Dark Mofo appoint cultural advisors, announce fund for Tasmanian Aboriginal artists’ work

Organisers faced significant backlash last month after the announcement of the controversial, since cancelled 'Union Flag' art project

Following backlash for its now-cancelled Union Flag art proposal last month, the organisers of Hobart festival Dark Mofo have announced a $60,000 seed fund for Tasmanian Aboriginal artists to develop proposals for future iterations of the festival.

Curatorial and budgetary decisions relating to the funding will be managed by a First Nations cultural advisory group who are yet to be appointed. Organisers are inviting Tasmanian Aboriginal people with cultural experience to make contact if they wish to be involved by emailing creativedirector@darklab.net.au.

Additionally, the festival has announced the appointment of two cultural advisors for the 2021 edition of the festival. Caleb Nichols-Mansell, a palawa visual artist, photographer, and Founder and Creative Director of Blackspace Creative Arts and Cultural Hub, will be responsible for local engagement.

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In a statement today, Nichols-Mansell said it was time for organisers and others “to repair damaged relationships with the broader community, look towards the future, and find how best we can work together to showcase the deeply connected arts and cultural industry within this state”.

“My hopes are that through this process we are able to continue raising the profile and platform of our artists and their deep-time connections to culture, country and community.”

Dylan Hoskins, a Gumbaynggirr and Dunghutti man who works within the music and festival industry and has been employed at Mona and DarkLab for the past three years will be responsible for mainland engagement.

“It’s extremely important that First Nations people have our voices in festivals like Dark Mofo to ensure that the steps forward are ones of cultural integrity,” he said.

“It’s time to yarn, to reflect and to heal! I’m a proud Gumbaynggirr and Dunghutti man living on palawa land and I look forward to creating pathways for future mob and creating a deeper understanding of a culturally safe space.”

Dark Mofo Creative Director Leigh Carmichael said in a press statement today that organisers hope today’s announcement “demonstrates [their] commitment to Tasmanian Aboriginal people”.

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“The new seed funding program will give local artists an opportunity to develop new ideas and new work for inclusion in future Dark Mofo festivals. We want to present more local content, and believe this program will provide Tasmanian Aboriginal artists with support to develop their projects, and ensure they will be well represented going forward.”

Carmichael added that organisers are having “many positive discussions with Tasmanian Aboriginal people”.

In March, Dark Mofo drew criticism after announcing a proposed art project by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra titled Union Flag, making a post on social media asking First Nations people to donate blood as part of the project.

The proposed installation would have seen the Union Jack “immersed in the blood of its colonised territories” and displayed as part of Dark Mofo’s upcoming iteration in June. Briggs and Kira Puru, who are of Yorta Yorta and Māori descent respectively, were among the artists who led criticism of the proposal.

Brian Ritchie, the artistic director of Dark Mofo’s summer counterpart MONA FOMA, also disavowed Union Flag. In a public statement issued on his Facebook page, Ritchie called the project a “gimmick and publicity stunt disguised as a mediocre artwork”.

The project was later cancelled, with Carmichael apologising to First Nations people who had been hurt by the project. “In the end the hurt that will be caused by proceeding isn’t worth it. We made a mistake, and take full responsibility,” he wrote.

First Nations artists including Alice Skye and Emily Wurramara were among the signatories to a digital open letter seeking broader change from MONA in the wake of the project’s cancellation. Today’s announcement appears to relate to two of the letter’s requests – the appointment of First Peoples curators at Dark Mofo, MONA FOMA and MONA, and a commitment to more funding for Tasmanian Aboriginal artists’ work.

When reached for comment by NME, a spokesperson for Dark Mofo said organisers had spoken “to as many of the artists and activists as we could – in particular those who reached out to us,” and that those conversations would continue.

“The conversations have mostly been very positive, and today’s announcement is a reflection of those discussions.”

Earlier this month, a post on Dark Mofo’s Facebook page said there was “no consensus yet” among the festival’s team on how to address the Union Flag proposal. “All staff are being encouraged to express their views, and an internal review process has begun.”

Dark Mofo 2021 is set to go ahead between June 16-22, with the festival program due to be revealed in May.

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