Last week, I was standing in front of a man called Daryl who has lived in the Campbelltown suburb of Minto for 20 years. I saw him dance some of the story of his life.
Last week, I was standing in front of a man called Daryl who has lived in the Campbelltown suburb of Minto for 20 years. I saw him dance some of the story of his life. It was Daryl's story about being innately connected to a place. It was about how he saw his role of welcoming a new community into his suburb, about the emotion of change and connection. It was me Lisa there watching Daryl dance.
Daryl did not dance alone. Along a route through Minto’s suburban streets he was joined by his neighbours - Ivan, Jasmin, Judi, Jaspal, Kay, Skye – to name just a few. They were a part of Street Dance by artists by UK artists Lone Twin, commissioned for Campbelltown Arts Centre and Sydney Festival’s "Minto:Live", a program that brought together a collection of Australian and international artists to Minto under the curatorial direction of Rosie Dennis to engage with the shifting cultural demographic of the suburb. Looking around at Daryl’s neighbours, the artists and audience that had come to Minto had roots from across Australia, South-East Asia and abroad. Belgian artist Gwendolin Robin’s breathtakingly short performances last only the length of a firecracker fuse but create a spectacular shared moment (see cover image). It was a gathering of individuals that together articulated complex, multiple and shifting cultural affiliations.
Our identity as individuals and how we connect with new places, as we move from one culture or geographic location to another, is deeply personal. The way that we think about the idea of diaspora and cultural diversity in Australia on the other hand tends to be statistical and political. I can tell you for certain that in 2010 141,442 people settled permanently in Australia. I can tell you that the number of people coming from South-East Asia increased last year by 166%. The emergence of narrative, community engaged, collaborative and interdisciplinary practices by arts institutions and practitioners challenge, reflect and engage with demographic changes in a new way. This edition of “Artlink” focuses on the voices of such institutions and practitioners, on structures that are capable of elaborating meaning rather than defining it.
The word Diaspora was originally used to describe the forced dispersal and displacement of the Jewish, Armenian and Greek peoples. In his seminal article on the subject James Clifford defined the main characteristics of Diaspora as incorporating a history of dispersal, myths and memories of homeland and alienation in a host country, a desire for eventual return, ongoing support and collective identity.1 More recently Anh Hua argued that the term was useful to study the social world resulting from displacement, flight, exile and forced migration, enabling us to reconfigure the relationship between citizens’ nation states and national narratology.2
The cultural and demographic change that is happening in the Campbelltown suburb of Minto reflects what is happening not only around the country but across the world. Heightened social, economic and political inter-connectedness across suburbs, across national borders and cultures enable individuals to sustain multiple identities and loyalties, to create new cultural products using elements from a variety of settings, to exercise multiple political and civic memberships. For individuals, living a diasporic experience is a dynamic tension between living here and remembering there, between the metaphorical and physical home. This experience is rich context for the development of contemporary visual artists in Australia. There is strongly emerging practice from artists and producing arts institutions in Australia to create works that are interdisciplinary, intercultural, collaborative, process-based and rich with context and connectivity. As Salman Rushdie writes it is the 'journey that creates us’ as we ‘become the frontiers that we cross’3.
Lisa Havilah specialises in the intersection between contemporary art and community engagement. As the Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre from 2004 to 2011 she directed multidisciplinary contemporary arts programs including “C’Town Bling”, 2005; “News from Islands”, 2007; “Sunshine State: Smart State”, 2007; “Ai Weiwei: Under Construction”, 2008, and “Edge of Elsewhere”. She is now Director of Carriageworks in Sydney.
1 James Clifford, “Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century”, Harvard University Press 1997.
2 Anh Hua, ‘Diaspora and Cultural Memory’ in “Diaspora, Memory and Identity, A Search for Home” Vijay Agnew (Ed) University of Toronto Press 2005, p191.
3 Salman Rushdie, East West Vintage Press Toronto 1996.