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october 2014

WE NEED NSW SPECIFIC CULTURAL PROTOCOLS INFORMED ONLY BY NSW ABORIGINAL PEOPLES

Ok, I'm going to say it, given no-one else seems to care or are too blinded by money to want to care.

The NSW Parliament Aboriginal Art Prize used to be a $20,000 prize contributed by the NSW Parliament, which was an important gesture of governmental recognition of the talents and contributions of NSW Aboriginal artists and Peoples as a whole. In 2011, the state government chose to absolve themselves of contributing this amount, instead seeking $40,000 from coal seam gas company, Coal & Allied, to replace it. Not everyone is comfortable with taking what is seen by some as "shut-up" money, a tacit approval of what is not only dangerous for the health of Country but an incredibly outmoded means of energy extraction in an age of workable and cheaper sustainable energy sources.

Apparently for the last 2 years, the Prize has included a sneaky clause that any Aboriginal person from outside NSW, that is, they DO NOT have to show they come from a NSW language group, can enter what was supposed to be a proud recognition of NSW Aboriginal art & cultural practice, as long as they have lived in NSW for the past 12 months.

I believe this to be yet another encroachment of the non-NSW Aboriginal people & their mates who think they run cultural considerations in Sydney & think they have the right to dictate to us how they think we should run our affairs. It is an insult that we have to essentially go through these gatekeepers who none of us can relate to, as they don't really know any of us, they are not related to us. They don't fit, so they make things fit for them and their non-NSW buddies to legitimise their tenuous positions in NSW Aboriginal arts & cultural affairs. We've all seen the shift to an aesthetic which doesn't reflect us nor is it informed by us.

It is time for NSW Aboriginal people ONLY to set NSW specific cultural protocols which are informed by every community in NSW. It would require assistance to get people around the state to meet with everyone, but I believe it needs to be done before nothing in NSW actually belongs to us.

CLARIFICATION

I have received clarification on the history and inception of the NSW Parliament Aboriginal Art Prize from the only truly currently active founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, from whom the concept of this Prize originally came, renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft. Rather than take her words out of context, I have included all the text Bronwyn recently sent the arts worker assigned to administer the Prize at Campbelltown Arts Centre:

 

"Just a little history around this prize.

It emanated from a meeting that I called at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative.

The meeting of over 50 people was organised by myself and Tracey Duncan to address the lack of recognition for NSW Aboriginal People.

It was called the NSW Aboriginal Artists Lobby Group.

Many great people attended (Uncle Chicka Dixon, Linda Burney) and one of attendees was Meredith Burgmann.

One of the action items proposed by the group was an Aboriginal Arts Prize administered and run by Boomalli, as the peak Aboriginal Artists Co-operative.

All of this disappeared and then Meredith had made it a NSW Government Art Prize, which we did not want as it was not a considered pathway to Independence and self Determination. (I am sure she would have thought she was doing the right thing)

Now that it is a Mining Prize, where we are stuck with the moral dilemma of taking money while our language areas are being destroyed, (it) is disturbing.

I will not enter this Art Prize.

Wish you well in your personal endeavours.

Just like to put the true history on account as people tend to just push it aside, Bron"

 

So there you go, the originators of this Prize didn't even feel the need to attach the NSW Parliament to this Prize, though I do understand the sentiment of such a gesture on one level. Boomalli has been going from strength to strength in recent years, and they certainly own a great space to show the shortlisted works. Wouldn't it be great to see this Prize reclaimed, and back to the original ideals of recognising and showcasing NSW Aboriginal arts and culture.

 

If you are from a NSW language group and interested in contributing to the idea of developing a set of NSW specific Aboriginal cultural protocols, please feel free to email me. I promise I will add your name for inclusion in the conversation around this issue. Your ideas and knowledge are needed!

 

This image is of coal seam gas wells littering the Piliga I took from Google Earth a couple of years ago. This is what I refuse to support by entering what is becoming a meaningless Prize, and I note, a less patronised event.

CSG in the Piliga Scrub

 

march 2014

'BRING ON THE BLAK ENTREPRENEUR' | WE MIGHT NEED A PERIOD OF TRANSITION

I know I've stated that I think it is through cultural industries we might be able to build a blak economy (as opposed to black economy)

Aboriginal Peoples in Australia live mostly in abject poverty. Most non-Aboriginal peoples in Australia wouldn't know quite the extent of the poverty we live in. In regional and remote areas in NSW many wouldn't know; most Aboriginal communities/missions are out of town, places non-Aboriginals would never go if they live locally or simply wouldn't know about if they are travelling through.

I believe it is through the cultural sector on we could start seriously building a Blak Economy. It is really the only area where we are considered seriously, as knowledge holders and keepers. Our beautiful designs and cultural industries are unique in a world context and the World is interested.

We need to get savvy with marketing and business practice ourselves. We need to work to excellence when producing product. I've noticed that there are gluts in the Aboriginal cultural industries in NSW, such as weaving and printing, which is actually exciting. It is exciting because it could be these very gluts which could be a basis for building the Blak Economy on. If we have many printers, then we have enough to sustain seperate industries across NSW. For example, printers in one community could be producing primarily manchester with their lovely designs on them. Another community could say be producing curtains and cushion covers, yet another printed designs for their own clothing company.

"Bring on the Blak Entrepeneur". It has been spoken about since the 1950s and '60s, yet we are no closer to realising it. Our blak businesses are framed within white contexts, not blak, because they are mostly businesses catering to white markets. We need products relevant to our lives, our homes. Our businesses need to be unifying bodies rather than ones which favour certain sectors of our communities, which then can create jealousies. This might mean community owned enterprises. We need our own businesses which provide work and training for our own. Many so called Blak businesses employ non-Aboriginal peoples, which might be advantageous to the business and it's owner, but doesn't actually benefit communities still living in poverty.

We need to create product which is not only appealing to mainstream domestic and international markets, but are mostly appealing to Aboriginal Peoples. Just as gay communities' support each other's businesses which has built and sustained them, so can we. Can't we? We could buy blak if there is that option. We could support our own. And in the age of the internet, it is becoming easier for us to support businesses across Australia. We could be conscious of where it is that we spend our money.

There are businesses we need. I remember 25 years ago or so that there was a real push for Aboriginal fashion, what happened? We need clothes too. We are built differently, eg. my legs are long and skinny, it's often hard for me buy pants which fit properly and I can never find boots which don't look like gum boots around my skinny blak calves and ankles! Long sleeved tops don't fit my long skinny arms properly. Bracelets swim around my skinny wrists. We need simple things like make-up designed for darker skins, but in our shades of blak. Do you know how hard it is in the town I live in to find foundations for my skin? There are many Aboriginal peoples in the area I live in, but nobody factors us in, we do all sorts of tricks at home to make those white make-ups fit. There is a curious lack of dark hair dyes at a decent price which suit us. We buy too and if nobody will cater to us, we need to cater for our own.

I would like to have beautiful things in my home too which match my aesthetic, things apart from cultural artifacts. Things like Aboriginal designed crockery, beautiful bowls and pots, floor and throw rugs. And it is not enough to have Aboriginal designs on product not created and produced by our own. I want to feel good about what I buy, knowing that it will benefit other Aboriginal peoples.

We need to expand our product, run our businesses effectively and by ourselves. We need to create product primarily for our own, instead of constantly focusing on a tourism outcome, which I believe might be an important but secondary consideration. We need to support each other. And we need to know that we are more than capable of conducting business ourselves.

 

june 2013

SO WHO ARE YOU?

I am the person many others have put time, energy, knowledge and faith into. Some of them I'm sure wondered if I was even taking any of it in. I took it all. Gratefully. Thirstily. And finally I am feeling like the Barwon, filled with the rivers flowing into it, the seemingly disparate threads of my life coming together.

So who are you?

june 2013

WHY STATE/TERRITORY BOUNDARIES HAVE BECOME IMPORTANT TO ABORIGINAL PEOPLES.

The importance of our traditional nation boundaries will never be relegated, they are something which won't change, having been fought for & negotiated millennia ago. In NSW, as in other states/territories (to which I would never speak fully as my knowledge is limited to a certain extent as I am from NSW), Aboriginal Peoples have been subject to the debilitating policies of the state, policies such as assimilation & integration, amongst others.

It is our Peoples in NSW, who have borne the brunt of those policies in NSW and still do. It was our Peoples who were murdered in numbers too huge to comprehend and then told there was no genocide. It was us who until the 1960s weren't even regarded as human by state authorities, rather classified with "flora and fauna". It is us who have been moved off traditional areas, onto and shifted around missions (as we are still being moved via the NSW Department of Housing, eg. when many Aboriginal households were moved out of Sydney in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics). It is us who have had our children removed from our families and more children are being removed still via the NSW Department of Community Services, mostly through fostering. It is us who were placed in white schools, punished for speaking our own languages and placed onto missions next door to Aboriginal peoples of other nations, often traditional enemies, so we couldn't even speak our languages with our own. It was Aboriginal People in NSW, with others, who despite it all fought hard to be recognised such as early attempts through the Australian Constitution with the 1967 Referendum. We established organisations designed to care for our People's needs such as the Aboriginal Medical Services and the Aboriginal Legal Services, which were adopted by Aboriginal Peoples in other states/territories. It is us who have been placed on the edges of a prevailing white society who cared little for us, ridiculed and kept in poverty by careful policies designed to shut us out with the hope we would either die out from white diseases or bred out, thanks to squatters making visits to the bottom of properties and raping our women.

So when we see some policies and funding perhaps trying to make amends and address issues affecting NSW Aboriginal Peoples and communities, favouring and going to Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders from other states/territories who are essentially guests in our Lands, some of us do get upset. When we see jobs going to non-NSW Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders time and time again, we get the sense that these efforts are not really about affirming our Peoples in NSW at all. They instead affirm those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples whites have deemed as acceptable enough to work with them. The situation has now gotten so bad, that Aboriginal people from NSW are being controlled and kept out of engaging at higher levels by Aboriginal and Torreds Strait Islander Peoples who are supposed to be serving us, but have no connections to us because they are not related to any of us. We are seeing policies being developed by these same non-NSW Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders which have no deeper understanding of us and which in fact work to cross purposes to our needs and desires, and favouring instead their interests in a place to which they have no traditional affiliations at all.

These non-NSW Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have in fact become GATE KEEPERS in NSW, keeping us from NSW accessing what should be our right to access. We are the ones who for so long have had to endure often hellish situations, but it seems we don't get to reap the few benefits of any affirmative policies. We understand folk from elsewhere come to NSW and especially Sydney for opportunities, particularly educational, and because we have a number of national institutions housed here, but they do not have the right to disrespect us. Most of us would never even think to do the same elsewhere, nor would it or should it be tolerated.

This needs to stop. It needs to be understood that it is not enough to fund just any Aboriginal person who happens to reside in NSW, but have no traditional connection; does not belong to a NSW language and cultural group. It is not enough to place just any Aboriginal person into a position in NSW. The idea of Aboriginal identified positions to serve our communities, is so that we can feel comfortable talking with one of our own, who we have connections with, so we can set the agendas which are important to NSW Aboriginals and our own communities. When those positions and funding opportunities taken by non-NSW Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are in cultural areas, it is even more galling. Why don't these people want to work with their own Peoples in their own states/territories? Why won't they apply for the funding applicable to their own cultural and language groups? And if these people do hold skills we don't, why don't they capacity build so we have some of our own with those skills and opportunities, without the grand-standing which often comes with it if they do? There are times when we do need to join with Peoples from other areas, but often we are consumed by concerns specific to our own. We want to support, showcase and celebrate our own cultures and histories here in NSW. And we desperately need all the support we can get, with the minimal resources available for NSW Aboriginal Peoples and our communities. There are quite enough of us from NSW who are more than capable of managing our own affairs.

 

march 2013

ART and ETHICS

I have made mention via social media channels, of a type of art fraud perpetrated recently. I haven't gone into the details and nor will I do so here, but it has led me to think long and hard about the artist's role in society. In doing so I have revisited texts such as the artist Alex Grey's "The Mission of Art", which I first read just before the turn of the millenium and it's a book I recommend those interested to read, especially if you aspire to create art with the highest ideals in mind.

Most artists do not create work simply for mere decoration or shameless self promotion and understand shock is a device which needs to be used very cleverly. As an Aboriginal artist, I am very mindful of wider cultural and political aspects of my work and to loosely paraphrase Gary Foley (respected activist & academic), creating art is a political act simply in the continuation and maintenance of culture and spirit in the face of assimilationist agendas. Artists are not only disseminators of cultural community knowledge but are also the visionaries in society, we are it's observers, it's commentators in many ways. Many artists also work with communities, helping provide solutions to community issues via ccd (community cultural development) principles for example. And when I say we work with community groups, I mean for much longer than a week or two, as nothing can hope to be achieved in so short a time frame. I believe as an artist that ethics is of utmost importance given the role we fulfill. I can't go and work to ccd principles without being very mindful of what I am portraying in my work, but also as a person.

When artists (and I include curators and art workers in this) appear to have lost their grip on a sense of ethics and integrity in their work and dealings, it strikes deep within me. We ought to know better. Goodness knows many talk to the ideals.

The iconic artist Pablo Picasso DID NOT state that "good artists borrow, great artists steal". This is NOT his quote, but a paraphrase attributed to the poet T.S. Elliot, much out of context. I've recently heard this phrase quoted as justification in regards to the afore mentioned art fraud. Artists produce work which is an extension of what we know, either directly or as commentary on the time in history we live in, through the lens of any artist's particular way of seeing life around us, by our own hand and concept. And spare me the crap about Andy Warhol utilising apprentices/painters to complete works, there are very few who could compare their work to the level he was working at; he had arrangements, contracts with apprentices who were paid for their work. (Yes, I read his diaries years ago too.) It's simply ethical to acknowledge sources, to give recognition for somebody else's work and to present it in truth. In the academic world when sources are not acknowledged, it's called plagiarism and can discredit academics for the rest of their careers, students can even be asked to leave tertiary educational institutions on charges of plagiarism.

It is also not enough to parrot from some newly found blak activist handbook to point score with the Old School. Quite frankly, it's a wasted exercise, the Old School smell bullshit a mile off. It's often about inhabiting an uncomfortable place of having the courage of our own convictions, not someone elses. This is why artists often live at the edges. To quote a favourite, the poet Daisy Utemorrah: "Do not go around the edges or else you'll fall, No good that place or else you'll slip", artists walk a tightrope life, because we feel often compelled to stand for something, we have something to say, a particular perception of things.

Artists don't necessarily live extraordinary lives. Yet I think we take perhaps different approaches to ours. Every artist I have known has a close attachment to another art form; be it dance, theatre, music, literature etc., if not all. We live a different type of full life, we put emphasis in our lives on many different means of expression and intake of ideas, a more rounded, sourced view perhaps, which in turn further informs work and life. There is a responsibility to present truths, and it is as acceptable to ask artists to present with integrity as much as the current calls for an ethical media journalism which would be more accountable. It is arrogant to assume potential audiences/collectors are entitled to anything less and is part of presenting quality work. Artists merely utilise different tools to communicate ideas, and being completely conscious of exactly what we are trying to communicate and what we hope to achieve by doing so is responsible, ethical and honest. Don't forget though, artists have family, partners, children and pets, rent or mortgages, loans and bills to pay. However, for many of us, the choices we make, the stands we take, means we can sleep restfully and know we too have been part of a necessary ongoing wider conversation conducted from a place of a true authenticity.

 

august 2011

WHY 3D INTERACTIVE ART IS SO INTERESTING (at least to me....)

When i joined Second Life in 2006, it was my first experience of a MUVE (multi user virtual environment). Luckily for me, early on i came across some incredibly interesting and kind people. Music was a good way to meet people from all over the world on international sims such as Irie Vibes and Dogglounge, where the vibe was chill and people were lovely. Given the nature of the 3D animated environment, music sims are fun because you can make your avatar dance and look at it from every angle, whilst looking at everyone else and your surroundings! You can also be a shapeshifter of sorts, I have avatars which vary from spiders, dragons, fish, butterflies and robots to name but a few. Many feel as an adult that we aren't allowed play, but I believe play is important. I have role played alot (I like storylines with plots we can determine the outcome of), playing different characters as varied as warriors in medieval sims, demons and drows, and even became so good at fighting that i used to win tournaments, run warrior guilds and organise battles!

The great thing about these spaces are they are quite intimate, and you make of them what you wish. Interacting with others and 'scripted objects' adds an element which discourages the type of passivity television offers for example, one is transformed from being a viewer to a user. MUVEs are entirely created by their residents, they are by nature creative spaces. There is something magical in a sense for the user navigating these spaces, and we are able to contribute to it.

There is also a freedom inherent to MUVEs and many other online applications. No-one judges you on how you look, what your cultural background is, what your political affiliations are. It is accepted that you are in a worldwide space, and that means there are many with differing idealogies and backgrounds. This is a freedom many Aboriginal Australians do not enjoy in real life, as there are many pre-conceptions about us, judgements made just by looking at us: things like how our homes must be like, how we raise our children, how we conduct ourselves, how intelligent we are. I am not a child and don't expect to be treated like one, yet many non-Aboriginal people, and the governmental policies concerning us do. These are simply not concerns in many online spaces.

Being in these spaces is relief from the judgemental looks in the street, the cold rudeness when we are served at many businesses, women clutching their bags when we walk by. I've had people cross the road as i approach. I am not even very dark skinned and this is before they even speak to me, before they realise i am actually a reasonable person, who lives a reasonable life. These spaces have allowed me to keep an element of sanity from the quiet oppression of living in the mainstream.

 

august 2011

DISCLAIMER (and I won't be talking about this ever again!)

If you are offended by anything I've written, I'm sorry you have not understood me. It's often about context. I am not a dualist, there are always many points of views. I am not an expert on anything, I just express what I hope to be reasonable and considered opinions. I am also not a hater of any description, I think we can all live in a world where we are all respected. I also reserve the right to change my mind, possibly a number of times! This is afterall my own website on which I can blog anything I like really....

Having said that, please understand I represent no-one else, these are just my own thoughts. Nor do these thoughts represent anybody who employs me.