like basically telling people to get over it a little bit.
I think I've heard the argument the other way
from some amazing contemporary first nation artists or Native American artists here
for its commodity from the states here in the Boomalli of Sydney.
And one of the guys involved with that and I think they do a great work.
And there was a couple of slides being shown of an installation they did within the space
at the rt Gallery of New South Wales in the Yiribana, year of the banana.
Yiribana Gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as well, which is like down, down, down,
down, down, down into the dungeons.
And they did an intervention where they actively cut off a huge slab
of this granite out of the floor.
And then I had some wonderful sound phase that was operating within there.
And I said to one of the guys the only the reason that you're allowed to do that is
because you're exotic indigenous.
I can tell you right now.
If that had been put forward by anybody associated with the department at Art Gallery
of New South Wales or a local aboriginal artist it wouldn't have happened.
And he was very much against the idea of the National Museum of the American-Indian.
And I've got-- I've got colleagues from that institution and I know
within that institution there are concerns about what kind of shows you present.
And I've had colleagues who say we need to do the teepees
and pony show 'cause that's what the general public asking for.
And that's what I want to see.
And, you know, this were all the kinds of things that you're fighting against or dealing
with within your own kind of structures as well.
So I think as Stephen, says we wouldn't-- I don't know where the collection basis would come
for a national institution in Australia, but I certainly think it could only benefit
and add to the current dialogue that's going on over there.
And if it was-- it has to be listened and run and directed by indigenous Australians.
And taking contemporary shows, you know, build the collection on that.
Do different things that are there, but it's certainly would debate the kind of frustrations
that are experienced working within some of those big institutions,
because you feel once you're there, you should be grateful that you're allowed in
and that it should start acting right.
And if you-- and I'm speaking from personal experience, I'm not speaking for anybody else.
But I'm just saying my experience within that.
And I've got pretty loud voice.
If you don't have a loud voice you tend to just get beaten down or you leave.
[ Pause ]
>> Are there any other questions?
Oh, Bryan, please.
>> Related to that Brenda, how do you react to the practice that has been taking place
over many years now of indigenous people being invited to practice?
Is there any email or whatever?
And to what extend does that relate to your [inaudible] around, let's say [inaudible].
>> I think there's moments when it can be purely for show
and I remember feeling really uncomfortable many years ago at an opening at the Museum
of Contemporary Art and there was a group of various women I think from--
I can't remember which community, sorry, in central Australia
and I felt uncomfortable participating in this kind of ogling voyeurship of, you know,
and I was watching people standing there with their glasses
of Champaign and chattering away and talking.
And I thought what kind of engagement is actually going on here, you know?
But when it's really effective and really important?
And I don't want to use this as an example of a show I curated but I'm just thinking
of beautiful man simulated from Arakoon
who passed away recently and I won't mention his name.
But he performed at the opening of Culture Warriors with his great grandson.
And he-- they danced together and it's certainly wasn't just the idea
of will just do it something as, you know, at the beginning.
It was about making sure that his work could be in that place and that space.
It was about the investment of cultural exchange and transmission of knowledge
between him and his great grandson.
And it was a really moving experience.
And so, it depends on how institutions approached it.
And that's why it's so important I think to have indigenous people working
within these places even though I left where I was.
I think it's really essential to listen, to really listen to the voices of people
who are working there to look at how art and culture
and customary practices are presented and represented.
So, you know, it's one of those things that has to-- constantly be assessed and taken seriously,
not just added on as a kind of, you know, 60 second intro and then--
then we'll get on the with the rest-- the real show.
[ Pause ]
>> Well, please join with me in thanking of our panelists today.
[ Applause ]
And please know we have an exhibition opening that starts at six o'clock
and you're all very welcome to stay.
So I thank you so much.