Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the cyberTribe Odyssey

Jenny Fraser: the cyberTribe Odyssey

noun od·ys·sey \ˈä-də-sē\
1: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.
2: an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.
[Meriam Webster dictionary ]

Interview with Djon Mundine

When did you first go to Canada?

In 2000 I was really keen to attend the International Curatorial Summit that was being held at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta. I was a High School Art and Media Teacher at the time so I had to take time off from work. As I didn’t have a full grasp of the travel time or distance then, I flew into Vancouver on the West Coast, then was off on an 18-hour bus trip, inland to Banff, then all the way back again, just for the three-day summit. Walkabout. Flyabout. It happened to be my birthday, and the whole program for that day presented by the Banff New Media Institute was specifically about New Media Curating – could I have asked for a better present? There was very little (if any) Native representation in the three-day program, but I remember that Australian Aboriginal artist r e a was an invited guest, speaking about New Media Art. It was also a particularly memorable experience for me, because a ghost visited me in my room there – the only time that I have seen one in my life.

Banff Camp is like Club Med for artists, so after my three-day experience I was keen to return. Later I did an eight-week Work Study program in the Photography Department in 2003 for their first all-Indigenous International Thematic Residency (which was initially supposed to be a focus on Indigenous Digital Arts, but it was re-jigged shortly beforehand to include visual arts in general). Titled ‘Communion & Other Conversations’, the residency had 35 participants from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Mexico, and also included the curatorial symposium ‘Making a Noise: Aboriginal Curators and their Environment’ presented by the Walter Phillips Gallery and the Banff International Curatorial Institute. ... I found it weird that there were no exhibitions planned for the residency, so I curated my own as a gift to the group: ‘Turtle Island’ for the artists from Canada, the USA and Mexico; and, for the artists from Australia and New Zealand, a show called ‘Niiksowkowa’, a name given by Blackfoot artist Faye Heavyshield, which means ‘my blood relative’. They were two of the best cyberTribe exhibition opening parties ever, DJ’d by Navajo artist Bert Benally.

Aside from trips to other parts of Canada over the years, I also returned to Banff in 2005 to do a self-directed artists residency. Lita Fontaine took me to my first Pow Wow, Alberta style, which was held in a giant indoor rodeo arena. During my time at Banff, I also curated a small group exhibition titled ‘Feathers Float’, which was later featured in the Native online magazine and included some words by you Djon Mundine :).

proposed Digital Art Banff gathering

When did you start cyberTribe, and how did this become an outlet for advancing international Indigeneity?

The cyberTribe odyssey was founded in 1999, in residence at an Indigenous New Media gathering held in Darwin. But the first cyberTribe show went live in 2000 at the Alchemy International Masterclass, which was the first gathering held at the newly opened Powerhouse in Brisbane. Titled ‘eyesee’, the online exhibition included the work of Brook Andrew (AUS), Tina Baum (ACT/NT, AUS), Jonathon Bottrell (now Jones) (NSW, AUS), Brenda L Croft (AUS), Jason Davidson (NT, AUS), Nellie Green (WA, AUS), Latuff (Rio De Janeiro), Mwema African Gallery (Uganda, AFRICA), r e a (NSW, AUS), Skawennati Fragnito (CAN/USA), Troy Hunter (British Columbia, CAN) and myself Jenny Fraser (QLD, AUS).

This was a time before social media, so it was amazing to get instant feedback like this from a Filipino artist: ‘I have been looking at your gallery section and am especially impressed with Cyber Tribe: Indigenous Art Eyesee. The section on ‘kitsch’ was especially striking. The consciousness of aboriginal representation and the positive action of the arts circle in this issue is truly remarkable and commendable. My dream is to awaken similar sensibilities in art in my country and enable art to become an active agent to some degree of ethnocentricity.’

The idea for cyberTribe was seeded some years before ... As a student, in the final year of my long undergraduate degree, I remember drafting up my selection criteria for an art teaching job to include a section on how the internet would open up the presentation opportunities for museums and galleries and how that could benefit schools in regional and remote areas.

Then in the late 1990s, I took a year’s leave from teaching in Cairns to return to study in Brisbane for a postgraduate course in film and media. For an independent study project towards academic credit, English computer artist and academic Paul Brown invited me to work on, an online magazine running out of Brisbane. A lot of the students and academics working in different roles were from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine and many Asian countries. It was enjoyable and fulfilling, there was a distinct feeling of working on something that was innovative, had a big picture approach and reach, and a continuous publishing program.

We had inherited from an American University, and one part of the original site was ‘Trophies of Honour – Art Chronicles of Indigenous Peoples’, independently created and maintained by Native American artists and performers. It was set up by Donna and Jeff Lee-Hand in an effort to preserve Native culture and art by presenting museum quality works on the Internet for future generations. So it was up to me to think about how to present an Aboriginal version from our country.

A year or so later, when I had finished the course, my leave was over and I had been transferred to the Gold Coast to go back to work as an art teacher. But I didn’t last long, as shortly after I officially resigned. My passion for Hobby Curating had started to take over my life :). Fortunately, I have received some in-kind support from people like Sam De Silva, who has provided cyberTribe with server space over the years. To me, this is as valuable as land or prime real estate, and should be populated by Blakfellas. As they say, the internet doubles every 90 days.

In 2002 marked 15 years, and closed down that year. At that stage, it was the longest-running arts magazine on the internet. This influenced the international approach of cyberTribe, which started out online as a love job ... and it still is. Indigenous people make up 6% of the world’s population, which doesn’t seem much, but it’s actually the largest minority group, and also constitutes representation from 20% of our planet’s land mass, and therefore 80% of the worlds remaining Biodiversity. So we are always proud to show alongside our cuzstodian Indigenous brothers and sisters and other artists in the international community.

Brazilian artist Latuff in eyesee - the first cyberTribe online exhibition

How many exhibitions have you mounted and promoted as cyberTribe?

As the founder of cyberTribe, I have been the centrifuge or spearhead for realising over 50 projects, taking on the roles of curator, webmistress, writer, designer, publisher and sometimes producer. This has been a mix of online and white cube exhibitions, live events and screenings, all without annual or triennial funding. This year cyberTribe will be marking 15 years of presenting exhibitions. It also happens to be a triennial year, so we will be marking the anniversary to coincide with the other APT in a then-and-now approach in Brisbane and Cairns.

cyberTribe showcases are often innovating ahead of the arts industry. But some of the projects have taken up to a decade to get up, and are usually done without any funding support. Over the years, it has been very difficult to get around the anti-web-specific rules of some funding bodies due to the lack of interest or assessor insight into the field. Insults added to the burden of working without budgets have to be endured, as some institutions have stolen our ideas and run with them, while then trying to write us out of history by publicising that their own ventures are a first. It’s ugly, especially when it’s done by our own mob.

On a personal level I know I am lucky because most things that I have wanted to do in my career, have been achieved already. This has not been without sacrifice or struggle, but I have been guided along the way by spirit and my ancestors. Being a modern day custodian of screen culture is what I am meant to be doing.

When we, as Aboriginal artists, go overseas, we are usually respected and hosted really well, and that is a good feeling. I like to go on mystery flights, and have my Art Family wherever I land. Naturally we want to return the favour and show off our beautiful country, but sometimes simple gestures of culture can be problematic in Australia, because Aboriginal people have very little access to public space or funds and we don’t really want our guests to suffer racism while they are here.

Aside from others, in 2014 I brought over Lori Blondeau (Tribe), Michelle Derosier (Thunderstone Pictures), Ariel Smith (National Indigenous Media Arts Collective), Hiona Henare (Wairoa Maori Film Festival) and others from around Oz, for the SOLID Screen retreat at Innot Hot Springs. The events over a week in July were the culmination of ten years of chasing funds and planning, and intended to be a consolidation and acknowledgement to the field of Indigenous Women Screen Makers over the past 30 to 40 years. The screening festival component was also a reciprocal gift to the local Far North Queensland community. As a leadup to the 15th anniversary of cyberTribe, SOLID was shaped to showcase and enhance the local, national and international wealth of creative talent in the variety of artforms made by and for the screen.

The artworld in Australia is male-dominated, a reflection of Australian society in general, which in 2014 was ranked as 24th in the world for the Gender Gap Report. Even women can be misogynistic, and this is alive and well in the arts, with women curators also favouring and constantly pandering to the boys clubs. The arts industry here is also very individualistic, and focused on the art star model of presentation and promotion. So it is very reassuring and good medicine to be able to rise above the misogynistic blanket of oppression and reach out to the SOLID sisterhood, nationally and internationally, also to allow ourselves some time out to realign with the stamina of the warrioress energy that we are a part of. We all need to do our bit to grow the industry, and to seed and nurture our own collaborations. I feel so satisfied that I am doing my bit, and this has already been rewarding in so many ways, including invitations to tour to Indigenous Screen events in Yucatan (Mexico), Saskatoon (Canada) and Nuhaka (Aotearoa/NZ).

With the final Blak Screen Festival happening in Melbourne this year, and with Messagestick Festival in Sydney going multi-artform in recent years, it seems that there is now only one dedicated Indigenous Film and Media Arts Festival currently running in Australia, and that is the Colourise Festival in Brisbane.

SOLID Screen Arts Healing Retreat and Festival - Innot Hot Springs July 2014

How do indigenous Canadians get on in the general Canadian art scene? What about their idea of themselves?

Listening to the Native Canadian experience at their gatherings like the Conferences run by the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, has helped me to make sense of the Australian Aboriginal experience. One term that has stuck with me – ‘cultural apartheid’,– is acknowledged to have come to us via South Africa, but the magnitude of truth in the expression has made it part of the vernacular in Canada, and should be here as well.

Effective Indigenous activists all around the world are less interested in complaining, and more interested in devising a strategy to deal with the issues at hand. Early on I had been aware of the beginnings and motivations behind imagineNATIVE, that was founded by Cynthia Lickers-Sage and is now held in Toronto every year. imagineNATIVE is a world-class event that generously includes perspectives from other Indigenous peoples as well, but it was originally born from an identified lack of Native Canadian representation at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. This is the spirit and strategic approach that I am trying to evoke in the other APT exhibition and other cyberTribe events and exhibitions, which aim to redress representational imbalances. In the case of the other APT, no amount of complaining or highlighting the cultural apartheid entrenched in the selection process of the Queensland Art Gallery has worked to get more Australian Aboriginal artists represented in the Asia Pacific Triennials, so we just have to show them how it’s done.

For a long time I have believed that if I go with the flow and am true to myself, then my ancestors will smooth the way for me. Cultural integrity in itself is an effective methodology or framework, as explained eloquently by Cree scholar Willie Ermine: ‘Mamatowisowin defines the methodology used in a quest for vision, where the seeker / artist begins to explore his / her own existence subjectively. By placing ones self into a direct stream of consciousness, the seeker / the knower / the artist will begin to unfold a greater, inherent understanding of self, by utilizing the methodologies of Mamatowisowin.’ (Ermine 1995).

As I have explored the potential of my own creative healing and decolonisation techniques to address the associated questions brought up, I have made an effort to involve and encourage others. So, as a seeker, I can try to understand the story of others, because I know and further understand my own story. My direct ancestral line has had to deal with oppression for most levels of survival, including the impact of massacres, the fear of child removal, living under the act and the permit system, stolen wages, broken families and the culture war. The shared understanding of what has happened to us and our old people during the processes of colonisation in places like Australia and Canada allows us to engage in advanced levels of conversation and creative dialogue. There is no need for us to continuously start at the beginning of the conversation, like there is for some outsiders, and there is a strength, empathy and comradeship gained in the similarity of experience. Native Canadians are our Art Family, and sometimes this means that we take the good with the bad. When someone over there has ripped me off, another cousin will take up the slack to try to make it right. Just like here in Oz.

Ahzhekewada (Let us look back) Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Conference in Toronto, Canada 2011

What are your views on the appointment of a Native Canadian Director of the Biennale of Sydney in 2012?

It’s a problem when the white gatekeepers of culture, being in the majority, make the decisions by and for themselves. I am disappointed, but not surprised that there has not been an Aboriginal curator chosen for the role of Sydney Biennale Director. I expect more from places like Sydney (as opposed to the backwards norm in Queensland), as Sydney is an arts capital, with some progressive Aboriginal initiatives. But, cultural apartheid is rife, as is the low tactical strategy of engaging outsiders from other cultural backgrounds in order to divert issues of ownership and inclusion of First Peoples here.

When there was a public questioning of the Queensland Art Gallerys’ selection of a Maori artist for their first international public artwork commission (before there was an Aboriginal commission), a younger Maori Curator commented on social media that it was too big an opportunity and too much money, to turn down ...

Given these kind of ethically dubious situations that we can sometimes find ourselves in, I think it might help if we were to ask ourselves questions, such as: If we were offered opportunities in other states, territories or countries, would we take it? Whose position would I be taking? At what cost? Why would they have chosen me, as opposed to others? Do I enjoy being the only one? Will the outcome be about the curator as hero?

Do I believe the hype about myself? What does Indigenous inclusion look like, and how is it different from the mainstream? How can we all move forward together, shoulder to shoulder with our cousins? 
Native All Stars TShirt project exhibited as part of the cyberTribe exhibition Nii'ksokowa : my Blood Relative.  The Other Gallery. Banff, Alberta, Canada 2003

this is the unedited version of an article originally published by artlink magazine in June 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ancient Imaginings

Ancient Imaginings 

an interview for Sovereign Apocalypse Zine with Jenny Fraser 2015

Sovereign Apocalypse: Can you provide some thoughts on your future imaginings of sovereignty?

Jenny Fraser: Even though Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are only a 3% minority in Australia, Indigenous people internationally make up 6% of the worlds population. While it may not seem like we've got the numbers, we are actually the largest of all the minority groups, and we manage to cover 20% of our planets land mass, and therefore 80% of the worlds remaining Biodiversity.
It's a good feeling to think that as times get tougher, we maybe able to rely on each other, and our cousins in the international community, for sharing knowledges and resources required toward survival and longevity.
With that in mind, maybe it can help to rise above oppression and relax more into committing ourselves to our own direct stream of consciousness, and be able to unfold a greater, inherent understanding of ourselves, as a culture, as living spirit. If we make efforts to decolonise, to go with our own flow, and are true to ourselves, then I'm sure that our ancestors will smooth the way for us.

Sovereign ApocalypseHow do Indigenous knowledge's of creation or cosmology influence your work and practice?

Jenny Fraser: Although Indigenous Knowledges and cosmology are sometimes difficult to search out, and there is a considered silencing of this in the Australian vernacular, I am always interested in redressing this by quoting and referencing other Aboriginal people in my own projects.

The namesake of our recent online art project titled Superhighway across the Sky is inspired by a song from the world famous Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi.
Leading Yothu Yindi songman, Dr M Yunupingu and his visual artist sister, Ms G Yunupingu, both of whom only just died during the culmination of this project in recent years, were solid cultural leaders from the bush, with international profiles.

Over the years, I have gained a lot of inspiration from Ms G Yunupingu both in her work as an artist and also importantly as a healer. Motivated by stories from her father, she developed her own design style which is known as Garak the Universe, which are 4 pointed stars, that also reference connection between all people who look up and see constellations. Her designs and explanations are very powerful, both visually and conceptually. So, along with the song title for the project, I also tried to reference this important and worldly perspective on the Superhighway project T-shirts, by using an X in repetition. The shirts were a cyberTribe 15th anniversary limited edition and offered exclusively as gifts to the project participants and our Native Canadian hosts.

superhighway across the sky project Tshirt design
The official launch of Superhighway across the Sky, at the 2014 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto was meant as a fitting and touching tribute to these Yolngu leaders and their lifelong inspirational and innovating art practices. As much as we would have loved to launch the project in Australia first, it is a crying shame that there is now no longer any Indigenous Media Arts award categories or venues to do so.

Sovereign ApocalypseDo you believe in “Aliens”? Do you think the concept of extra terrestrial “Aliens” is misinterpreted?

Jenny FraserWhen we watch mainstream alien invasion films we witness a great fear of the “other” and the unknown, but my analysis of that is basically just the ideology that perpetuates an age old human fear of foreigners.
To me, the concept of aliens just literally means outsiders. However, I do often keep my eyes skyward. One night, when I was on Thursday Island, I spotted a UFO, which seemed to be following my direction along the beach... I had already started running, before I realised that it was on is own trajectory, and later found out that it was probably just a really low flying weather balloon, or small satellite. Thankfully I haven't had a real UFO sighting, as just the thought of it is really frightening, but I don't discount others stories of their own first hand experiences. I enjoy hearing about them, and my mind is blown by the level of detail, like spaceships taking core samples from the rock walls of the Barron Gorge of Kuranda, and the many reports of spaceships and coloured lights flashing across the Northern Territory, and across the Asia Pacific to places in Indonesia and New Zealand.

From what I have heard, the concept of an alien just seems like some kind of base level humans, who mainly only care about the land on this planet, as a resource for gain and technology. Yet, even more interesting to me is the governmental cover-ups and their disassociation with ex-government employees who have come out and made their sightings public. Why can't there be a public discussion or awareness of peoples first hand experiences with other beings?

Sovereign ApocalypseHave you ever heard about the “returning” Boomerangs found in Tutankhamens tomb and claims that it is from us mob?

Do you believe international songlines exist?

Jenny Fraser:  I haven't heard about the boomerangs in Egypt, but I have heard stories the other way - examples of an Egyptian presence here in Australia. When I was younger, I remember there was a local story of a scarab beetles being found at Bundadjarruga / Walshs Pyramid, a mountain at Gordonvale here in Far North Queensland. Just this year, I was also made aware of a similar story in Aotearoa through a Maori screenmaker who explained that an anthropologist examined mummified remains found in a New Zealand cave in the 1930s and believed the skull was ancient Egyptian, at least 2000 years old. A gold scarab was found in the same area...
Flying by Walshs Pyramid : photo by Jenny Fraser
This kind of storytelling really sparks the imagination, but I think there is some truth to them, as I'm sure ancient contact happened in many ways. I also think that in ancient times gone by, the world was definitely a more magical place, with sacred sites like mountains, temples and bora rings being used for more direct and far reaching communications with the presence of significant planetary alignments, magnetic and other elemental forces. I am sure that the reasons why we don't communicate the same way as it was done historically, is not only because a lot of this kind of information and relating has been lost through cultural dominance and the restriction of free passage, but also because of the continental shift that happened, where we now see evidence of the old world underwater.

It appears that communicating and honouring those international connections or songlines, in that way are now broken, but maybe they can be repaired, or we can be satisfied with the new developments, in our societies or in outer space? As now we are aware of interstellar songlines – in 2014 a singing comet was recorded by instruments of the Rosetta mission that is run by the European Space Agency.

Sovereign Apocalypse:  Do you think our contact with “ancient civilisations” has been denied in the colonial narrative?

Can you tell us about the Australienation project?
What do you hope to provoke from the audience when it is revealed in 30 years time?

Jenny Fraser:  A gold record featuring video and audio artworks will soon be launched into outer space.  Inspired by and partly in response to the Voyager Golden Records, sent into space in 1977 by NASA as a record of culture and science at that time, the new international art/music group project titled Forever Now seeks to investigate our current historical moment. It re-imagines this curatorial act as experimental, politically charged and for the first time, places artists at the democratic centre of speaking on humanity’s behalf.

It was quite a challenging brief, to create a work that represents humanity now - and which will be immortalised forever - in just one minute. The video that I contributed, titled Australienation was shot on the Great Barrier Reef, which is currently under threat. In 30 years time, when the Forever Now record may be accessed, we will probably have seen the death of our World Wonder Reef, and, as scientists predict, our society will bear witness to the death of sea life in general, all over the world.

still image from Australienation by Jenny Fraser
Forever Now was launched on Sunday January 18 at the Odeon Theatre and broadcast into outer space via Cape Canaveral, as part of the Mona FOMA Faux Mo Festival in Hobart, and the artworks can also be viewed online at the website:
What I can hope for is that these new audiences will contemplate notions of some binary oppositions: Alien/Native, Security/Insecurity, Isolation/Belonging, Sympathy/Antipathy.
So I also offered this quote by Gilbert Keith Chesterton “We only know the last sad squires ride slowly towards the sea, And a new people takes the land: and still it is not we.

Sovereign Apocalypse:  Superhighway across the sky is awesome and we love that it is about connections i.e. methods of communication are in some ways akin to the ancient notion of Songlines.” How did the collective conceive of this space and what is its purpose?

Jenny Fraser:  We could say the sky is the limit. I had been trying to get up a web-based art project and tour for a long time, and nine years later, I had finally managed to get some funding for it. However, lead up time to enter it into festivals was only short, and thankfully the artists were prepared to work fast on realising their ideas in tune with the themes resonant with Superhighway across the Sky. Christine Peacock brought the Brisbane Commonwealth Games Protest photos and speeches to light from her archives, Jason Davidson presented his documentation of chem trails around Australia and Michelle Blakeney matched archival photographs from Bombaderry Childrens Home near Nowra, with an audio track featuring testimonial speeches from the now aging previous residents at the Homes 100th anniversary.

In realising the project I was reminded of the film Koyaanisqatsi, named after the Hopi Native American term meaning 'crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living'. In the finale of the film, Hopi prophecies are chanted, including this…. "Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky." This could be referencing the world wide web, chem trails, or satellite and plane passage, or all of the skyward traffic. Whatever it is, I'm sure we are already living in these times, in the Fifth World, and we need to be documenting and actively responding to our current experiences and expectations. With social networking sites, like facebook and instagram now more popular than ever, maybe we can consider the new and instant methods of communication akin to the ancient notion of Songlines, just the latest version.

Blackout Artists Jason Davidson, Jenny Fraser and Michelle Blakeney from Australia on tour, pictured with Native Canadian Dancer at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival Welcome in Toronto 2013 


Sovereign Apocalypse:

Superhighway across the Sky:

Blackout Collective:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cultural Apartheid : ISEA Sydney

Aboriginal New Media Artists have been focused on building a movement for over 15 years, but were brought to a stand still in Australia, having been excluded from ISEA Sydney 2013. 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 1992, 21 years ago in Sydney. ISEA Sydney 2013 was organised by an Australian-based committee with very little Aboriginal New Media Arts input, despite a face-to-face meeting between Indigenous artists, (the non-Aboriginal) ISEA hierarchy and others. The meeting, which was held two years previous at the Australia Council for the Arts, finalising a two stage Indigenous Media and Hybrid Arts Roundtable, and was part of an Inter-Arts Fund strategy to develop support for Indigenous experimental media and hybrid arts practices, promised Indigenous involvement in ISEA Sydney as an outcome.

Instead, the Sydney ISEA Curatorium blocked Aboriginal New Media Arts interests such as the Blackout Collective from participating. The Blackout Collective is a group of Aboriginal creators from all over Australia who communicate fluidly and contribute towards screen-based culture in new ways. 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 scene and we all struggle to represent as new media artists, with very little support or inclusion in Australia. Ironically, the official slogan for ISEA Sydney 2013 was 'Resistance is Futile', and Aboriginal New Media Artists are certainly familiar with the notion.

While the Blackout collective may be small in number, and spread across the country, many Aboriginal artists have represented at international electronic arts events such as ISEA, SIGGRAPH, X Media Lab, Ars Electronica in Austria and the InteractivA Biennale in Mexico. Over the years, this has included Aroha Groves (NSW) in ISEA Istanbul in 2011, r e a (NSW) in SIGGRAPH San Diego 2007, Genevieve Grieves (NSW) and myself (QLD) in ISEA/Zero1 San Jose 2006, and Jason Davidson (NT) in ISEA Helsinki in 2004.

While some Aboriginal artists were promised thousands of dollars to create and present new work, that was reneged upon, and instead, the money was used to open ISEA Sydney with an Aboriginal Welcome to Country and performances for International and interstate guests at Carriageworks in Redfern on Friday June 9, 2013. In the media response to the Blackout Collective, the Australian ISEA Director, Jonathon Parsons, perpetuated the idea that the welcome performance was 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 was a small exhibition of painters works that have garnered a new life with animation, but the question is, where were the Aboriginal New Media Artists for ISEA in Sydney? Would an International Dance showcase being hosted in Australia, get away with only including one Indigenous artist representing that entire artform? Even with a few back up painters sponsored by the mining company thrown in for good measure? Surely there would be an uproar.

Not only did the Australian ISEA organisers exclude Aboriginal new media artists from exhibiting at an international electronic arts event in our own country, but they failed to manage the situation professionally. In good faith, Indigenous artists jumped through their hoops and proposed new projects a year before, and had been on the short list since December 2012, with significant budgets being offered, and continually working on creating new work, only to find out final rejection notification one day before ISEA started in Sydney. It was a huge waste of money upfront and good energy in trying to meet the deadline with very little useful communication from the organisers.

However, the International guests were interested in Aboriginal New Media Arts and invited some of us for an opportunity to speak 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 was framed around a focus on the respective 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.

Press releases about the exclusion from exhibiting, were sent to the media and to the ISEA Sydney main funder, the Australia Council for the Arts. The story was really only picked up by one mainstream publication, Artshub (in the UK and Australia). Interestingly, the names of Aboriginal New Media Artists who had previously represented at ISEA overseas had been omitted, and instead were replaced by a list of the dancers involved in the Welcome to Country for ISEA Sydney, along with an incorrect list of artists, only one of which works in Aboriginal New Media, and was actually involved in ISEA (and not the Vivid, Festival, which was happening at the same time).

In the Arts Hub article, Parsons states that “ISEA2013 also provided a number of bursaries to encourage the participation of Indigenous artists in the conference.”, but actually, the bursaries were provided by Arts Victoria, and specifically only for Victorian Indigenous artists to travel to Sydney for the conference. Aboriginal faces at ISEA Sydney were certainly very few and far between. No official reply was received from ISEA Sydney (until the matter moved into social media, of course...), no official reply came from the International ISEA body and no official reply was received from the Australia Council for the Arts. ...Usually it is a conflict of interest for the funding body of an event to slide a (rare) paying role to one of its own staff, so maybe that is why? * with the usual decades of artform specific experience suddenly not necessary.

The press release received interest internationally, and in the resulting conversations we learned that it wasn't the first time that ISEA had failed to deal with the “Indigenous Problem” adequately. Some Native American artists and journalists made contact to alert us to the fact that in the 2012 Albuquerque ISEA, exotically titled 'Machine Wilderness', they had also been excluded from participating in their own country. Ironically ISEA International promotes itself publicly on its website as 'an international non-profit organisation fostering interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organisations and individuals'. However, American Indians also understand Cultural Apartheid and Culture Wars very well, and explained to me the notion of Co-option. Now I have a name for something that I have witnessed many times over the years, and which was particularly relevant in this instance as only one role had been created as the outcome of the advocacy of the Indigenous Roundtable, but that role had been filled to work against us, and spend Indigenous assigned funds without us New Media Artists and Curators.

Later in the year, the blackout collective presented a 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 were Christine Peacock, Jason Davidson and Michelle Blakeney, and we all travelled to Toronto to speak on a roundtable with other International guests at the annual festival, and later travelled on to London to present at the inaugural conference in the UK. The arts hub article about the ISEA exclusion, described this as an “ambitious presentation”, however, it is much easier and much more gratifying to organise engagement overseas, than it is in our homeland, especially given the greater divide between the film and new media arts here, and the lack of major Indigenous arts institutions, staff and interest. Highlighted again upon returning home to find that the short lived New Media category has been canned from of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, without any prior warning to the field of artists, nor consultation.

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 film makers, 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 launched in 2014 and 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. cyberTribe celebrates 15 years in 2014, and over the years, has brought together Indigenous artists from places across Australia, the Pacific, the Americas and elsewhere to participate in exhibitions of international standing. All without any annual funding, ever.
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.”
...So what's next? Now we wait 20 years or so, for the next ISEA to come to Australia and see what happens then? Meanwhile we observe a charmed circle of the mainstream Australian Art scene do what they do best – promote their own interests, and sickeningly get all self-congratulatory about it. Even though Parsons had started the ISEA Sydney role very late, and it was only for a few months anyway, it is interesting to note that he has already been appointed to a major New Media Arts role in one of the very few New Media specialised organisations – Experimenta. This is usually unheard of - for an inexperienced outsider of the medium to be anointed with free passage through the gate ...but not entirely surprising. Although the hypocrisy is astounding, its the Australian way.
Jenny Fraser

an edited version of this article has been featured in Artlink Magazine under the title 
Cultural Apartheid and the Superhighway across the Sky


ISEA Sydney 2013

ISEA Sydney 2013 on facebook


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 Diržys 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