Wednesday, September 18, 2013

alterNative Curators Manifesto

1. Get creative.

The creative response - -
I’m here to solve problems.
I see problems as opportunities for progress.1
                                                                                                                                 Judy Atkinson

Effective Indigenous activists all around the world are less interested in complaining, and more interested in devising a strategy to deal with issues at hand.

Part of the inspiration for the alterNATIVE event strategy came from Canada, as I had been aware of the beginnings and motivations behind the imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival that is held in Toronto every year. It is a world-class event born from an identified lack of Native Canadian representation at the Toronto International Film Festival, to generously include perspectives from other Indigenous peoples as well. This is the spirit that we try to evoke in presenting the other APT exhibition.

In this case, no amount of complaining or highlighting the cultural apartheid entrenched in the Queensland Art Gallerys selection process has worked on getting more Australia Aboriginal artists represented in the Asia Pacific Triennials, so we just have to show them how its done.

2. Name the enemy. must understand that for the most part the art world and its institutions have not rid themselves entirely of the language of violence. Many operate on the basis of baaskap.

Of course baaskap is a word that has special relevance to the South African context but its meaning can be applied to any context where, because of ill-gotten privilege, there is an intransigent, incestuous, and self-appointed authoritarian group of people. Once internalised, of course, baaskap poisons every kind of relationship on every level of society from the home to the church and, of particular interest to us, the cultural sphere.

Even in a new dispensation, there are often remnants of baaskap that remain as they do in South Africa. In such cases, the only way to deal with the baaskap culture is to be direct, unapologetic and precise.” 2
                                                                                                                                         Simba Sambo

Some audiences aren't aware of shortfalls in representation until it is pointed out to them. In this case, the exhibition was titled 'the other APT' to specifically acknowledge a point of difference to 'the APT' or Asia Pacific Triennial presented by the Queensland Art Gallery.

In the past, other galleries around Brisbane city, would mount exhibitions to coincide with and complement the themes inherent in the Asia Pacific Triennial, but institutional bullying and ownership has since smothered that spirit. So the other APT definitely stands out in more ways than one, and makes the enemy obvious through the rationale, while also articulating our own cultural imperatives.

Postcard the other APT 2006

3. Invite the people you would like to work with.
Use all personal contacts you ever had.

We all try to mediate the spaces in-between these binaries and I cannot help but imagine The Other APT in these terms. Mediating the social and cultural imaginaries of Indigeneity, it plots a landscape where tradition and disenfranchisement overlap and contradict each other and these inconsistencies intersect the exhibition’s themes of place, legend, identity, politics and mutual respect.3

Kylie Gaffney

Half of the artists in 'the other APT' are Aboriginal and the other represent cultural heritages from throughout the Asia Pacific, with identity cross-overs in-between. Aboriginal Australians are a very friendly people, and a number of artists in the show are of mixed race ancestry, those with a foot in a different camp, who are not often afforded a voice.

As an Aboriginal curatorial approach, artists weren't listed in the usual mainstream artworld alphabetical order, but instead, in order of other important cultural signifiers, such as age, tribal and residential geographical proximity. This approach attempts to honour our elders along with celebrating Aboriginal locals who are often ignored and excluded from participating in mainstream culture in their own country.

4. Trust the artists and let them do things they’re planning to do and they’ll do their best. Never point to the work, but discuss the strategy.

The primary curatorial premise of the other APT was to show works from Indigenous Australian Artists, and also show meaningful works from other Artists that may constitute them as a friend in culture and good visitor to this country, in meaningful dialogue and otherwise. In other words, Aboriginals actively engaging with other Aboriginals, and those from other cultural backgrounds - Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Samoan, Maori, Japanese, Filipino and others from outside the Asia-Pacific Rim (even Australians!), providing a true survey, commenting on individual and shared experience. Naturally some of these works are collaborations - existing works, and also works produced especially for the other APT, but all really important discourse, culturally and historically.

Some artists appreciate freedom, and some are used to being directed – when one allows for more discussion and explanation time, they will come up with the goods.

'Pins' performance by Ann Fuata, the other APT opening night, 2006

5. Focus on the centre.
Usually that is the place where you are situated and the concentration of energy radiates outwards from there.

If the centre of the artworld is somewhere like New York or Sydney, does that mean the rest of us are excluded? First People come first. Even though the focus is an online exhibition, some thinking went into the idea around Aboriginal curatorial practices and how the centre is, or could be further honoured in an artspace.

Raw Space Galleries was the site of 'the other APT' 2006, and it is situated near the centre, literally around the corner from the Queensland Art Gallery / QGOMA, and also very close to the Brisbane city centre.

The three window boxes situated outside of the gallery were used to highlight the idea of the centre. Traditional Aboriginal shields featured in the centre window box, with our Pacific neighbours, who are in the greatest numbers locally, nestled in the window boxes on either side.

The window boxes outside Raw Space Galleries, featuring Aboriginal artist Paul Bong (centre), Maori artist Haro the Crazy Prins (left) and Samoan collaboration by Polytoxic and  Chantal Fraser (right), the other APT exhibition 2006

6. Poach performers from the blockbuster exhibition.
Some are bound to be related to the artists in your show.

i. Its worth asking as performers are usually keen to do more gigs.
ii. Make the most of family obligation, but have offerings.
iii. Provide an open mic on the opening night for adhoc opportunities as well.

Eddie Nona performing with his relatives, the other APT opening night, 2006

7. Create a corroborree or ceremony for the now.

As we grow older, we ourselves become the storytellers...
In the ceremonies we celebrate the awareness of our lives as sacred.4
Miriam Rose Ungunmerr

We come to you as 'the others' a group representing many Nations, Tribes, States, Islands, Languages, Cultures and artforms, of varying hybridity, and bring the spirit of all that vibrancy with us. Modern Dreamings acknowledge the presence of a modern reality which is different to that of the past. In defining ourselves as 'the others', we know we have reconciled ourselves with modern society, perhaps more than modern society has reconciled with most of us. However, creativity is eternal.

The arts strongly and effectively adds value to Aboriginal discourse in Australia, which is often perceived as controversial by institutions. However it must be understood that we can dismiss this attitude as a political issue with little legitimacy, and instead find strength in notions of artistic integrity.

'Framed' live performance by Polytoxic; the other APT opening night, 2006

8. Invest great energy into the catalogue / website... people mostly remember the opening parties and catalogues.

with this type of ‘happening’ there can be no notion of merely ‘sour grapes’, but some of the original energy, communication, excitement, and feeling of ownership of the art process is generated and experienced: the energy major art events struggle to maintain.5
Djon Mundine

Online Galleries will revolutionize the way that the white cube, brick and mortar galleries and museums function. They can complement each other too. Sometimes we try to incorporate them; cyberTribe has a focus as an online gallery but where possible, we try also to use the "real life" gallery spaces. It works well if the website is created months in advance and then make it an event in a gallery space, creating and celebrating a sense of community locally. Then use the internet for its potential, for it is the best promotional tool usually. Even if we have an exhibition in a "real" gallery space in regional cities and towns, a lot of the time people will not travel to it. If we show what is happening online, in terms of the actual works and also some photos of the opening celebration/ceremony, that can be a good indication of the work, and it also historically important to document it. So the space operates as equal parts archive, gallery, museum and publisher.

9. Make the most of social networking – online and face-to-face.
And document everything. Its your ticket to the next one.

when you get a chance to speak for your people, do it.
It’s not about you. Just do a bloody good job.6
Charles Perkins

Never say no to good opportunities such as profiling, writing and touring. These are also good chances for exercises in rebranding. No matter how exhausted you are, agree first then make time to do it later.

the other APT from 2006 was also selected for inclusion in the 2008 Biennale of Sydney. As part of the Biennale, Revolutions – Forms That Turn, Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev selected digital artworks and texts to be featured in its online venue. The exhibition as a whole and the online venue particularly, focused on the different ways artists have “revolutionised” contemporary art. It explored the impulse to revolt, rotating, turning upside down, shifting points of view, revolving, mirroring and reversing as formal devices, as well as to chart their broader aesthetic, psychological, psychoanalytical, radical and political perspectives. Being acknowledged in the Biennale of Sydney has again brought great importance to the relevance of online galleries as an exhibition venue, and reciprocally also brought many more Indigenous perspectives to the Biennale of Sydney as well.

Under the touring name of 'the others' the exhibition also toured to Noumea, a Kanaky / French South Pacific Island. Our contribution and presence helped to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Centre Culturel Tjibaou which is New Caledonias primary agency for the development of Kanak culture. So in effect, the other APT toured into the Pacific to engage in dialogue, whereas the Asia Pacific Triennial does not.

online offering from the other APT for the Sydney Biennale

  1. Make sure there is a next one.

If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. ... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their       displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. 6
                                                                                                                                    Langston Hughes

Following on from the successes of the inaugural exhibition 'the other APT' in 2006, we continue to bring many more alterNATIVE perspectives from this big brown land, Australia. There was another one in 2009, and also in 2012 and hopefully thereafter.  

Postcard, the other APT 2009, featuring artwork by Jessica Johnson 'Naughty Natives'


This manifesto is a guide to developing and presenting an exhibition of alternative views to that of a blockbuster art exhibition or other arts event that fails to be inclusive in their selection processes.

The particular exhibition mostly referenced here is 'the other APT' an Aboriginal alternative to the institutional Asia Pacific Triennial in Queensland.

While trying to develop the guiding principals towards an alterNative Curators Manifesto, some other manifestos proved particularly inspirational, such as the Manifesto ezine by the Dead Revolutionaries Club in South Africa and the 2005 'Make Biennial Yourself' by Redas Dir┼żys from Alytus in Lithuania.

All artists with a social conscience are encouraged to help facilitate their own group exhibitions – step out of the ego and try to make a difference collectively. Curating is a great conceptualizing process and as artists we have ideas for exhibitions all the time – to actually make them happen ourselves is a beautiful thing.

The alterNATIVE Curators Manifesto was first presented at the Pacific Arts Association Conference in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) 2010. 

The manifesto was further developed and published for the Aboriginal Curatorial Colloquium in Toronto 2011.

This manifesto was greatly inspired by the Dead Revolutionaries Club E-Zine Manifesto Issue and in particular the 'make Biennale yourself - manifesto' by Lithuanian artist Redas Dirzys.

Jenny Fraser


the other APT 2009

the book of abstracts for the PAA Conference in Rarotonga 2010:

and the PAA Program 2010:

info and photos for the Aboriginal Curatorial Colloquium, Toronto 2011

a review of the Colloquium 2011

the Dead Revolutionaries Club E-Zine Manifesto Issue


1. Judy Atkinson, The Prun, An Indigenous Conflict Management Training Handbook, p28, Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, Southern Cross University, 2000

2. Simba Sambo, Dead Revolutionaries Club E-Zine, The Manifesto Issue, Vol.1 2009

3. Kylie Gaffney, The Other APT: An Exhibition of Other Perspectives, Machine Magazine 2007

4. Miriam Rose Ungunmerr, Dadirri – Listening to one another, 1993

5. Djon Mundine, APT: Aboriginal People Try - 'The other APT', Artlink Magazine, 2007

6. Hetti Perkins (quoting her father Charles), 'Art+Soul', Hibiscus Films, 2010

7. Langston Hughes, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, aka: the Harlem Renaissance Manifesto, 1926

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cape York Art Award 2013

'Garyarr - Crocodile Dance' by Roy Gray. Cape York Art Award overall winner 2013

Roy Gray of Yarrabah has won the major Cape York Art Award at the 2013 Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival for his painting 'Garyarr - Crocodile Dance'. Roy, who is in his sixties, is a member of the Idinji Gimuy Clan in Far North Queensland and a noted authority on the linguistic aspects of the Yidinji language and oral history.

The judges were artist Arone Meeks, sponsor representative Mark Winfield (CEO Pearls Mii Home) and Murri artist Jenny Fraser. Meeks, who is Kuku Midigi and was born in Laura also won an art prize at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival in 2009. Jenny Fraser said of the winner “Roy Grays work was a standout because it documents dance culture from a story keeper perspective and it also has wider art world references to master works by prolific artists such as Gauguin. Because it is a dance festival we were pleased to see artworks honouring dance as an artform, alongside other totemic and societal themes”.

Proving that the visual arts is still a strong aspect of the Festival, this year the major sponsor of the art award was Pearls MiiHomes, a building solutions company that provided the cash prizes and other support, with Cape York woman Fiona Wirrer-George facilitating the art prize in her role as gallerist. Fiona is a Wik/Wikway, Mbaiwum/Trotj descendent from Aurukun and Weipa who said of the “The Cape York Art Award is a crucial component of the Laura Dance Festival and must be cultivated and nurtured respectfully and appropriately. Our people need an opportunity like this to encourage, motivate, inspire and provide a platform for exposure and business viability. We are predominantly a creative Nation where all genres of the Performing and Visual Art Sectors are part and parcel of our voice as a nation of people.”

'Guthaar – Bush Fire' by Harold Bowen

Guugu Yimithirr artist Harold Bowen, of Hopevale won the $1000 Painting category prize for his work 'Guthaar – Bush Fire' and Mpakwithi woman Agnes Mark of New Mapoon received a $250 Highly Commended prize for her painting 'Brolga Dance'. Harold Bowen commented “I didn't think I would win!! the painting is a stark reminder of how the land repairs itself, and I'm pretty the much in awe of destructive power of the bushfire.”

'Brolga Dance' by Agnes Mark

The $1000 3D category prize went to Wik-Ngathan/Wik-Alkan artist Garry Namponan of Aurukun for his carving titled 'Owl', and the $250 Highly Commended 3D prize went to Simon Norman of Pormpuraaw for his ghost net assemblage titled 'Barramundi'.

'Owl' by Garry Namponan

'Barramundi' by Simon Norman

The Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is one of Australia’s major and longest-running Indigenous community festivals. It is celebrated on country every two years over the school holidays in June. This years festival was the 20th and was the first time the festival was coordinated by Festival Director and Kuku Yalanji / Waanyi woman Marilyn Miller. “Being asked to help coordinate the LADF 2013 has been a highlight of my return home. It has only been 2 years since I returned and to be involved in such a landmark, and Culturally significant, event provides reward for all the time away having learnt the skills and gaining the experience to run such an event”  said Marilyn Miller.

The Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a biennial event celebrating and showcasing the culture of the Aboriginal people of Cape York Peninsula through song, dance ceremony and performance. The practices of Aboriginal dance and culture at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a very important element in the preservation and continuance of the unique culture of the region.

The Dance Festival Ground at Laura is the site of a very old traditional Bora ground and is a respected and sacred site to Aboriginal people. It is nestled amongst some of the oldest and most spectator rock art in the world. Recently the rock art of the area was awarded Queensland Icon status by the National Trust in recognition of its significance to the environmental and cultural landscape.

This year more than 500 performers from the Cape York Peninsula, Kuranda, Yarrabah, Townsville and from as far away as Duchess, south of Mt Isa, came to dance on the sacred ground at Laura and celebrate Aboriginal culture and tradition. The Music program held at night is also highlight of the festival, with performers from all over the country, including Emma Donovan, Deline Briscoe, Troy Brady, Lee ‘Sonnyboy’ Morgan and many local talents.

Known as a meeting ground for the communities of Cape York, the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is highly regarded by many Aboriginal people as a place where families meet new and old family members, make new acquaintances and exchange and pass on family histories.

Visitors camped in this exceptional community environment during the festival with opportunities to meet and talk to residents who shared their lives. The Festival enables the wider community to witness and gain insight into the uniqueness of Aboriginal culture and witness the storytelling of Aboriginal culture through dance, language and art.

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival on facebook

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Aboriginal New Media Artists excluded from international event, ISEA Sydney

Aboriginal New Media Artists have been building on exhibition momentum over the past 15 years, but now brought to a stand still having been excluded from ISEA Sydney. ISEA which is an acronym for International Symposium of Electronic Arts has been running since 1988 in the Netherlands, and it tours to different host countries every year or so. The last time it was hosted in Australia was 21 years ago in Sydney, 1992. ISEA Sydney 2013 has been organised by an Australian-based committee with very little Aboriginal New Media Arts input, despite a face to face meeting between artists and ISEA Sydney interests in 2011. 

Instead, the Sydney ISEA Curatorium have blocked Aboriginal New Media Arts entities such as the Blackout Collective, which is a group of Aboriginal creators from all over Australia who communicate fluidly and contribute towards screen-based culture in new ways. 

Jenny Fraser says “even if we didn’t have a name, such as blackout, we would still be a collective, because we work in a minority artform, in the minority Aboriginal art industry and we all struggle to represent as new media artists, with very little support or inclusion in Australia”. 

While the collective may be small in number, and spread across the country, many of the artists have represented at international electronic arts events such as ISEA, SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica in Austria and the InteractivA Biennale in Mexico. This includes Aroha Groves (NSW) who was in ISEA Istanbul in 2011, r e a (NSW) in SIGGRAPH San Diego 2007, Genevieve Grieves (NSW) and Jenny Fraser (QLD) in ISEA/Zero1 San Jose 2006, and Jason Davidson (NT) in ISEA Helsinki in 2004. 

ISEA opened on Friday the 9th June with an Aboriginal welcome to country and performances for International and interstate guests at carriageworks in Redfern. “The Australian ISEA organisers consider the welcome performance as the be all and end all of an Aboriginal presence at ISEA Sydney, but really a welcome and performance are just a normal part of Aboriginal culture, which should occur at every significant gathering in our country, aside from that there’s a small exhibition of painters works that have a new life with animation, but where are the Aboriginal New Media Artists for ISEA in Sydney? Is this cultural apartheid?” said Jenny Fraser. 

“Not only have the Australian ISEA organisers excluded us from exhibiting at an international electronic arts event in our own country, but they have failed to manage the situation professionally. We jumped through their hoops and proposed new projects a year ago, and have been on the short list since December with significant budgets being offered, only to find out final rejection notification the day before ISEA started in Sydney. It’s been a huge waste of money upfront and good energy in trying to meet the deadline with little useful communication from the organisers” said Jenny Fraser. 

However, International guests are interested in Aboriginal New Media Arts and on Thursday June 13, some Aboriginal artists were provide with an opportunity to speak publicly at the ISEA conference as part of the Latin American forum panel titled ‘Re:imag(in)ing Indigenous Media Art Histories’ alongside Columbian practitioners. The discussion focused on histories of Indigenous Australian artists working with new media, and in particular the inroads and dialogues established in international networks. More broadly the session addressed issues of identity, representation and visuality in the so-called ‘Global South’. 

The panel was organised in a partnership between the Latin American Forum and an ARC Linkage project undertaken at the National Institute of Experimental Arts in Australia. Acknowledging that international publications and online archives dedicated to the study of media art are often dominated by white European and North American exemplars, and to further the discussion by drawing attention to the multiple trajectories that have sprouted from outside of the usual centres and dominant paradigms. 

Later in the year, the blackout collective will also present their new online art project ‘Superhighway across the sky’ at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada. The artists selected to make new experimental work are Christine Peacock, Jason Davidson and Michelle Blakeney who will travel with artist/curator Jenny Fraser to Toronto to speak at the annual festival, and also travel on to London to present at the inaugural conference in the UK. 

The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is an international festival in Toronto that celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples on the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each year, the festival presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe. The festival's screenings, panel discussions, and cultural events attract and connect filmmakers, media artists, programmers, buyers, and industry professionals. The works accepted reflect the diversity of the world's Indigenous nations and illustrate the vitality and excellence of our art and culture in contemporary media. 

‘Superhighway across the sky' will be featured with cyberTribe, an online gallery focused on nurturing digital art. cyberTribe has been at the forefront of exhibiting cutting edge and politically important artworks from Indigenous Artists internationally, both in its online gallery and other gallery spaces across the world. Over the past decade cyberTribe has brought together Indigenous artists from places across Australia, the Pacific, the Americas and elsewhere to participate in exhibitions of international standing. 

An important milestone for cyberTribe over the years includes winning the ABC Radio National Indigenous Cultural Centre/Keeping Place Award in 2009, for creating a unique place for Indigenous artists to create and exhibit new media work as well as more traditional forms. Museums Australia Director, Bernice Murphy, commented in the ABC RN announcement: “The award to cyberTribe reminds us all that Indigenous creativity needs to be supported in the most up-to-date forms – even in ‘regional cyberspace’ – as well as out back where communities are keeping fires of tradition and continuity burning strong.”


a previous article discussing cultural apartheid in Australia: 
'The Digital Dreamtime: A Shining Light in the Culture War'



cyberTribe on facebook 

ISEA Latin American Forum #3

ISEA Sydney 2013



ISEA Sydney 2013 on facebook