Creative artists present nuanced views of conflict, causes and consequences

ntop-qanonAward wining film director George Miller says, “. . . art is at its best when it allows catharsis through story telling and a nation is at its best when it provides a refuge for humanity to heal and flourish.” It seems that this observation is relevant to three arts events due to launch across western Sydney, where negotiating multiculturalism and difference is a daily  experience.

The first is Diaspora-Making Machines opening at Blacktown Arts Centre, on Thursday, September 29. The second is a public dialogue between writers Ellen van Neerven and Michael Mohammed Ahmad under the provocative title Black and Lebo. The third is The Cartographer’s Curse, a new production created by National Theatre of Parramatta, which explores the complexities of political and social divisions within the Middle East. Above is an image of the qanun, a Middle Eastern instrument featured in The Cartographer’s Curse. Director Paula Abood explains qanun is the origin of the English word canon, encompassing the lore and law of a society.

In Diaspora-Making Machines eight artists of diverse cultural backgrounds explore some of “the systemic devices (the machines) that generate movement and the dispersal of communities (the diaspora).” From the earliest days of the colony, Blacktown has been a scene of continuous waves of migration. Some were forced, like the Aboriginal and Maori children sent to be “reformed” at the 1823 Blacktown Native Institution, and others like migrants and refugees who made new homes there by choice.

1-blak-douglas-bac-for-diaspora-making-machinesOffering an Aboriginal perspective on the exhibition’s theme of Blacktown’s historic place as a centre of migration, attitudes to newcomers, and notions of belonging and assimilation is Blak Douglas, who grew up in the area. His work, left, Pipe Dreams (Part A), suggests a challenge to the role of the church as a systemic device in the dispersal of Aboriginal communities. Another of the artists is Mehwish Iqbal, who grew up in a small town in Pakistan where art wasn’t even taught in the local school. Nonetheless, she defied traditional expectations to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts and then moved to Dubai. In 2006, she moved to Australia with her family where she completed a Masters degree at the College of Fine Arts UNSW. Mehwish has undertaken international artists residencies and has a keen interest in themes of integration, assimilation and separation experienced by migrants living in Australia and issues faced by under privileged children in developing countries.

The other artists are Jumaadi, Nerine Martini, Susannah Williams and Warren Armstrong, Luping Zeng and his son Cheng Zeng. Diaspora Making Machines will continue at Blacktown until Saturday, November 5.

ellen-van-nervanBlack and Lebo promises a lively discussion between two award winning young writers, Aboriginal author Ellen van Neerven, right, and Michael Mohammed Ahmad, below, left. Ellen won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize, among other awards, and has just published a new book Comfort Food, a collection of poetry. Michael is the director of Sweatshop – Western Sydney Literacy Movement, a talented actor, and a doctoral candidate at the Western Sydney University Writing and Society Research Centre. He has won several awards for his work and for his debut novel The Tribe. His second novel The Lebs will be published early next year.

Ellen and Michael Mohammed.AhmadMichael will discuss the intersections between race, faith, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary Australian literature, give performances from their latest works and take questions and comments from their audience. Black and Lebo takes place on Friday, September 30, at Western Sydney University, Bankstown campus, Building 3, Room G 55. The event is free with lunch provided and everyone is welcome, but RSVP is essential.

Prof Ghassan HageFrench and British colonialism of the early 20th century in the Middle East is the starting point for The Cartographer’s Curse. Invasion, colonialism and conflict have been common experiences for centuries among people in this region, where borders have undergone frequent change, according to who holds the power. A century ago, it was the British and French who drew lines on a map to divide the area according to their own interests. The consequences continue to reverberate and have led many people to seek refuge elsewhere in the world. Under the guidance of Paula Abood, history is imagined through spoken word poetry and prose, parkour movements and qanunic music. Among the characters are the cartographer, the wandering professor, the poet, the resistance, the merchant and the master of the qanun. The professor is played by Ghassan Hage, above right, an actual Future Generation Professor of global stature.

1-ntop-cartog-curse-thistle“This ensemble captures the very best of Arab Australian artistry in all its different expression,” Paula says. “Each performer in The Cartographer’s Curse brings a particular prowess and this makes for an exciting performance.” The coupling of the melodic quality of the qanun with the edginess of Parkour movement, she describes as “artistically very exhilarating.” The thistle, left, grows throughout the landscape of the Middle East and could easily be perceived as a metaphor for resilience and survival. The Cartographer’s Curse opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on Thursday, October 5 and continues only until October 8.


More creative opportunities and events which smash conventions

1-Nazanin - exploring identity through calligraphy and ink drawingAdding to last week’s post about opportunities, here’s another valuable offering from Blacktown Arts Centre. With funding from Blacktown Council and the NSW Government, the centre is offering six Creative Residencies in 2017 in the following categories –

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Residency $5000
  • Pat Parker Memorial Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Space Residency
  • Visual Arts Studio Residency
  • Without Borders (Accessible Arts) Residency $5000.

The residencies offer space for the creation of new work and mentoring opportunities for the further development of existing creative projects. Blacktown Arts Centre is recognised for its exploration of dynamic, culturally diverse work that reflects Blacktown, its history and its communities. Above is one of this year’s resident artists Nazanin Marashian combining calligraphy and ink drawing in her exploration of identity. Nazanin came to Australia from Iran as a young child when her family fled the Iran/Iraq war in the early 1980s. A great deal of her art work is influenced by the lingering images of war torn houses and streets and the stories from relatives who remained in Iran. BNazanin - drawing first dayelow, left, is a work from her first day of residency – as she “got a few different ideas flowing.

Central to Blacktown Arts Centre’s program are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities drawing on issues of local and global significance. A free workshop to assist applicants will be conducted by award-winning author and long-time writing coach Janet Fennell.

Writing for Small Grants & Opportunities 
Saturday, 13 August | 10am – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Another will be conducted by Patricia Adjei from Viscopy to answer questions relating to copyright, licensing, fair use and moral rights. Patricia will also explain the Resale Royalty Scheme in relation to your practice, and in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Viscopy Licensing & Copyright Law 
Saturday, 20 August | 2pm – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Applications close Wednesday, 9 September 2016. Blacktown Arts Centre.

Among the people who have made a major contribution to Blacktown Arts Centre’s performing arts program and simultaneously benefited from the centre’s support is Richard Petkovic. Richard is the founder and director of Sydney Sacred Music Festival now in its sixth year. In the course of his musical and regional networking during the last 20 years, Richard has met many highly skilled musicians – many of whom arrived in Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersAustralia as refugees. Two years ago, they launched Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra which combined an eclectic mix of cultural music from Mongolia, East Turkistan, Vietnam, China, Mexico and Indigenous Australia to create new Australian music that explores different cultures, faiths and genres.

“Featuring some of the best ‘world’ musicians in Sydney, SWMCO melds classical strings, Dervish rhythms, Latin Samba and intimate melodies to smash conservative music conventions and create a dynamic journey that changes the internal chemistry of the listener,” Richard says. Now some of these musicians are collaborating with others and leading visual and multimedia artists to create the spectacular Worlds Collide event on Saturday, September 3, as part of this year’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

william+barton+sacred+musicThe festival will be formally launched with The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, Friday, September 2, at 2pm  (Prospect Hill) Pemulwuy. Featuring in the ceremony will be internationally renowned didjeridoo player, William Barton.

Marrong (Prospect Hill), was a place of Darug ceremony for thousands of years and the highest landmass in the Sydney Basin. It was from Marrong that indigenous warrior, Pemulwuy, observed the approaching devastation of Aboriginal land and led the resistance against the expanding colony. The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people – a place of spirit and a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).

The event kicks off a program that will continue until September 18 and incorporate a wide range of musical events in venues from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains. Program and bookings.

From Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) comes this urgent invitation –

PYT - Tribunal 2016Don’t miss out — TRIBUNAL is selling fast!

Join Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT), Griffin Theatre Company and some of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and cultural leaders to tell the parallel stories of Indigenous Australia and our treatment of newly arrived refugees in a performed conversation at the SBW Stables Theatre from August 12 to 20. LISTEN HERE to the cast talk to ABC Radio National about TRIBUNAL

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW and are selling quickly. Book online HERE to avoid disappointment.

The fight for federal arts funding intensifies, even as new programs emerge

Art Changes Lives - June 2016



A National Day of Action begins today with demonstrations by artists and the arts community against drastic funding cuts. On May 13 this year, 50% of small
to medium arts companies did not receive funding as a result of the government’s
cuts to the Australia Council. These cuts will result in job losses and will have flow on effects across cultural industries, educational institutions and the commercial sector. The arts employ more people than agriculture, construction or mining and the creative industries generate $50 billion for the Australian economy. Independent artists and organisations are the backbone of arts in Australia, generating new ideas and new talent.
Artists are the innovators of our nation.

Rosie Dennis, artistic director of Urban Theatre Projects, based in Bankstown says, “Join us at 12.30pm outside Bankstown train station to show your support. Follow #Istandforthearts and join in, wherever you are. Now more than ever is the time to hold onto our democratic right and freedom to speak out and protest, and let our leaders know that we want to see and hear great stories, told by talented artists, that are connected to the country, the city, the suburb, that we call home.”

UTP - One Day for Peace - 2The National Day of Action launches a two week campaign highlighting the importance of the arts in the lead-up to the federal election on July 2. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Association for the Visual Arts will be asking visitors today to tell politicians about why the arts are important in their own lives. Theatre companies are taking similar actions with their audiences. Rosie Dennis says, “Increasingly the arts are disappearing from our daily lives and are almost always under-valued as a career path. Yet it’s one of the most valuable industries we have in terms of reminding us of our humanity.” Above, is an image from UTP’s 2015 film One Day for Peace, which featured members of many different faiths in western Sydney and was shown to a range of audiences across the region in September. One Day For Peace will feature on ABC’s Compass program in August this year.

Family Portraits - Joanne SaadFederal funding has been vital to the success of UTP programs, which work closely with communities in western Sydney and regions across NSW to highlight the experiences of many different cultural groups and offer them the opportunity for deeper understanding and sharing common ground. Left, is an image from Bankstown Live, UTP’s four day event in last year’s Sydney Festival.

Organisers urge –

→ Get on social media and post about your support with #istandwiththearts
and #ausvotesarts
→ Write a letter of support for the arts to your local member (or email)
→ Write to the Arts Minister Hon. Mitch Fifield
→ Vote for the candidates with the best arts policies on July 2

Rosie Dennis says, “I urge you to have a conversation with your neighbours, your local school, the people you work with, your friends, your family about the value and importance of the arts – theatre, film, dance, literature, visual arts. And not the Hollywood blockbusters, or the big names that play at the top end of town, but the little guys, like us, here at UTP, who reach out to a broad range of people and see the impact that our work has on people’s daily lives.”

Blacktown Arts Centre 1In the meantime, state government funding through Arts NSW has allowed the development and launch of a new program for young Aboriginal people Solid Ground 2016. A new partnership between Carriageworks in inner city Redfern and Blacktown Arts Centre, right, Solid Ground 2016 is a new three-year strategy that will provide pathways for young Indigenous people in NSW into the arts and cultural industries. Solid Ground will create designed tertiary education and on the job training programs for 90 young Indigenous people from across Redfern, Waterloo and Blacktown. It has been a long time in preparation and aims to give young indigenous people meaningful connection with school and rewarding pathways for their own futures.

Sydney Sacred Music Fest 16 - headlineState funding is also assisting the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its sixth year, scheduled for September 2 to 18 throughout Sydney. Their first major fundraising event presents a great line-up of Sydney’s best world music performers at Camelot Lounge, Marrickville, July 3, 6.30pm for 7.30pm show. Festival founder and director Richard Petkovic, of western Sydney, promises a night of “the authentic, the fusion and the future in world music!”  Tickets and information – click here.

In the meantime, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre has opened bookings for its Way Out West Festival for Children program. An annual event funded by Liverpool City Council, the children’s festival is Sydney’s only free contemporary arts festival for children and will run from July 13 to 16. It’s an extensive and varied program promising lots of fun and which has also been assisted by state funding. Although free, bookings are essential.

Get Funparked on Sunday while you buy your groceries!

They did it! Kaz Therese and her creative team from Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Blacktown Arts Centre and the Mt Druitt community raised more than the $5000 they needed to stage FUNPARK in 2015. Their efforts through the crowd fundraiser Pozible were spurred by their anger at the negative publicity about the Mt Druitt neighbourhood generated by the SBS program Struggle Street in May.

Funpark 2015

The inaugural Funpark last year was a celebration of the Bidwill community’s stories and strengths and a feature of Sydney Festival. One of the best practical outcomes, apart from increased confidence and self-esteem, was the decision of Foodworks to set up a supermarket there. Funpark had highlighted the problem for the community of having none of the local shops they once had and the complexity of access to alternatives.

Funpark - Rev John DaceyKaz says, “My hot tips are, if you are a guest in Mt Druitt it would be great for you to attend these two works: The Occult of Bidwill presented by Minister John Dacey, left, and also Cuppa Tea with Therese presented by local resident Therese Wilson. These are both fascinating and inclusive live art works that provide direct engagement and an opportunity to get to understand some of the local issues and how you can further support the community on the day. Also make a t-shirt and dance like it’s the revolution in the carpark of your dreams – to DJ Tracksuitpants!

“Of course there are DJ’s, performances, workshops and social actions so check out the program and I’ll see you and your family and friends in Mt Druitt this Sunday from 3pm-7pm to get Funparked!  Foodworks (carpark),Carlise Ave, Bidwill. It will be cold so bring warm things and pillows and blankets to watch the videos. Do the locals a favour and do your shopping at Bidwill Foodworks!”

Discussion, sharing and youthful energy increasingly animate Darug Aboriginal site

1-BNI - Leanne Tobin and Karla Dickens preparing - Paul HowardIt was an honour to be among invited guests at the celebration of culture at the Blacktown Native Institution site, on Sunday, March 22. The Native Institution operated there from 1823 to 1829 and was intended to civilise and teach European skills to Aboriginal children and later, to Maori children as well. The institution was moved from Parramatta, where it began in 1814. At Blacktown in particular, it came to be seen as a key historical site symbolising Aboriginal dispossession and child removal. The building itself burned down in 1924 and the site was subsequently used as a dairy farm until 1985, when it was bought by the state government. It is now surrounded by new housing development.

In Paul Howard’s photo above, Aboriginal artist and Darug descendent Leanne Tobin, left, is assisted in creating It Starts Here Now – a spiral in wood chips susequently overlaid with a slender spiral of green eucalypt twigs. The celebration began with each visitor being given a green twig, walking slowly around the spiral to a central coolamon filled with slow burning leaves and quietly adding their twig to the rising fragrant smoke, before walking back again. Variations of this ritual of spiritual cleansing and healing through smoke is performed before each public event on the site.

1-Hypothet Public Koori 1993For decades, Blacktown Council and the local Aboriginal community recognised the site’s significance, but there seemed to be no agreement about what should be done about it. As early as 1993, Penrith Regional Gallery developed an exhibition called Hypothetically Public, which included work done by eight local Koori (Aboriginal) artists evoking the old Native Institution on the corner of Richmond and Rooty Hill Rds. As they worked, they found their involvement becoming more spiritual and more personal, with a growing sense of what it means to be Aboriginal today. Left, is part of their installation of doors symbolising the enclosure of children at the institution and the exclusion of their families (photo by Ross Stephenson). The opening of Blacktown Arts Centre in 2002, under the auspice of Blacktown Council, was celebrated with an exhibition Originalities – Indigenous Connections to Place and Identity in Blacktown.

The site remained contested, but in 2004, Blacktown Council commissioned a conservation management plan, which recognised the site’s historical significance. By 2008, a landscape masterplan set out interpretive uses for the site and a year later, Blacktown Arts Centre mounted an exhibition, Black(s)town. Established and emerging Aboriginal artists explored the origins of Blacktown through its historical and contemporary identities. The original Blacks’ Town included the Native Institution site. In 2011, the site was listed on the state heritage register. Then in 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre presented The Native Institute, an exhibition at the centre led by Aboriginal artist-provocateur Brook Andrew, developed in conjunction with art works on the site.

Jason Wing - within arms reachAboriginal artists Daniel Boyd, Robyn Caughlan, Karla Dickens, r e a, Leanne Tobin and Jason Wing  participated and created works responding to the site and willingly discussed their work with visitors. Left, within arms reach, by Jason Wing, evoked  campsites of parents outside the institution fences, waiting for a glimpse of their children. In the same week, the Deerubbin Local  Aboriginal Land Council, the recognised claimant for land title in the region, repeated their claim that there is no clear evidence that descendents from the Darug tribe exist and has rejected Darug membership applications. This despite the fact that there are now many published genealogical records of Darug ancestry.

A revised plan of management was exhibited during this time and further consultations conducted by UrbanGrowth with local Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people were also among consultants conducting the research. Participants privately acknowledged that they were gradually finding common ground in developing a draft plan of management. The stated aim of the consultation was to “work towards ownership of the site by the Darug people in perpetuity”. This result would be the first time that any of their lands would be restored to the care of the traditional custodians. By the time of the recent celebration of culture on site, the revised plan of management was undergoing further discussion and adjustment in an atmosphere of harmony and goodwill.

BNI - Karla Dickens speaking - John CheesemanThe celebration was part of the Artists Camp #2, one of three artists camps conducted by Blacktown Arts Centre, the Museum of Contemporary Art and UrbanGrowth NSW – a C3West project, between November 2014 and June 2015. Left is John Cheeseman’s photo of Karla Dickens talking about the power of art in place. She described the importance of specific stories being told and illustrated with her recent experience of Bungaree’s Farm, a site-specific event created in the camouflage fuel tank T5, Georges Heights, Mosman. It was linked to the exhibition Bungaree: the First Australian then showing at Mosman Art Gallery, where John is director. Histories are not known by blackfellas as well as whites, she said, and it’s important that everyone learns. This is the great opportunity with the Native Institution site. Include the history of indigenous people in the history of Australia. Take back ownership, grieve and remember, she said.

Also participating in the day’s activities were Aboriginal artists Kristine Stewart and Uncle Steven Russell. Both are master weavers who willingly shared their traditional skills. Many people responded to their invitation to participate and enjoyed the meditative atmosphere while learning about the natural materials that could be harvested for use. Artist Darren Bell is also involved in the project.BNI - Soul Benefits rip-ing up the BNI Paul Howard Another function of the celebration was the recording of stories by Koori Radio and the scanning and collecting of photos, clippings and documents for the Blacktown Native Institution website. The celebration wound up with lively performances by contemporary music groups rapidly making a name for themselves. Left, Soul Benefits lets rip in a photo by Paul Howard. Badgemaking by the MCA’s Genext team ensured that Darug words could be learned and circulated widely – word like madang – brave, walama – return, ngurra – gathering, guwiang – fire, ngayiri – bring, and bembul – earth.

Seize the chance – share the garden

1-IMG_3069If you have the chance, make your way to Blacktown Arts Centre tomorrow afternoon, November 1, 3pm to 5pm. The Democratic Garden project developed by Urban Theatre Projects with members of the local community culminates with the gardeners giving away the produce of their labour. Herbs, vegetables and flowers on a vertical frame have flourished under their care, despite the challenges of storms and heat.

1-IMG_3070Join the culturally diverse gardening team and share the spirit as well as the results of their collaboration. Maybe you’ll come away inspired to grow more of your own flowers and vegetables, even if you have only a balcony or a windowsill.

Blacktown Arts Centre, 78 Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown. Click here for more information.

Join a musical celebration of what it means to be Australian

Celeb1-BAC Grass Roots World Music 2014rate the diversity of what it means to be Australian at Grass Roots World Music Festival, Blacktown Arts Centre, next Saturday, June 21, from 2pm till late. As part of the centre’s Echo Music Series, Grass Roots World Music aims to repeat the success of last year’s event developed in partnership with SydWest Multicultural Services and Cultural Arts Collective and is part of Refugee Week 2014.

The program is hosted by Richard Petkovic of Cultural Arts Collective and includes a global drumming parade, Shohrat Tursun Trio, Choirs in the Round feat, performers from Pakistan, Samoa, Ghana, Nepal and Afghanistan, and Vietnamese classical guitarist Ngoc Tuan Hoang. There will be community workshops, including textiles.

You are invited to bring the whole family and sing, dance, eat and create together in honour of the diverse communities of Blacktown. The event is free, but to manage catering, please let organisers know that you are coming by phoning 02 9839 6558 or register through Facebook.