Grassroots cultural exchange between western New South Wales and the Philippines

Two case studies involving Indigenous artists from the Philippines and the politics of transnational cultural exchange 

Lope Ged-ang Bosaing, Tinagtago, 2010, ash glaze stoneware and rattan weaving. Photo: Sean Cassidy

Globalisation is the defining character of the present world. It references the interconnectedness of nation states and communities of people. It is a highly contested arena of social science discourse. There are those that criticise it for its negative consequences; for example, commercialism. Those that favour it, often focus on positive social goods, such as democracy. But there are significant anomalies. The rise of Japan after the Second World War, modern China post-Mao, OPEC since the 1970s and India in the past two decades have not changed the West’s hegemony over the global cultural paradigm.

Even with their unparalleled powers, these economic powerhouses are ‘‘tied to an almost total absence of international cultural power’’.[1] For Japan, this asymmetry between enormous economic strength and absence of cultural influence has led to its ‘‘retreat and dependence on the West for cultural discourse’’.[2] Without belligerence for supremacy, the West still holds a pre-eminent position and influence over developments in this globalised cultural world.[3] This integration and the preponderance of one country, the United States, has never been seen at any other time in world history.

Edward Said once remarked that one of imperialism’s achievements was the integration of the world. We are now integrated economically, politically and culturally; and, with the spread of information technology, digitally as well. This global interdependence is so comprehensive that change in one part could significantly impact on other parts as exemplified by ‘‘Chaos theory’’. By way of example: in 2010, the impact of the Arab Spring reverberated around the world and influenced most of the recent political events in the Arab world. The 24-hour news cycle makes it difficult to escape the influence of a globalised world. Globalisation discourse has a prodigious history, not in the least foregrounded by development studies, particularly decolonisation in the 1960s, with the Frankfurt School, notably under Theodore Adorno, and reinvigorated by the World Bank protests in the 1980s.[4]

Imperialism has taken over the globalisation agenda more than two decades ago. This has significant consequences culturally. There is now a cultural world system. The power relationships between its parts parallel the centre-periphery concept of the Frankfurt School. Since the 1960s, museums, art centres, art institutions and national galleries have become part of an international art network. This is sustained by exchanges through art fairs, exhibitions, and competitions, biennials, and triennials. In addition, through these exchanges, large art organisations from the West ‘‘scavenge the world for production sites and market outlets’’ and to recruit new members to their stable of artists.[5]

Frederic Jameson argues that the world is in the third and last stage of capitalism, with the commodification of culture: ‘‘[A]esthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally ... [and] now assigns an increasing essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation’’.[6] At this neoliberal postmodernist juncture, a new form of labour – the production and dissemination of signs as the main source of surplus value is replacing the traditional manual labour form.[7]This new form of labour involves the production of art as well as information technology. Much of the production of this surplus value occurs in the ‘‘artistic periphery’’ of this globalised cultural world in low-income countries and a few high-income countries, such as Japan, Canada and Spain.[8]

The centre of this globalised cultural world is shared mainly by the US and Germany, with a few other rich European nations (UK, France, Italy and Switzerland). This duopoly sets the standards (to valorise cultural products and the certification of artists) for art production and marketing, and makes decisions as to which cultural products to promote and trade in the international art market. ‘‘There is a remarkable concordance in the rankings of the different countries as regards both the international institutions of contemporary art and the market’’.[9]

While there has been some recognition of artists from the periphery, the international art market is still largely controlled by the West and favours artists ‘‘living in the same space’’ at the centre of the duopoly zones. Even when it turns to non-traditional art forms for inspiration, it does nothing to address the imbalance in the false dichotomy between works of ‘‘art’’ and ‘‘outsider art’’.[10]

Scott Towney and Scott Turnbull, Winya Mirrway Garrangdang, 2014, work on paper and pyrography. Photo: Sean Cassidy

It is inconceivable in the immediate future that the disparity between the centre and the periphery will disappear. The West’s position in a globalised cultural world, centred on the US, is premised on its continued economic and military domination.[11] As long as this iteration of the capitalist mode of production provides a high enough margin of profit, it is unlikely to give up its privileged position in the global cultural power equation. China and India, particularly the former with its modern military, aggressive economic growth and increasing share in the international art market, are the two nation states most likely to displace US cultural domination.[12] Both of these countries have significantly progressed technologically and scientifically in the past several decades.

Despite hegemonic conditions, cultural exchange between communities still occurs and has intensified not only within nation states but also between nation states. Globalisation has made such exchanges possible as it has compromised the independent capacity of nation states to regulate economies, as well as cultural practices and flows.[13] More importantly, the current capitalist mode of production is composed of ‘‘both capitalist and a whole array of non-capitalist formations’’ that facilitate the subversion or bypassing of established cultural and artistic norms, and create opportunities for alternative forms of exchange previously inaccessible to marginal populations, including Indigenous groups.[14]

Following the emancipatory program of development studies in the 1960s and 1970s, cultural globalisation, which led to the weakening of the nation state’s capacity for identity attachment, provided the enabling context for the re-emergence or strengthening of Indigenous ethnicity.[15]Sarah Radcliffe’s work on Indigenous people in the Andes and transnationalism provides much insight into these alternative models.[16]For disadvantaged Indigenous peoples, these alternatives centred on culture or cultural boundaries are of particular resonance in reflection on contemporary economic, social and political conditions as well as art, also in relation to Indigenous politics of anti-colonialism.

In this environment, Indigenous groups are able to reframe their disadvantageous relationships with nation states that had prevented them from flourishing, and redefine their cultural projects not only inside the nation state but also with other nation states (transnationalism); thus giving practical expression to the localisation of the global and the globalisation of the local. Two cases below capture these alternative paradigms to those sanctioned by the main cultural loop.

The Indigenous Program and Cicada Press both positioned at the University of NSW Faculty of Art & Design coordinate printmaking workshops and residencies for emerging, community-based and nationally recognised artists. For the past eight years, these workshops have introduced Aboriginal artists to printmaking and helped those with some knowledge in developing their skills. These workshops and residencies are mostly self-funded. Depending on availability, some artists are offered free accommodation on campus.

Scott Towney, The Shawl, 2015, pyrography on possum pelt. Photo: Henry Garnock

Cicada Press provides access to a printmaking studio, equipment and the expertise of the Art and Design staff and students, including the resident master printmaker, Michael Kempson. These workshops and residencies have increased the Aboriginal presence on campus and this presence has afforded students and staff the opportunity to engage with emerging, established, and nationally renowned Aboriginal artists some of whom are not normally associated with a contemporary art school.

Over the years, Cicada Press has built a large Aboriginal print portfolio. In the past several years, some of these works have been exhibited at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia, the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec and at the British Museum in London. Exhibitions in North America have helped promote Australian Aboriginal artists and the program with First Nations peoples. Forthcoming exhibitions include the University of California (Davis) and the Museum for Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Since 2007, a group of Wiradjuri artists, non-Aboriginal artists and committed cultural workers in the central west of New South Wales have been engaged in a transnational art project with artists in the Philippines. This exchange program involves sharing historical experiences, undertaking joint exhibitions and art workshops. Wiradjuri artists are supported by local government, a regional charitable organisation, a social club, a film society, a business enterprise, schools, Wiradjuri language groups and Aboriginal Working Parties in the central west of New South Wales.

Philippine Indigenous Sagadan artists, many of whom are established and well-known in Southeast Asia, are assisted by the University of the Philippines, which provides venues for exhibitions, and some resources from Australian funders. The Australian Embassy has also been involved in facilitating exhibitions in Manila and Australia, as well as the visits to Australia by Sagadan artists and Wiradjuri artists to the Philippines.

Since 2012, the group has had joint exhibitions in Parkes, Sydney and Manila, and have participated in several NAIDOC celebrations in Australia and the Philippines. A forthcoming exhibition is scheduled for October 2015 at the University of the Philippines.

As productive examples, these successful programs of intercultural and transnational exchange represent our best chances at achieving a new globalised form (art) that is both humane and sensitive to the realities of a changing world.[17]


  1. ^ Edward Said, from his introduction to Culture and Imperialism, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991. 
  2. ^ Matsao Miyoshi, Off Center: Power and Culture Relations Between Japan and the United States, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press,1991, pp. 623–24.
  3. ^ Alain Quemin, ‘Globalization and Mixing in the Visual Arts: An Empirical Survey of "High Culture" and Globalization’, International Sociology, vol. 21:4, July 2006, pp. 522–50
  4. ^ ‘Globalization is often used as a code that stands for a tremendous diversity of issues and problems that serves as a front for a variety of theoretical and political positions’: refer to Douglas Kellner, ‘Globalization and the Postmodern Turn’: Also, Joel Anderson, ‘The Third ‘Generation’ of the Frankfurt School’, Intellectual History Newsletter 22, 2000. 
  5. ^ John Hannigan, ‘Culture, Globalization, and Social Cohesion: Toward a De-territorialized, Global Fluids’, Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 27, 2002, p. 280.
  6. ^ Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1991, pp. 4–5.
  7. ^ Irmgard Emmelhainz, ‘Art and the Cultural Turn: Farewell to Committed Autonomous Art?’, e-flux journal, no. 42, 2013. 
  8. ^ Alain Quemin, ‘Globalization and Mixing in the Visual Arts: An Empirical Survey of “High Culture” and Globalization’, International Sociology, 21, 2006, p. 543.  
  9. ^ Susanne Janseen, Giselinde Kuipers & Marc Verbood, ‘Cultural Globalization and Arts Journalism: The International Orientation of Arts and Culture Coverage in U.S., Dutch, French, and German Newspapers, 1955 to 2005’, American Sociological Review, 73:5, 2008, p. 541.
  10. ^ Robert Jackson, ‘Outsider Art: The art market’s “Cultural Capitalism” Moment’, Accessible Arts, 9 July 2013.
  11. ^ Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford University Press, 1991.
  12. ^ Luis U. Alfonso, ‘Ut oeconomia Pictura: How the Global Art Market is Changing the Dominant Canons’, International Journal of Arts, 2:6, 2012, pp. 53–59. 
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  14. ^ Arturo Escobar, ‘Culture Sits in Places: Reflections on Globalism and Subaltern Strategies of Localization’, Political Geography, 20, 2001, pp. 154–55.
  15. ^ M. Kearney, ‘The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 1995, p. 560.
  16. ^ Sarah Radcliffe, Nina Laurie & Robert Andolina, ‘Indigenous People and Political Transnationalism: Globalization From Below Meets Globalization From Above’, paper presented to the Transnational Community Programme seminar, School of Geography, University of Oxford, 28 February 2002.
  17. ^ John Hannigan, Culture, Globalization, and Social Cohesion: Toward a De-territorialized, Global Fluids Model’, Canadian Journal of Communication, 27, 2002, p. 281.

Ruben Allas is an independent art reviewer and critic and has presented papers at various national and international conferences. He has an MA in Social Policy (RMIT) and has worked in Aboriginal affairs in the areas of social and criminal justice, children’s welfare, employment, and housing. Ruben taught at the University of the Philippines (Manila) for over ten years, where he was involved in social justice and human rights campaigns.