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