Counter vilification and stereotype by getting to know the individual

1-khaled-sabsabi-majority-minorityWhat can we as individuals do if we don’t accept the torrent of vitriol, racial abuse and false information currently swirling around us? Quite a lot, really, if we are prepared to be steadfast, patient and respectful. Artists and arts activists in western Sydney have been travelling this path for many years. Through their art forms they have offered insights into what it’s like to belong to one or several different cultures and how that may find individual expression through their personal experience. As artists reveal aspects of their lives, we witness vulnerability, a search for the infinite, for meaning and understanding. Insights may challenge assumptions about each other and leave audiences and participants more open to new ideas and understandings.

Khaled Sabsabi is a western Sydney artist, who was awarded the inaugural Western Sydney Arts Fellowship in 2016.  He migrated from Lebanon with his parents as a 12 year old in 1978 as a result of civil war, and settled in western Sydney. His personal experiences of conflict and dislocation in Lebanon and then in his adopted homeland of Australia, led him into deep social engagement. Independent curator and editor of Artist Profile, Kon Gouriotis wrote in 2014, “As a young artist, Sabsabi began experimenting with sound and poetry within the hip‐hop group COD (Count on Damage) in Granville NSW. He gradually moved to sound tracks for short and feature films, his last work was for Cedar Boys (2009). Yet it was to be media that eventually connected his sound and images . . .”

khaled-sabsabi-majority-minority-with-carmel-and-konFairfield City Museum and Gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of Khaled’s work, Majority/Minority, which Kon  officially opened in January. It encompasses three works which reflect on the complexities of migrant experience in western Sydney and the way in which minorities have gradually become the majority in areas like Fairfield. Kon, centre above, with gallery coordinator Carmel Aiello and Khaled Sabsadi. Top, is a still from Khaled’s two channel video Wonderland (2014), one of the three works in Majority/Minority.

In 2003 Khaled returned to Lebanon for the first time. He was profoundly affected by his exposure to the origins of his Islamic Sufi lineage. Kon considers that some of the Sufi teachings would have resonated deeply with Khaled, “especially an individual’s right to imagine the infinite”. It is generally understood that Sufism predates Islam and was connected to Zoroastrianism. Khaled uses the online name of peacefender and has worked extensively in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugeee and settlement camps. Among many awards, Khaled is a recipient of the Blake Art Prize, Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship and an Australia Council for the Arts Community Cultural Development Fellowship.

In the last year alone he has participated in group exhibitions in Yinchuan City, China; Blacktown Arts Centre, NSW; Artspace, New Zealand; and at Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah, UAE.  Next Saturday, February 25, from 1pm to 3pm, Kon will be in conversation with Khaled at Fairfield Museum and Gallery. They will discuss Khaled’s exhibition Majority/Minority and some of his recent practice and reflect on the broader role of the arts and cultural sector in western Sydney. You are invited to attend and to participate with questions and discussion. RSVP to museumgallery@fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au or call 9725 0190 by Thursday 23 February. Complimentary refreshments will be provided.

You don’t havejason-wing-within-arms-reach to look far in western Sydney for other examples of thought provoking work by artists of sometimes demonised minorities. Within Arms Reach was the poignant and haunting work, right, created by Jason Wing for The Native Institute, a 2013 exhibition at Blacktown Arts Centre. Jason is an artist of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, who was evoking the anguish of Aboriginal parents who camped outside the 19th century institute fence in the hope of catching a glimpse of their captive children.

wagana-woodford-academy-with-n-trust-0117Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba, under the leadership of Wiradjuri descendant Jo Clancy, continue to explore traditional culture and create contemporary dance works. They are developing cultural knowledge and confidence among their young members and sharing their understanding with local and international audiences. Here they are at their first performance for 2017 at Woodford Academy, managed by the National Trust. Later this year, they will perform at the World Indigenous People’s Conference in Toronto, Canada.

The politically-charged marriage equality debate is the subject of a new dance performance at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. In Difference is a production of Form Dance Projects and Riverside in which leading dance artist Craig Bary in-difference-preparationhas drawn together a gifted artistic team. Here they are working on ideas and choreography, right, in preparation for a brief season, March 2 to 4, at 8pm.

“Marriage equality is a real issue for real people so we are making this work for them, and hope to make a significant contribution to the debate in the most creative and inspiring way,’ says Bary. ‘We will also bring the real life of the performers on stage to create a compelling, vulnerable and open environment for the audiences to connect with.”

We all have a need of connectedness, of belonging. Is there really any difference between the needs of a same sex couple and a heterosexual couple? In Difference promises a penetrating and poignant demonstration that dance can communicate important issues and make a social and political impact.

sydney-world-music-chamber-orchestra-rehearsalOther examples of work that defy the stereotypes and demonstrate the riches that come with experience of individual stories abound in western Sydney. Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its seventh year, is under the direction of musician Richard Petkovic. Over time, he has gradually assembled a whole range of highly trained musicians from many cultural and religious backgrounds, who are also frequently refugees. Their explorations of contemporary expressions of ancient traditions is continuous, where they share the transformative power of the sacred as distinct from the potential divisiveness of the religious.

1-dth-media-releaseWestern Sydney Literacy Movement – Sweatshop based at Western Sydney University, will launch associate director Peter Polites’ first novel, on March 5. Down the Hume is queer-ethnic Western Sydney noir, the first of its kind, and is published by Hachette, one of the biggest publishing companies in Australia.

Check out Natalie Wadwell’s latest blog post where she reflects on Resilience, it’s a cultural thing and promotes Jon Hawkes’ argument that culture should be the fourth pillar of sustainability. He proposed in 2001 that culture is not an additional policy or a strategy, but a framework through which we assess social, environmental and economic strategies. Natalie links this to her recent experience of a Resilient Sydney workshop.

National Theatre of Parramatta is just one more of many fine examples of companies that seek to defy stereotypes by presenting stories from diverse cultural communities. Still only in its second year, it has already met with great success.

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Arts, sport and pushing back against fear

1-hakawati-team-and-ntopI could kick myself that I’m too late to get a seat for Hakawati, right, National Theatre of Parramatta’s show currently part of Sydney Festival. On the other hand who could begrudge NTofP‘s sold-out success at El Phoenician Restaurant-Bar and the enthusiastic reviews? Hakawati draws on ancient Arabic traditions of entertaining through story telling while sharing a meal, at the same time offering insight into contemporary issues with a powerful western Sydney twist. The show has proved so popular that a return season is planned for later in the year. Click on this link for notification of dates when they are advised..

I was more successful in booking for Champions, at Carriageworks, this week, where the skills of contemporary dance and soccer collide. Directed by Martin del Amo, assisted by Miranda Wheen, Champions tells the story of an all female soccer team and their preparation and performance in a drama filled match. Blurring the boundaries between the elite skills of 1-1-champions-form-dance-projects-photo-by-heidrun-l_hr-webdance and sport, the team worked with coaches and athletes from Western Sydney Wanderers. Channel Seven sports presenter Mel McLaughlin provides analysis and commentary in the show. If Champions, left, has anything like the qualities of previous Form Dance Project productions, including the linked Dance Makers Collective’s Dads, last November, it will be enthralling, thought provoking and highly entertaining.

Providing background to my thoughts about these and many other productions engaging western Sydney artists are the heartfelt observations of two such creatives shortly before Christmas. The first is Aanisa Vylet (below right preparing for Daisy Moon Was Born This Way to be produced by The Q at The Joan, Penrith in 2017, photo by Alana Dimou) – gifted actor, director, adventurous and generous spirit. That’s also Aanisa in the bottom right hand corner of the Hakawati photo above, where she has been dramaturge to the production. On December 21, she posted on her blog Secrets : From one artist to another. Do read it.

aanisa-daisy-moon-q-2017-photo-alana-dimou“I feel like we are living in a very unpredictable and frightening political landscape. I have had this idea sitting in my chest: to write a blog of secrets and tips that I would whisper to a fellow artist…to offer support. So these are some values and strategies that have kept me going as an actress, artist and outsider for the last 11 years . . .”

I’ll leave you to read the 10 points for yourself, but her final note is illuminating. “I will share one last secret…at the beginning of this year, I told myself – “Ok, so this is your last chance to be an actress/artist, you need to give it your best shot and if you don’t land something and if your play turns to shit – you need to find another career and accept it. This is your last shot. NO HOLDING BACK.

“I have not had the time to write a blog this year because I have been overwhelmed by the abundance of what I have experienced. I still had moments where I was  afraid, mistrustful of myself and of the the world at large. What if I eliminate all fear?”

1-natalie-dec-2016On a related theme are the writings of passionate community activist and creative entrepreneur, Natalie Wadwell, left. Natalie is concerned that the arts are not valued in the community in the same way as sport and yet their contributions to physical and mental skills, imagination, social cohesion and much more have many features in common. She wants to see more artists of all disciplines engage directly with communities, take courage in forging their own pathways and enlarge our understandings of our shared humanity.

She is continually putting her words into action. With her colleague Lucinda Davison, they have established a website State of the Arts. It has a big vision – “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.” Now they are advertising for help in developing their website.

natalie-web-developerState of the Arts web developer [PAID OPPORTUNITY]
Help State of the Arts refine our platform and shape new features to be launched in April 2017. Live, work or playing across Western Sydney or Regional NSW is not essential, but desirable (we want to support local).
If you or a mate you would highly recommend is interested send us an email with the subject line ‘I can web, mate,’ and three samples of recent work.”

Like so many others, Aanisa and Natalie are determined to push back agains the clouds of fear constantly under discussion in mainstream and social media. Working collaboratively, talking openly and honestly about concerns and sharing explorations towards better understanding are just some of their tools. Fear can engender more fear which just ends in paralysis. I love the Bernard Shaw line famously only half quoted by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy . . .  my child, but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Gifted performers share Hindu inspired dance both earthly and divine

1-tukre4Catch Tukre’ at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, while you can. Part of Form Dance Projects and Riverside’s Dance Bites 2015, Tukre’ is the work of Australian choreographer and performer Rhagav Handa, left, of Indian heritage, who is trained in modern and indigenous contemporary dance. As the performance unfolds, Rhagav tells a story of his forebears who were jewellery makers in India. They worked with molten metals and gem cutters.  From a simple beginning, where he lights a flame, his arms and hands move with increasing speed and precision through planes and angles corresponding with their work. At the same time, his movement draws on the circular and linear patterns of traditional Kathak dance.

Gradually he introduces dialogue between himself and video images of his mother. While you are learning about the cultural traditions within family, you are discovering his warmth and gentle humour. As a gay man, he 1-tukre1doesn’t correspond to traditional expectations. Rhagav embraces his audience in sharing his story and reveals an open and natural charm. As the story progresses, lighting and sound highlight the uniqueness and speed of his movement. A wonderful rolling and twisting of his hands accelerates in a shaft of light as he crosses the stage. Tukre’ is only on until Saturday, May 2. Bookings – click here. Photos of Raghav by Gregory Lorenzutti.

At the end of the month comes another dance program at Riverside rich with the traditions of Hindu culture. Lingalayam Dance Company, under the artistic direction of Anandavalli, will present Dances of Divinity in partnership with musical director Aravinth Kumarasamy, who is now artistic director of Aparas Arts Singapore. It is a welcome reunion. Aravinth worked with Lingalayam and a live orchestra for five years from 1999. Anandavalli says, “During that time the company dancers gained a deep understanding of the integral role of the musical score. It ties1-Dances of Divinity-Riverside 30th May 2015 together the nuances of a particular theme – it creates a platform for the choreographic vocabulary and for the production as a whole.

“It was an era that saw the Lingalayam Dance Company create some of its most profound works. It saw us gain a place as one of Australia’s mainstream dance companies – and this was in no small measure due to the musical brilliance of Aravinth.” Guest artist in this new collaboration is male choreographer and dancer Mohanapriyan, left, of Aparas Arts Singapore. Dances of Divinity brings to life the lyricism of the Hindu dancing deities. For one night only, May 30, bookings 8839 3399.

Sketch creates a symphony in dance, colour and sound

Sketch - Todd Fuller 1Improvisation within a carefully structured framework became a mesmerising play between three dancers, a visual artist and a composer. Sketch was conceived and choreographed by Carl Sciberras with Flatline co-director and visual artist Todd Fuller. Flatline’s aim is to “interrogate the spaces between different artforms and modes of performance, and this experience is essentially an experiment in the gaps.” Composer Mitchell Mollison and dancers Rosslyn Wythes and Katina Olsen completed the ensemble of five performers.

The performance begins with a blank white backdrop and stage floor. White body costumes extend the theme of tabula rasa or the original blank canvas. A dancer stands stationary at one side and a giant hand-held pencil is projected and begins to sketch his outline on his body. It moves to the canvas and extends in an upward curve. The dancer responds with an upward movement of his arm and sound begins to follow. Gradually, their engagement extends .Sometimes the artist seems to provoke the movement, another time  Sketch - Todd Fuller 2the dancer leads the line drawn and at another time the sound prompts line and movement.

As the page of slow and hasty lines and movements comes to an end, the artist seated to the left front of the stage, changes to electronic media. A wiggly line appears across the floor and climbs the backdrop alongside the second dancer. It thickens and begins to turn red. Another dancer appears and mauve lines begin to streak across the canvas. Lines and movement increase, more colour appears and sound rises and falls. The dancers roll and extend their bodies, curving, twisting, reaching – sometimes in unison, sometimes solo, exploring space in harmony with sound and colourful line.

Suddenly, collections of lines and patterns which seem to have congealed into independent entities, begin to expand and contract, spin, intertwine and recede into the distance. The pace becomes more frantic, driven by the urgency of waves crashing on shore and then gradually slows and comes almost to rest.

Sketch - Todd Fuller 3A pause and then the final movement of this symphony reverts to the neutral colours of the first. Original images captured from the first scenes then interweave with others  previously recorded on a bleached open sandy beach. The gentle tide surges forward and draws back, the sound calms and we are left delighted by the sensuous pleasures of imaginative exploration.

Sketch was performed at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, September 11 to 13, as part of a presentation of new works by members of Dance Makers Collective. The two other works were Safe Hands, choreographed and performed by Miranda Wheen, and Between Two and Zero, choreographed and performed by Miranda Wheen and Matt Cornell. For more information click Form Dance. Photos by Anya Mckee.

For a review by Vicki Van Hout, click on FORM Dance Projects, and by Jill Sykes, click  Sydney Morning Herald. For more comment on Sketch, click Sharne Wolff’s review A Dance for Paul Klee/Studies in Motion.