The more you engage with the Australian Arts Sector, across its varied disciplines, one thing becomes apparent‒its achingly White. Aside from the anecdotal evidence that has informed many generations of artists entering the industry, an increasing wealth of quantitative data has been published over the years highlighting the lack of accurate representation in our industry. From the heads of arts institutions across the country to the creatives on and behind our stages, screens and gallery walls, the marked lack of artists from “Culturally and Linguistically Diverse” groups is disconcerting. In response to this, and an increased demand from audiences for considered portrayals of our world, there has been an increase in initiatives and programs set to rectify this imbalance. Complementary to this, Communities of Colour have taken it upon themselves to create their own reflections and carve out the spaces that are so lacking across Australia’s cultural landscape. One such venture is Art in Colour, a six-part documentary web series created by the Melbourne-based collective: For the Love of Good. We sat down with some of the featured artists in the series and talked about the realities of working in the creative industries and what their hopes were for the documentary.
Multidisciplinary artist developing spaces and projects for PoC and First Nations people in Victoria
To be able to highlight and push the conversation about how People of Colour represent themselves, their communities and cultures within the arts is one way forward to breaking down the barriers between mainstream and the community arts sectors.
A prime example of this is the “everyday-token barrier” that makes you conflicted with yourself. On one hand, you want to make change happen and be an advocate for proper representation and who better than the people who are of those cultures to be the experts and deliver the work. But then, on the other hand, it becomes exhausting because you find yourself constantly being labelled or identified instead of just being a professional creative. We need to rethink what those labels actually mean and represent, so when we actually wear those labels it’s because we want to and not because it’s the theme or topic or even because it’s the assigned week to celebrate it.
“ART IN COLOUR RECOGNISES US FOR WHO WE ARE AND CELEBRATES WITH US”
I find the best way to make change is by doing small things that grow to bigger movements of change; to plant the seed so others may grow it. However, that takes a team or family to keep nurturing it and that’s why the communities that Art in Colour is fostering are so important. It gives voice to those who are usually overlooked for their work and recognises us for who we are and celebrates with us.
I have high hopes that this series will inspire more culturally diverse artists to share their stories, and when they do, that the mainstream will embrace and empower them; without dictating how we choose to represent our communities, cultures and stories. That our truth isn’t confined to a “palatable” lense.
The media we consume so often affects the way we grow and develop as people, and so the content we choose to engage with, and that which is presented to us, must acknowledge us and engage with us. And so, after witnessing and experiencing the myriad of ways our industry and society at large, block out large swathes of our society, the need to develop independent platforms became very apparent.
Additionally, as a practitioner, the more times you get overlooked for a part in favour of a white girl, the more opportunities you miss to develop as an artist. This unquestioned culture has fostered the cementation of the current climate which makes it a political move to even put bodies of colour on stage. To progress past this, it’s essential that space is made to highlight the many incredible artists we have in this country, and to do it often. Projects like Art in Colour forge those spaces, from the reality of being interviewed by people who really understood where I was coming from to seeing other artists from completely different disciplines and realising that we’re so diverse yet in this together.
“THE CURRENT CLIMATE MAKES IT A POLITICAL MOVE TO EVEN PUT BODIES OF COLOUR ON STAGE.”
I hope this documentary is an addition to the chorus of voices sharing the experiences of people of colour and to inspire the next generation of artists to do what they love and know that there is space, and if there isn’t we’ll make it
“I FIND THAT THE GREATEST BARRIERS IN THIS INDUSTRY ARE THE ONES YOU DON’T ACTUALLY SEE. THEY ARE CONSTRUCTED BEHIND CLOSED DOORS; BEFORE YOU GET IN THE ROOM.”
Knowing my politics, Anisha (Senaratne— Director) approached me to participate in the documentary. It was a lovely experience but not one that’s entirely out of the box for me. I’ve been privileged to work alongside some really visionary artists over the last decade or so – artists committed to changing the face of Australian theatre. This project sat in that space.
I find that the greatest barriers in this industry are the ones you don’t actually see. They are constructed behind closed doors; before you get in the room. A prime example is the non-existence of characters in scripts, this is exacerbated by directors/ casting directors casting from a pool of ‘known talent’ that replicates privilege and reinforces the overall whiteness of our stages and screens. Non-white performers and stories get locked out of the programming/ casting process or relegated to ‘special interest programming’. Approaching these systemic limitations proves difficult when our industry is full of people who typically identify as progressive and don’t like to feel that their processes are exclusive/that they are shutting great swathes of the population out or down. This is shifting somewhat but it’s painfully slow going: a radical reframing of the issue is required to challenge existing power structures, our collective consciousness and practice.
It’s my hope that this documentary will advance the visibility and representation of diverse artists and practitioners in our field. For me, it’s part of a broader push that many colleagues have been tirelessly pursuing for decades. Decades. I also hope it will encourage emerging artists from different backgrounds to pursue their practice with confidence. You can’t buy into the barriers – there are plenty of other people who will put them in front of you, don’t put them in front of yourself.