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Apr 30 2021

Australian Festival Pledges to Support Aboriginal Art Following Public Outcry

by Cassie Kaixin Liu

Portraits of CALEB NICHOLS-MANSELL (left) and DYLAN HOSKINS (right), newly appointed advisors to the 2021 Dark Mofo festival. Courtesy Nichols-Mansell; Hoskins; and Dark Mofo, Hobart.

Hobart-based arts and culture festival Dark Mofo has earmarked a budget of AUD 60,000 (USD 46,600) for the development of projects by Tasmanian Aboriginal artists at future events. Announced on April 30, the fund and all related curatorial decisions will be managed by a yet-to-be-appointed First Nations cultural advisory group. Meanwhile, for its 2021 iteration, scheduled for June, the festival has appointed two Aboriginal cultural advisors: artist Caleb Nichols-Mansell and musician Dylan Hoskins. These changes follow widespread criticisms about the lack of Indigenous voices at Dark Mofo.

The issue of fair and sensitive Indigenous representation surfaced in March, when the festival published an Instagram post calling for the blood of First Nations peoples, for use in Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s project Union Flag at the 2021 event. Sierra’s plan was to soak a British flag in the blood to acknowledge “the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples.” However, the proposal immediately received backlash, with artists, writers, and cultural workers pointing out that it would reintroduce trauma, and that Indigenous peoples “have already given enough blood,” as many wrote in response to the social-media post. The festival was also called out for not having Indigenous curators and consultants on its team, and for centering a White artist over Indigenous practitioners.

Sierra’s project was canceled on March 23. That same day, David Walsh, owner of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which organizes Dark Mofo, published a statement that reveals staff from MONA had circulated a letter denouncing the plan for the project. According to Walsh, the letter argued that “this work is tone-deaf to the current fights for a treaty, equality, for Aboriginal-led conversations, and ultimately reconciliation.” However, the staff’s appeal was overlooked by Walsh and Leigh Carmichael, director of Dark Mofo. Following the cancellation of the work, a petition calling for structural changes at the MONA organizations began to circulate, garnering 6,103 signatures.

Regarding the launch of the fund dedicated to Tasmanian Aboriginal artists and the appointment of First Nations advisors, Carmichael said: "This is just our first step, and we hope this announcement demonstrates our commitment to Tasmanian Aboriginal people . . . We want to present more local content, and believe this program will provide Tasmanian Aboriginal artists with support to develop their projects, and ensure they will be well represented going forward.”

Nichols-Mansell said about his new advisory role, “I look forward to working with the team and my community throughout this process to ensure all voices are heard and considered.” Hoskins added: “It’s time to yarn, to reflect and to heal!”

Cassie Liu is editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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