Black Writers Lab, Yulyurlu Lorna Fencer Napurrurla & Camp!: Mid-Week Reviews

By Tess Jaeger and Angus Baird
NAIDOC

These reviews relate to our June theme, which focuses on Indigenous People and their human rights. Read our Editorial for more on this theme.

Welcome to Right Now’s new review format!

This week, we have pieces by Tess Jaeger and Angus Baird.

Each of these reviewers attended particular Victorian NAIDOC Week events: Tess, the Ilbijerri Black Writers Lab Showcase and Camp!, which are the first and third entries below, respectively; and Angus, the Yulyurla Lorna Fencer Napurrurla Exhibition.

These reviews provide thought-provoking description and analysis of three very different events. Enjoy!

Ilbijerri Black Writers Lab Showcase

By Tess Jaeger

The 2012 Ilbijerri Black Writers Lab Showcase was held on Wednesday 4 July at the Warehouse Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. The showcase formed part of Victoria’s NAIDOC Week festivities.

Ilbijerri Theatre Company is the only Victorian Indigenous theatre group and the longest running organisation of its kind in Australia. Now in its second year, the Black Writers Lab is a 12-week program designed to engage emerging Indigenous theatre makers in developing new works for the stage. The 2012 showcase offered an opportunity for resident writers to present their work informally on stage for the first time, with the theatre company’s professional actors reading selected script excerpts to a live audience.

The performances … were beyond comparison to anything I have seen before.

At the beginning of the evening, Director Isaac Drandic gave an introduction highlighting the importance of “Black people writing Black scripts in this country” in response to a growing interest and need for this type of artistic work in Australia today. As he spoke, a baby in the back row let out perfectly timed squeals of delight.

The performances that followed were beyond comparison to anything I have seen before. Both the writing and acting were remarkable, deftly addressing complex themes with poignancy and humour.

A dozen or so actors comprised the cast. A narrator seated to the right of the stage introduced each excerpt. Featured works included Jacob Boehme’s Leave it at that and Blood on the Dancefloor; Melodie Reynolds-Diarra’s No Blankets and Skylab Laundry; Rosie Smith’s Bucky the Potoroo’s Big Adventure; Lisa Maza’s Trust; and Isaac Drandic’s Kooweerup.

© Ilbijerri Theatre Company

Despite Ilbijerri’s insistent preface that each script is still heavy with wet paint, all were of an incredibly high standard and many were faultless on first hearing. A scene from Leave it at that introduced three generations of women in the grip of family tensions, each living under the weight of their shared histories. Through this work, writer Jacob Boehme reveals the far-reaching consequences of inter-generational trauma and grief.

An excerpt from No Blankets was presented in monologue, unravelling the psychological aftermath of child sexual abuse for one victim.

Then came the allegorical tale of Bucky the potoroo in his Big Adventure. The script originated as a short story, which author Rosie Smith hopes to develop into a children’s theatre or puppet show. This delightful narrative melds whimsy and humour to deliver a powerful message about the impact of Australia’s colonisation on its people, wildlife and environment. Ian Michael gave an excellent performance as the naïve and impressionable Bucky.

… a timely reminder to get behind Indigenous theatre and art, and to support a company worthy of praise for its incomparable contributions in this regard.

Blood on the Dancefloor was introduced as a theatrical piece incorporating dance elements. The scene presented as part of the Black Writers Lab dealt with one character’s grief at the loss of his partner to AIDS, and his subsequent positive diagnosis. Skylab Laundry chartered new territory as a resonant sci-fi meets comedy experience.

The featured duologue and monologue excerpts from Kooweerup and Trust were respective standout performances. Uncle Jack Charles and Andrew Mabbott played the roles of two strangers at a bus stop in Kooweerup, striking up a conversation with existentialist consequences. Hilarity ensued as their wait went on. Tammy Anderson stunned as a grief-stricken woman reporting her niece missing to police, only to make a crushing and irrevocable discovery.

The performances were followed by friendly discussion and delicious snacks – two features that always please me at events! A night of insight and humour never fails to excite. This was a timely reminder to get behind Indigenous theatre and art, and to support a company worthy of praise for its incomparable contributions in this regard. Get behind Ilbijerri if you haven’t already!

Yulyurlu Lorna Fencer Napurrurla Exhibition

By Angus Baird

Melbourne winter; it is a time of experimentation, a time of well-practiced routines of winters gone by. Multiple clothing layers fortify against the howling gusts and stifling rain. As every season passes, new techniques develop, flop or flourish in keeping away those winter blues.

This winter I’ve been keeping hot with the exotic sounds of afro beat and some serious solo bedroom dancing. Surely, no possible ways surpass that little trick. That was until I laid my eyes upon the works of Yulyurla Lorna Fencer Napurrurla that are currently showing in the RMIT gallery on Swanston St.

Melbourne at this time of year lends itself to the show. The city’s cold grey stone relenting to the warm desert colours as the gallery space is transformed into a place, separate and contrasting dramatically to the streets outside.

That was when I was exposed to real heat and realised the frivolity and futility of my winter time activities.

Melbourne at this time of year lends itself to the show. The city’s cold grey stone relenting to the warm desert colours as the gallery space is transformed into a place, separate and contrasting dramatically to the streets outside.

 

Photograph: Angus Baird 2012

It is estimated that 600 Indigenous groups existed in the time of first European contact, each with a huge variance of works differing in style and techniques that permeated every aspect of Indigenous society.

The work by Yulyurla (c. 1920s–2006) follows in the tradition of the Warlpiri people of Australia’s Northern Territory, North and West of Alice Springs.

Each group communicated and handed down to the next generation knowledge relating to the laws, culture, geography, hunting and dreamtime narratives through the use of art.

Yulyurla’s work has gained prominence not only due to her prolific output or her cultural background, but also because of her role as a fighter and leader in the turmoil of Aboriginal culture in Australia’s short history, past and present.

It is easy to reflect upon the function of aesthetics and origins of Indigenous art within a traditional context. However, one cannot assess Indigenous art practice without confronting by parallel its place within mainstream western society. This is arguably one if the most important and powerful elements to the dynamic of the exhibition.

Yulyurla’s work has gained prominence not only due to her prolific output or her cultural background, but also because of her role as a fighter and leader in the turmoil of Aboriginal culture in Australia’s short history, past and present. This is what the viewer is exposed to – it is her spirit, there in the strokes and clashing layers of colourful paint.

Exhibition dates: 29 June – 25 August 2012

RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000

CAMP!

By Tess Jaeger

Billed as “a night of drag kings and queens; funk; soul; hip-hop and disco in honour of the 40th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy”, CAMP! definitely delivered on its promises. The evening came as the result of collaboration between Outblack – a group that caters to Indigenous Australians/Torres Strait Islander Gay and Transgender Sister Girls living in Victoria – and Songlines – Victoria’s peak Aboriginal music body. Held as part of Victoria’s 2012 NAIDOC Week celebrations, the show took place on Friday 6 July at the Royal Melbourne Hotel.

CAMP! brought together an eclectic line-up of artists, including contemporary dance group Kharisma Nascent; roots and soul inspired outfit The Deanes (formerly known as The Grenadines); DJ Crystal McKinnon; first-class drag acts; a dazzling performance from the Sunshine Sisters and much, much more. The night was slow to kick off, but when it did it went absolutely nuts.

There was no shortage of glitter, pizazz and general excellence. I could have powered a small jet on my exuberance alone – the night was on fire for NAIDOC Week! In between acts, my friends and I shuffled to classics such as “Respect”, an Aretha Franklin gem, and “9 to 5” (you can’t go past a good Dolly Parton number). Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” also featured.

The party raged on long after I made a rush to public transport for my ride home (the fun-time killer for those without money for cab fares). Check out some fab photos on the Songlines Facebook page. Keep an eye out for more great Songlines and Outblack events. Tell all your friends!

Latest

  • Candice

    The new format looks great!