Yuanuang: blurring cultural boundaries
During 2013-14, the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund supported a group of contemporary artists with mixed Aboriginal and Chinese heritage to travel to Guangzhou, Kunming and Chongqing to share their unique stories of identifying with both cultures.
In addition to workshops and panel discussions, the visit included the launch of Yi ban Yi ban – Yellah Fellah, a contemporary exhibition of photographic and mixed media works that explored the perspective of three artists with mixed Aboriginal and Chinese ethnicity.
The majority of Chinese migrants who settled in the Australian goldfields in the 1800s originated from the location where Yi ban Yi ban – Yellah Fellah was exhibited in southern China.
Exhibition Curator Djon Mundine, a member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales, said the exhibition was about opening a dialogue between the two cultures.
“All art is a conversation. Art is a social act – it is about the people of a society, not just what is fashionable at the time. Art is also about memory, remembering family.
“This exhibition is about three artists’ concepts of self-identity and the joy and strength that comes from expressing their mixed heritage.
“It was also kind of exploratory venture to connect with artists and art centres outside the major city galleries and in the smaller regional provinces like Red Tory in Guangzhou. There were contemporary galleries emerging there that were less conservative and more open to redefining things like tradition and race,” he said.
Djon said that the exhibition and panel discussions, which reached thousands of people, helped increase understanding of Indigenous culture, strengthen links between artist organisations in both countries and trigger an open discussion on some complex issues.
“In our panel discussions we were able to share more about Aboriginal identity. We found there was so much curiousity and not a lot of knowledge about Aboriginal culture and art in China. Through this forum, we also linked the concept of heritage and value of cultural preservation in China against the rapid rate of industrialisation,” he said.
“Through contemporary art, we were able to softly open discussions on issues and themes like race, authority, tradition and minority cultural groups and celebrate the perspectives that can come from the convergence of two very different cultures,” he said.
Djon Mundine has been involved in the visual arts since the 1970s. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to visual arts. Since that time, he has worked as a curator and academic while he continues to be involved in collaborative art projects. He has taught at the National Art School in Canberra and has held curatorial positions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.