politics and culture

Like many people, I am horrified by the new world order that is being created by the current administration in the United States.

This is not to say that there aren’t injustices going on all over the world and in my own country.

This is, though, a wake-up call to pay attention to those who deliberately make rules for others based on their own pecuniary interests and prejudices. This is the ground being broken for something worse. This is hatred writ large, being disguised as a means of keeping people safe and protecting their rights to be white and privileged. This is a time for pushback.

Those of us who have read history, and heard the stories of those whose families fled for their lives, or indeed lost them, in the wake of fascist regimes cannot help but be horrified at the patterns we are seeing.

And it’s not just Trump we need to worry about. It is the coterie of mostly men who surround him. They are the ones who have agreed to join this unholy game. They are the ones who are putting themselves in greater positions of power to implement fearful ideologies at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. They are the ones who know exactly how to play a game of divide and conquer, shocking us into paying attention to their latest grenade and behind the scenes implementing more sinister moves.

We can’t all do everything. This is a battle to be waged on many fronts.

What I can do is give thought (and then action) as to how I can add to the resistance. This is the start of my list, my small contribution to a bigger pool.

1  In the year to March 2016, 1.01 million Australians visited the USA. I was one of them. I will not travel to the United States of America again until such time as this administration begins to understand and implement its own Constitution. As part of this action, I will inform the airlines I would normally choose to fly with, and continue to encourage others to consider this action.  #boycotttravelusa

2  I will pay attention to the products I buy and the companies whose services I use in the context of their response to the hatred.

3  I will write to and call Australian politicians who are either being silent or mealy-mouthed about the politics of hate and discrimination, and how it impacts our own citizens and their families.

Emil Cioran (1911-1995) was a Philosophy graduate from the University of Bucharest in Romania. Were it not for a visit to Portugal’s Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, I would never have known of him or this small piece of his. Cioran lived in Paris from 1937 and wrote his work in the Romanian and French languages.

Jose Thomas Brum is a Brazilian who translated Cioran’s work into Portuguese. Consequently, this English translation of an excerpt from Cioran’s O Livro das Illusoes (The Book of Delusion) feels a little clunky and yet this transcription, on the wall of the Museum accompanied by the photograph below, struck a chord.

To detach yourself elegantly from the world; to give contour and grace to sadness; a solitude in style; a walk that gives cadence to memories; stepping towards the intangible; with the breath in the trembling margins of things; the past reborn in the overflow of fragrances; the smell, through which we conquer time; the contour of the invisible things; the forms of the immaterial; to deepen yourself in the intangible; to touch the world airborne by smell; aerial dialogue and gliding dissolution; to breath in your own reflecting fragmentation.

Emil Cioran - O Livro das Ilusoes

A short place marker of a post to note that we visited Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in the past couple of days. The Henry Ford story is a complex one. I’m still processing the impressions I took away from both places.

Notwithstanding the above, nearly 60 years ago, Rosa Parks rode in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and made history. On this day I got to sit in that bus and soak up the spirit of her courage and the stand that she made that day.

Henry Ford Museum 2Rosa Parks bus - Henry Ford Museum



If you squint a little, it’s easy to take yourself back to the seventies. A time when the refectory was one large room and tables and chairs could be moved to accommodate the conversation’s shifting numbers. Where a cafeteria and a French crepe cafe fed the masses without the need for branded fast food and juices.

Where the cinema teasingly screened multiple films each day. If there had been a subject called Film Studies in those days, I’d have academic honours to burn.

Refectory precinct UQ - July 2014 - Ancient Canvas Effect FX

The sandstone origins of the campus remain central. It’s easy to find the library building and remember frantic studying for end-of-year exams. To remember news of the dismissal of a Prime Minister coming through the loudspeaker system and a rush of bodies heading to the streets to protest.

Library Building UQ - July 2014 - Lindale effect FX

The walk, sometimes run, through the courtyard to the Michie Building and favourite English tutorials with an always stimulating radical feminist who is now the Head of School.

Walk to courtyard - UQ July 2014 - Ancient Canvas effect

Michie Building - UQ  July 2014 - Ancient Canvas FX

The graduation hall, where an Arts graduate wondered what came next, is now the University’s Art Museum.

Old Mayne Hall - UQ July 2014 - Ancient Canvas

Entry UQ Art Museum - July 2014

If you squint a little …….

Last week on the ABC panel program Q & A, Arrernte elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks responded in the most eloquent and dignified way when another panelist touted assimilation as a solution to ‘the Aboriginal problem’.  Actions in the name of assimilation have inflicted much pain and anguish on the first persons of Australia, none the least of which were those of the Stolen Generation.

You know, I have a culture. I am a cultured person. I am not something that fell out of the sky for the pleasure of somebody putting another culture into this cultured being. John shows what is an ongoing denial of me. I am not an Aboriginal or indeed, indigenous. I am Arrernte, Alyawarre, First Nations person, a sovereign person from this country.

I didn’t come from overseas. I came from here. My language, in spite of whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists. i am alive, I am here and now, and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem.

I have never left my country nor have I ceded any part of it. Nobody has entered into a treaty or talked to me about who I am.

I am Arrernte, Alyawarre, female elder from this country. Please remember that.

I am not the problem.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks


I’m still catching up with some of the Hobart highlights from our Christmas-New Year break.

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery recently underwent an extensive redevelopment including the opening up the old Bond Store as a gallery.  This renovated space provides an atmospheric palette for a myriad of stories and objects relating to Tasmania’s natural and social history.

The stories of the first peoples of lutruwita (now known as Tasmania) are told in both the ningina tunapri gallery and the Parrawa, Parrawa! exhibit which includes stories of the 19th century invasion in the form of short dramatised films projected through the darkness onto the walls of the store.

The curators make good use of audio-visual material throughout the gallery including old lantern slides. The one included here points to one of the introduced European agricultural methods, honey bees.

TMAG - Old Bond Store

TMAG - Bond Store storemen graffitiTMAG - bee hive slide

One of the quirky objects is this re-created model of a wombat standing on its hind legs in a bear-like stance. The first taxidermist to work on a wombat lived in England and was unfamiliar with their four-legged stance, thus he stuffed it in more ways than one.

Wombat taxidermy

Martin Sharp - Eternity - Haymarket via SMHWith the sad passing of artist Martin Sharp this week, it’s time to salute his art, his love of Eternity and his contribution to Oz magazine.

In February 1964, the authorities got their togas in a tangle over the front page of the satirical magazine Oz’s edition number 6 as a sculpture by Tom Bass was portrayed as a public urinal. (photo via Wikipedia). The Canberra Times of 27 February 1965 reported the successful appeal of the three men to their convictions and prison sentences. 

Oz_magazine_Issue_6_Feb_1964 Oz vindicated - Canberra Times 1965

In March this year, The Australian’s Arts section interviewed Richard Neville and Richard Walsh to remember when the editorial trio, that included Martin Sharp, pushed the boundaries in an age when Australia wasn’t quite up to the shocks to its sensibilities.

Vale Martin Sharp.

“Cheesed off” is not strong enough to describe how I’ve been feeling about the state of Australian politics, particularly as this election approaches.

I’m disenchanted with the two major political parties. They will not get my vote in the future unless and until:

  • they stop feeding on people’s fears and prejudices about asylum seekers and setting up unacceptable inhumane processes in the name of Australia
  • they begin to work in a partisan fashion on all issues – don’t just give us words about a kinder, fairer parliament, show us how it’s done
  • they act on climate change, with visionary targets
  • they represent the community, not vested interests (I know that’s a big one!)
  • they show leadership on job creation
  • they support the majority view on marriage equality
  • they value inclusiveness and diversity and opportunity for ALL Australians to achieve their goals
  • they support the arts and creativity – these may be what save us from losing our soul altogether
  • they bring us with them – visionary leaders make caring communities

I don’t believe that the minority government was a bad thing. And much as I was disappointed in Prime Minister Gillard’s approach to many issues, there is no doubt that she demonstrated how to work with people across all political spectrums to deliver an impressive amount of positive legislation such as The National Disability Insurance Scheme and reforms to education funding. And all this in an environment where she was being white-anted inside and outside her own political party.

Independent Members of Parliament such as Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott represented how it is possible to contribute constructively to policy in a respectful and polite way. They will be missed in the next Parliament.

I’ve expressed my frustration in face-to-face and social media conversations. I’m clearly not alone.  One response in those interactions went thus:

I’ve struggled with this election too, and could easily opt out of voting. …………… But I know of too many people (especially women) who have fought for the right to vote, who queue, not for hours, but for days, to cast a vote.

So, in a serious conversation with myself, that started with “You can’t throw away your vote / vote informal / not make an effort to turn up while traveling in remote areas”, I decided to go to the policies using this tool provided by our very own ABC.  If you haven’t already done so, head over here to Vote Compass to get a sense of where your views match with current policies as publicised by the parties.

This is how it worked out for me.  I cast my vote yesterday.

Vote Compass ABCAnd after the election? I reckon we have to get better at being active encouragers of our representatives to be respectful, humane and compassionate representatives with the common good in mind.

It’s our responsibility to be active constituents in our own communities. There are many examples of concerted community efforts changing decisions and the direction of policy. Hope without action doesn’t quite cut it.

The release of a National Cultural Policy – Creative Australia has much going for it.  I like what I’m reading and hearing – particularly this statement. The link takes you through to more information about the policy and its intent.

Creative Australia imageCreative Australia is informed by the belief that a creative nation is a productive nation in the fullest sense of the word – empathic, respectful, imaginative, industrious, adaptive, open and successful.

I fear that there is no time for this to get traction in the space between now and the September election.

I hope that it and the principles the policy espouses get to see the light of day.

As art galleries go, MONA is different.  She’s a little underground. She’s dark and a little bit naughty. She’ll expose herself and her inner workings to you like no other of her kind has done before. She is an experience that keeps on giving.

You can record your visit with her using the O, an iPod filled with information and opinions and a system that tracks your movement about her.  Afterwards, you can retrieve your tour of her – where you went, all the parts you loved and, tantalisingly, all the bits you missed.

The total approach to The Museum of Old and New Art makes you dig deep.  Metaphorically and literally.  You go down into the earth and find yourself surrounded by towering walls of hewn sandstone playing host to a bar.  Julius Popp’s amazing Bit.Fall takes your breath away with its magically lit pulsing water words.  No wall plaques. No categories of objects forced together. Quirky, fun, shocking – all of the above.

MONA is big and brash. She’s everything you’ve never experienced in an art gallery before.  She is the amazing creation of David Walsh and his architect Nonda Katsalidis and many gifted curators.  Get thee to Hobart and plan to spend some time with her.