LIN Yu-Shih, Independent art curator; art critic; theatre/dance critic
Jacob BOEHME, Creative Director/YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival
Moana Marie MANIAPOTO, Musician, documentary filmmaker, writer; Leader, Moana & the Tribe
First I would like to introduce the two aboriginal speakers from overseas. Jacob Boehme from Melbourne, Australia, who is the creator of the YIRRAMBOI Festival, Melbourne’s premier biennial First Nations Art Festival. This year he will bring artists to Taiwan to participate in the Pulima Festival, which is a Taiwanese aboriginal modern arts festival; and next year Taiwanese indigenous artists will visit and perform in Australia. The second speaker is Māori musician Moana Maniapoto from New Zealand. She has visited Taiwan several times and has collaborated with Tayal singer Inka Mbing. The two talked about the history of themselves and their people, and their creation experiences as artists. During this visit, Maniapoto also met briefly with Panai Kusui.
Now I would like to talk about the background and development of contemporary Taiwanese indigenous art after 1990. Boehme shared a new hashtag with me yesterday: “Nothing about us without us.” The current state of all indigenous people is all connected to colonialism and colonial history (“Nothing about indigenous without colonialism”), and their current life and art history are also closely affected by colonial history.
The images of the aboriginal body in history are usually made/photographed by foreigners or non-indigenous people. For example, the women from Pingpu Tribe were photographed by French diplomat Camille Imbault-Huart. In the 20th century during the period of Japanese rule, colonizers used images to show how they can control the colonized people. When the Taiwanese society has positive impressions of indigenous people, it is still a perspective that originates from a non-indigenous point of view. An example would be when indigenous singer A-mei and 2017 Universiade sprinting medalist Yang Chun-han make the news, only then does the media promote them as the “pride of Taiwan.”
The early presentation of aboriginal bodies in art was through the eyes of non-indigenous and Han people, such as Yang San-Lang, Yen Shui-Long, and Lin Zi-Qin. Their works were usually a romanticized version of the indigenous from the perspective of the Han people. Up to this point, the bodies of indigenous people still did not belong to themselves, but were interpreted by the mainstream society, government, or Han ideologies. I consider the period before 1991 as the “indigenous traditional material culture” period. Indigenous pieces were not recognized as artwork but considered as “artifacts.” The actual beginning of contemporary indigenous art history would be the year 1991, right after the indigenous social movements in the 1980s. In 1991, Lions Gallery held an exhibition of Hagu's (the 69th chief of Kasavakan Tribe) works, titled "The Dignity of the Leader." This is a great step forward for Taiwanese indigenous art as this exhibition carried two significant meanings: the identity of the artist is publicly known, and this artist is also a chief, who traditionally shoulders the responsibility of passing on the past to the next generation.
In 2000, I managed to set up Taiwan’s first art space which focuses on modern indigenous art in Taitung – the Taiwan Aboriginal Modern Art Center. Although we had the space for less than a year, I still held a couple of exhibitions there, including “Crossing the Rainbow,” a photography exhibition by a Rukai photographer who took pictures of 80-to 90-year-old Tayal elders with facial markings; “The Shalao Giant and the Little Water Ghost” which is about the culture of A'tolan Tribe; and “The Golden Age,” which is a collaboration with an Orchid Island artist on nuclear waste issues.
In the works done between 1990 and 2018, images of the aboriginal body changed rapidly. Many indigenous artists emerged during this period, including Sakuliu Pavavalung from the prominent artist family. His work “The Beam of Culture” (1998) discussed the challenges indigenous people, tribes and traditions face in the transition to modern society; Amis artist Roby Swana used drift wood to make an installation art piece depicting Tao women dancing their tribal Hair Dance; and Arucanglj, an artist suffering from cerebral palsy, did a dance piece “Djalan” in which he presents images and movements made by his body.
In 2009, Academia Sinica researcher Tsai Yu-Yueh published the book Mental Disorder of the Tao Aboriginal Minority in Taiwan: Modernity, Social Change, and the Origin of Social Suffering. The book describes the “sandwiched generation” of indigenous people as the group most susceptible to mental disorder, since they witnessed the ancient social order and structure of their tribe collapse, and are sandwiched between two different generations: their parents who speak fluent tribal languages and their children who only speak Mandarin Chinese. Consequently, the sandwiched generation has lost their self-identity. On the other hand, however, I would suggest that this impact also forced indigenous artists born in the 1950s and active during the 1980s and 1990s to create new artistic languages and areas. This generation experienced dissociation and dispersion. They suffer, therefore they wander. These themes are also issues I wanted to explore and discuss in the later exhibitions I curated, including “The Disassociation and Reunion with Ancestral Spirits” (2005), “The Docking and Wandering in My Life” (2001), and “The Mark of the Ocean” (2004).
Between 1996 and 2005, major indigenous artists were almost all male, and usually presented works with collective representations, some examples include works by Hagu (“Large Phallus Figure”, 1996), Rahic Talif, and Fachugu (“Theater Costume”, 1997). But with the movement of aboriginal culture renaissance and the trends of modern arts, we see changes: the artists are shifting from a collective representation perspective to a more personal, individual experience of the body and life/ spirit. Some examples include the artists Baliwags (“Two Friends Chatting Under in the Moonlight”, 2004), Eleng Luluan, and Arucanglj in the performance piece “Djalan” which he displays a body of an individual with cerebral palsy. The image he projected is very different from the strong, athletic body image of an indigenous male the public is accustomed to.
I paid respects to and greet the elders and aboriginal people in the room. I am a multi-disciplinary artist in dance, theatre, and puppetry, and the creative director of YIRRAMBOI, Melbourne's premier biennial international First Nations Arts Festival. I come from the Narangga and Kaurna Nations in southern Australia, which is the world's oldest living culture from aboriginal Australians who have been on the continent for over 70,000 years with over 70,000 years of cultural and creative practice. Nevertheless, in the early 1800s, our bodies were used to entertain the elite of Europe and North America, our culture, songs and dances tantalized audiences world over as travelling circus troupes or exhibits, satisfying the curiosity of European minds who wanted closer yet safe encounters with the exotic, the native, and the other.
Unfortunately, in 2018, not much has changed. Leaders in the arts and culture sector are made up of mostly non-indigenous people. I have to point out that this phenomenon is not only present in Australia, but world-wide. For example, when I was here in Taiwan, I was not once introduced to a single indigenous director or curator of a major venue. This would affect the kinds of works that are being commissioned, made, and presented, since the works need to suit the interest, politics, and education of the non-indigenous director and audiences. Non-indigenous directors still have all the power and recourses to dictate all the systems they work in, they determine what is excellent and control all performing arts venues aboriginal artists can work in. Aboriginal stories are created by non-aboriginal people with the excuse that there need to be non-aboriginal interference for the work to be of any value.
Thus the YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival was born. We aboriginal artists are countering the problem by embodying their traditional values and customs in the business of presenting contemporary First Nations arts. YIRRAMBOI means “tomorrow” in the local aboriginal language of Melbourne. When our cousins around the world come together, they bring the past, the colonial past with them in their bodies; they also dream and plan their future. So they present the continuous cultures and diverse contemporary practice of First Nations artists from around the world. Last year, there were artists from New Zealand, Taiwan, Wales, Africa, Canada, US, the Pacific islands and so on.
YIRRAMBOI is guided by four key principles:
1) Indigenous Leadership: We don't present anything unless it has indigenous creators at the helm of the show. No works directed or written by non-indigenous artists.
2) New Work: We present new works. Cultural or traditional practices are conducted privately. Non-indigenous people are not invited to these events, because our culture and traditions are private and not for commercial consumption.
3) Visibility & Dialogue: The means to promote visibility and dialogue around our work are led by indigenous people.
4) International Collaboration: The festival seeks international collaboration because we can achieve much more when we work as one unity.
Some key programs which show how we embody their values and traditions:
1) Elders Council: The festival is governed by an Elders’ Council with representatives from all the tribes and nations of Melbourne. Every programming decision made are endorsed, advocated and approved by elders.
2) Elders Lounge: A way to show respect to elders. There are special places for elders in all performance venues where younger generations learn to serve the elders first. Elders go into venues first, and leave first.
3) The History Salon: Honoring the elders throughout the year. New generations of artists may be not aware of the political struggles that had happened or the histories of the elders that paved the way to make our opportunities possible. Every month we invite an elder from the arts to come and sit down to share their experiences for about an hour. This honors the culture of valuing the elders because they are the keepers of knowledge.
There are also two programs for indigenous visibility and dialogue:
1) Dhumba Wiiny ("fire talk" or "to talk with fire"): A critical response model for viewing indigenous work. The program train indigenous artists to lead a discussion with audiences about how to retrain your brain, or how to think and create meaning to the work, and how to offer constructive analyses of art.
2) Blak Critics: Since reviews of indigenous work are always done by non-indigenous critics, this program trains aboriginal critics on indigenous arts, and they only publish aboriginal critiques on aboriginal work.
Having no aboriginal venues or venues run by aboriginal people is a problem many Australian indigenous artists face. It is hard for high-quality artists to get in the venues because of the tastes of non-indigenous presenters. So indigenous artists take to the streets. We take art to the streets and the people. This day-long program is called Barring Yanabul. Last year the program commissioned 38 new works to take place in the streets, rooftops and secret spaces all around Melbourne. When the artists are out in the streets, people cannot say they did not see us.
Another program is Weelam Ngalut, "our place", where the artists take over venues and present experimental works from all around the world. In addition, all staff at the venue are aboriginal people. In Australia, non-indigenous presenters complain they can't get aboriginal audiences into their venues; but at Weelam Ngalut, 60% were paying aboriginal audiences. So it shows that if you put aboriginal people in leadership roles, other aboriginal community will respect that and come.
We also have a key program called KIN, an artist development network. It is currently going through a transition (2019 – 2021) to become a new work commissioning festival, and will commission works from international First Nations artists through KIN Commissions. This time we funded six Australian aboriginal artists to create whatever work they want to. It is 100% risk, the artists have free reign, and there is no non-aboriginal interference.
In 2019, YIRRAMBOI has a focus on Taiwan. TAI Body Theater visited us last year to present their work, and this year we are collaborating with the Pulima Festival. So this November we will present a small collection of Australian aboriginal works at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, and Pulima is curating a selection of Taiwanese indigenous artists to come and take over Weelam Ngalut next year.
I so want to go to that festival! My song is a greeting to your mountains, rivers, elders, and all. The people in Aotearoa never ask, "what do you do?" or "what is your name?", instead, they say "where are you from?" It's more important for us to know where people are from, the tribes, the bloodlines, and the ancestral link.
The 18th century for the Māori people represented invasion and conflict. The British came for land, and once you take people away from their land, the structure that used to hold communities together start to break down. There was much resistance for many years, but during the 1970s, a global uprising of First Nations peoples in the US and Europe inspired Māori and pacific activists to fight for their rights. Māori people fought to reclaim their language, culture, land, power and sovereignty. I want to stress that the movement has always been an ongoing struggle in many forms; it just got more media attention and publicity in the 1970s.
When I traveled to Taroko, I saw photographs of people who looked like their elders, because the Taroko elders also had the "moko" (facial markings). Recently the Māori moko has made a resurgence. A government, a cabinet minister and one of our judges wear their mokos with pride. This is a very exciting development, as it is a part of the Māori people reclaiming our culture and identity. I mention this because I want to emphasise the connection between Māori and our cousins here in Taiwan, and how traditions inspire new artistic works that takes aboriginal or indigenous culture out of the heritage space and into contemporary works. For example, choreographer Moss Patterson from the Atamira Dance Company has a piece, “MOKO”, which is inspired by the facial markings of moko. Patterson is now collaborating with Paiwan choreographer Bulareyuang to present a stage performance at the Museum of Contemporary Arts.
Māori are reclaiming our stories and cultivating our own directors and story tellers who share stories that resonate around the world. In the film industry, six out of the ten New Zealand-made box office hits have Māori content, and three of them are by Māori directors. The works include comedy, ghost stories, etc. and are very diverse. One of our Māori directors is now globally known: Taika Waititi, who directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
In music, there is a trend of bilingualism (Maori/ English) and diverse genres. For some of us, the music style in New Zealand is built on artivism, that is mixing arts with activism, and the trend has been picked up by the younger generation. In addition to traditional Māori music, the Māori music scene now showcases diverse styles (traditional haka, heavy metal, pop, hip-hop, boy band, reggae-inspired). I myself fuse various Māori elements into my music and videos to make s statement of "We are here. We are not invisible.” I also want to remind the Māori people: look how beautiful we are.
The arts cannot exist in isolation from the politics. For Māori, as Boehme said, "Nothing about us without us". New Zealand has developed strategies to include strong Māori representation in the government: in every ministry there are Māori strategies led by Maori people. It is an arduous road to address the lack of visibility of indigenous people, but we are seeing results. The aboriginal arts reflect the results of a series of language and culture revitalisation strategies which include a Māori TV channel, Māori tribal radio stations and funding to produce Māori music and film. This all helps support the composition and creation of the arts. In fact, around 20% of the younger generation (under 24 years) speaks Maori or are bilingual, as they are brought up speaking the language.
Now I would like to talk to you about my band, Moana & the Tribe. For me, the most exciting aspect of creating music is the mixing of genres to create new sounds and styles, such as meshing traditional style haka performances with hip hop. Another is cross-cultural collaborations. The idea is to not simply keep the aboriginal arts in a heritage space but bring them together with contemporary arts. Let’s not just retell about old traditional stories, but share stories about what it is like to be an indigenous person in 2018.
In addition to taking part in the Boomerang project (a cross genre, cross cultural, bilingual artivism project), I am also part of a development project that mentors and provides cross cultural exchange opportunities between indigenous Taiwanese and Māori people. It offers opportunities to bring more people into the film industry, by creating intensive workshops that will inspire stories by, for, and about indigenous people.
Another project I am working on is ONO, ONO means “six” in Maori. It is a multi-disciplinary project which includes an album, film, and live concert showcase. ONO will present the voices, languages and cultures of six indigenous female artists from countries around the world: six women singing six songs from six nations in six languages. This collaboration also features Tayal musician Inka Mbing from Taiwan. Indigenous cultures continue to draw inspiration from each other and share a world view which there is constant communication between the human, spiritual and natural worlds to ensure balance. ONO is about connecting all people to an aboriginal world view that will benefit us all and maintain the balance.
Q1. Singaporean curator Seng Yu Jin:
How do we decolonize museums in terms of building collections, doing research and writing about art histories? How can we construct different ways of thinking or present different perspectives that are not euro-centric or western-centric?
My idea of decolonization comes from an institutional point of view, that there should be space for aboriginal artists to be the authors of their own future. For example, Australia is pushing for having aboriginal curators in the museums that are in charge of exhibitions, collection and preservation. DhumbaWiiny offers a simple model with five questions that are designed very specifically (and quite challenging) that take audiences out of value-judging from whatever perspective they come from, and to talk about the work without value-judgments. Blak Critics is also a way to re-frame the history model. The programs started two years ago and have become quite successful. However, academic discussion in decolonization can get people bogged down in inaction, but decolonizing requires practical solutions that are action-based.
In New Zealand, the governance structures relating to indigenous people drops down to management and curators, so there is a clear line of accountability and input at the highest level. There will not be a museum where there is no active participation of indigenous people in the decision making process, even if it’s not yet ideal. Museums also have to be aware of which tribal region the museum is in because they need to develop a relationship with those particular people. So, it’s not a blanket "any Māori will do" mindset. And since it is the structure of governance and management that dictate policies and strategies, when an individual champion leaves, the whole project does not fall apart.
Both artists mentioned the concept of “visibility,” which is very important. Currently in Taiwan, indigenous people are still treated as a minority, or as “a group of people who have to be treated differently.” However, all rights have to be fought for, and history has to be revised. In the past, only the history of Han people, or the parts that were approved and accepted by the ruling power were visible, and those of the indigenous people were forgotten. So I encourage more feedback and responses from indigenous friends so that we can revise the discourse of history together.
Q2. Singaporean curator Tang Fu-kuen:
How do you define “authentic” traditional indigenous culture and arts? How can traditions transition into the modern digital world? Furthermore, the term “indigenous” is actually a blanket term. As a producer, how do you deal with the cultural differences between tribes and reach an agreement?
Australian aboriginal art and creativity predates pretty much every other written history we have now. How we look at excellence in contemporary aboriginal art is how well artists are taking their ancient methodologies and dramaturgies, which come from traditional ceremony, into the 21st century. For internal differences, there are 300 indigenous languages in Australia, and each group has their own traits and customs, creation stories, etc. However, all of us share similar culture values which all boil down to respect: respect for the country, for elders, for each other, for generosity, kindness, and reciprocation. Globally, that is how indigenous people connect from nation to nation. In Australia, the indigenous people already have permission to go forward into the future. It is a given that the new generation has to adapt since that is how the aboriginals have survived for thousands of years with their culture and traditions intact. Because ceremony is only relevant to its people when it is contemporary, when it speaks to who you are now, like art should. When I assign a job, it is not about me as an individual, but about my community and about succession. When I move forward, I am also looking behind, because my job right now is to make the world/ situation better, so the next person who sits in my seat doesn't have to answer the same questions.
The challenge now is to let people understand that indigenous culture exist outside of museums, to acknowledge that aboriginal people are still living and breathing. We are all still in a state of colonization, so curators should think about how to create a space for indigenous people to work alongside them. It's exciting now because we have more champions from white New Zealand (Pākehā New Zealand) as well. Thanks to their support, the Māori continue the fight to reclaim their land, develop education and health programs, and keep on fighting for their rights. The Māori identity is strong. We know who we are, where we came from, and we have a global view. Those Pākehā that are the most liberated are those that know their identity in New Zealand is tied up with the Māori identity, and they become champions. They are not defensive and are creating space. We need to all come together with the collective mindset, "the we;" and from my experience, the values that come from indigenous people provide many answers for us in this highly globalized world.