Art director Jacob Boehme upends dotty cliches

The new creative director of Melbourne’s Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival wants to overturn “dots and didgeridoos” cliches about the Indigenous arts in Australia.

Jacob Boehme said the festival, to be held in May, would break new ground and showcase artistic visionaries from across Australia and the world.

Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival was formerly known as the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival.

A member of the Narangga and Kaurna nations, Mr Boehme addressed a breakfast at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

He said one of Yirramboi’s guiding principles was that every production, exhibition and concert must be led by an Indigenous artist, therefore placing Indigenous authority and decision-making first.

Mr Boehme said the way in which Indigenous arts were regarded in Australia had a long way to go.

He said Australia Council for the Arts research conducted in 2015 among potential audiences showed the most common words used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts were ‘didgeridoo’, ‘dots’, ‘serious’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘storytelling’.

And although 92 percent of people surveyed said they considered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts an important part of Australian culture, only 24 percent had been to an Indigenous arts show that year.

A further study last year showed First Nations performing arts made up only two percent of 6000 works shown in 2015.

“Currently, programming decisions for major arts venues and festivals throughout most Australian cities and towns are made by non-Indigenous administrators, with limited networks and/or knowledge of the Indigenous arts sector or of the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal, and urban, cultures,” Mr Boehme said.

He said Yirramboi, which runs from May 5-14, would overturn perceptions.

“We are more than just serious and spiritual storytellers,” he said.

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