Wednesday, August 6, 2014

National Indigenous Art Award suppresses innovation in Australia

Darwins Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has removed the New Media Art Category from the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award this year leaving artists in the lurch.

“In true Australian style, there was no announcement or discussion, the option for the New Media category just wasn't on the entry form this year, which was devastating because we had spent tens of thousands of dollars and years creating a new project, with intention for the Australian premiere at the official NATSIA Award Ceremony” said Jenny Fraser, a spokesperson for the Blackout Collective.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award has cancelled the New Media Category after only a short run, having been first established in 2010. According to the awards 2011 website, “the Telstra New Media Award was introduced in recognition of this emerging field in Indigenous art practice. This category has become a permanent fixture following last year’s inaugural success at Telstra NATSIAA and will attract $4000 along with other categories.”

“Some of us had already been entering New Media artworks long before the inception of the new media category in 2010, so alarm bells had been going off since then because none of the Blackout artists had ever been preselected for the new category. Its a very strange attitude toward the field, and the message that it sends is that the Museum has very little expertise in the areas of innovation and also fails to engage curators, preselectors and judges who do” said Jenny Fraser.

In an article titled 'Mix of old and new adds dynamism to Indigenous art' about the 2013 NATSIA Award, Telstra Chief Financial Officer Andrew Penn wrote “The awards have grown and innovated, introducing new forms and mediums. The "new media" category was introduced in 2010 and is perhaps viewed by some just as Impressionism was in the 1870s but it is simply a reflection of the fact that we are living in a digital world. The fact that artists are using (as they always have) new tools as they become available, should be celebrated.”

The artists commissioned by cyberTribe to make new experimental work for Superhighway across the Sky were Christine Peacock, Jason Davidson and Michelle Blakeney, whom all travelled to Toronto to speak on a roundtable with other International guests at the annual festival. In accordance with the Telstra NATSIAA Award strict guidelines about previously exhibiting entries, the blackout collective was careful not to show the work publicly in Australia. Working around the guidelines, they strategically presented a special private preview of their new online art project ‘Superhighway across the sky’ at the 2013 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada, which was well received. The plan was then to enter the project into the Telstra Award, which would be the Australian premiere and launch of the project which had been in the making for 9 years.

“The namesake of the Superhighway project is a song by the world famous Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, so another great motivating factor to launch the project, particularly in the Northern Territory, as it is the homeland of the songman, Dr Yunupingu and his Visual artist sister, both of whom only just died in recent years. It would have been a fitting and touching tribute to their inspirational and innovating lives, but unfortunately the Museum staff could not even answer when asked which category we should be entering now that theyve canned the new media specific one” said Jenny Fraser.

In an article titled 'New media shines at Aboriginal Art event' is quoted as stating “Mr Arpin, who has been at the helm of the museum for three years, says the genre is gathering momentum. "I think it's demonstrating...that more artists are using new media to express themselves," he says. "Younger artists in particular and artists who may be academically trained or working in a university or in an art department ...will see that these platforms are available as a mode of self expression, and I think it's just a reflection of the fact that we're living in a more and more digitally mediated age."

All is not lost however, as Blackouts project Superhighway across the Sky has just been officially preselected for competition in the 2014 15th Anniversary of imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, which is particularly timely as this year the spotlight is on Australia. The work will also be 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. Over the past decade cyberTribe has brought together Indigenous artists from places across Australia, the Pacific, the Americas and elsewhere to participate in exhibitions of international standing.

“The irony of the fact that this Indigenous Art Award is sponsored by a major telecommunications company and internet provider is not lost – it says a lot about how museums are keeping Indigenous culture in Australia trapped in the past, and their refusal to employ Indigenous curators of Aboriginal Art forever perpetuates that. It is always remarkably much easier and much more gratifying to organise engagement overseas, than it is in our culturally apartheid 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.” said Jenny Fraser.

The Blackout Collective is a group of creators from all over Australia who fluidly communicate and contribute towards screen- based culture locally, across Australia, and internationally. “Australia, in itself is a big brown land, so it is difficult for us to maintain face-to-face contact even in our own country. It is important professionally and spiritually for us to travel together, and engage with Native Canadian artists at the festival, as we struggle in a very niche artform area in our own country, and are usually excluded from mainstream new media exhibitions” said Jenny Fraser.

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 filmmakers, 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.

artists Jason Davidson, with Native Canadian Dancer, Jenny Fraser and Michelle Blakeney

related articles:

2013 Mix of old and new adds dynamism to Indigenous art

2013 New media shines at Aboriginal Art event

2011 : 28th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award