Earlier this year, I came across an exciting invitation to become a guest curator at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith.
The project brief described an innovative idea to design a series of workshops and a community gathering around a Long Table, designed as a new feature of the atrium. The curator would be working in collaboration with key peoples at The Joan including Penrith City Council and Nepean Local Heath District, Population and Health.
What is it about this ‘Long Table’ project that ignited my imagination?
This offering is a significant creative strategy for a performing arts complex in the heart of the western Sydney. I immediately recognised the proposal held a premise of authenticity, as an arts project grounded in cultural respect.
In a society where cultural specificity is regrettably often overlooked, it was a delight to come across an opportunity for Dharug people to take the lead in a cultural program on Country.
I could see that the project would be an opportunity to create a sense of connectivity in a culturally safe space. A space where arts and culture could come together and Dharug people could create ‘as’ Country.
My immediate reaction was to jump at the opportunity to apply for the role. However, from cultural perspective, I felt it was important to ‘watch this space’.
We live in fast paced world where things happen quickly. As an alternative, I find allowing time enables valuable collaborations to emerge and this is a good foundation for any type of cultural event.
In the Dharug community many are highly engaged in reparations of our language and material culture.
We participate at cultural camps, act as museum curators and consultants for heritage projects, we create public art projects, teach and are enrolled in higher degree research and more. We are living together as Dharug, growing families as well as helping each other to grow.
As it happens, proactive people are often the ones called upon to carry out numerous responsibilities simultaneously. Fortunately, I am currently in apposition to take on this project. However, I do not take the responsibility to represent my community lightly.
It is very important that the processes leading up to an important project such as this are grounded in consultation and support. These are the foundations of connectivity for Dharug Peoples. After a few community conversations and good feedback from the Joan, I began to imagine I could bring this cultural project to life.
When asked about my process for selecting hosts to conduct creative workshops, it is important to say that I have been the receiver of my amazing opportunities for self-development in recent years.
As such, it is a high priority to reciprocate this giving. Knowing that all of the workshops and public programming will be supported by myself and Nathan Mudyi Sentance as curators, as well as associated staff at the Joan, the workshop hosts are enthusiastic.
Together we have discussed the potential for people to work collaboratively in the process of sharing creative skills and values. The workshops are designed as a coming together to yarn and make, no matter the skill level, age or gender.
In this way we are utilising the Long Table to demonstrate our traditional ways of connectivity, which is an authentic ethos for First Nations peoples.
We will be experimenting in the process of creating weavings by blending a variety of naturally harvested materials, contemporary fibres and interesting objects. These will then be connected together to form a unique and meaningful installation for the atrium foyer of the Joan.
As curators it is our aim to echo the performative aspect of the facility by introducing a cultural dance workshop to the programming. This workshop is an opportunity for people to engage in traditional dance, particularly people who haven’t had the opportunity to dance in the past.
As part of the project it is also important to facilitate an exchange of ideas, knowledges, skills and values with the broader community. This will be achieved through public programming including a curator talk and a traditional storying and tools display. At the end on the month-long series of activities we hold a gathering.
This will be an opportunity for a traditional welcome to Country, and a time to view the installation and a performance of the dance. In this way we can celebrate the positive outcomes for all and reveal the true values of Muru yuu Yura, pathways and people’s connectivity as a community.