A month-long festival of First Nations culture is tackling deeply ingrained stereotypes, representation and showing us the issues that unite us
The Australian Museum is launching its first festival of Aboriginal and Pacific cultures. Weave will include a program of participatory events from meditation with Wiradjuri cultural practitioners Milan Dhiiyaan (Laurance and Fleur Magick Dennis) through to watching master weavers Phyllis Stewart and Steve Russell create a four-metre canoe honouring the Indigenous fisherwomen of Sydney Harbour.
Laura McBride, who co-curated the new Garrigarrang: Sea Country – the Museum's first Indigenous Australian exhibition since 1997 – is the force behind this new festival. “We want to represent ourselves,” she says.
‘Weave’ is a metaphor for the way McBride wants people to engage with the history shared in the festival. “If we sit together and weave our knowledges and experiences we can build a better, shared future. Also, this is a festival of 256 distinct cultures (at least) within Australia, plus the Pacific cultures, but one custom crosses all of those cultures: weaving.”
Running throughout March, Weave includes a new exhibition, Gadi, that McBride hopes will introduce the people of the grasstree – the Gadigal people – and their rich and significant history. “Archaeological material has shown we were the first astronomers, the first axe makers, the first bread makers. Australia should be shouting that from the rooftops.”
The festival features events that McBride hopes challenges misconceptions of Aboriginal Australians, through connecting one-on-one with people. Guided meditation sessions by Milan Dhiliyaan, Wailwan and Wiradjuri practitioners will introduce a “very old teaching of deep listening” that she says is “learning Aboriginal culture in an Aboriginal way”.
There’s also the world premiere of virtual reality film Carriberrie, which takes a 360-degree cinematic perspective of dance and song filmed on locations from Bangarra Dance Theatre to Uluru. Screenings of documentary Connection to Country, meanwhile, highlight a battle the local people of the Western Australian Pilbara are embroiled in with the mining industry.
The festival will also deal with the urgent impact of climate change and how we treat country – shown in works like Pacific artist Angela Tiatia’s video installation showing the rising tides on the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu.
Ultimately, says McBride, “I want people to appreciate what was lost – and what we will lose. And I want to provide a space for Aboriginal people to tell their own stories.”