making heaps of friends
and making heaps of enemies
to know yourself and
to know each other is the revolution
The very existence of our collective this mob is simultaneously intriguing and threatening to outsiders. Collectivising when bla(c)k* is instantly politicised by others; we can be blak** but not too blak, and we still need to exist within the systems that silence and oppress us. It is exhausting to keep up with the constant desire of others to engage us in their programming, and the concurrent rejection/devaluing of our bodies, emotions and knowledges when we subvert their expectations.
As a Taungurung woman directing the collective, I experience first-hand the brute force of whiteness in the arts and its stifling effects both on the individual and the group.
The reason that this mob exists is to facilitate spaces and events that build strength between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, celebrate blakness and destroy imposed boundaries that try to inhibit our creativity and culture. We make spaces as blak as possible (whether it be online spaces, in galleries, outdoors, etc.) to allow people to be with one another and share ideas, connect with family and offer the opportunity to collaborate, create and heal. Young blak artists need support to see the value in what we do and by creating a network of peers I hope that we all learn to value ourselves, our stories and our work, and advocate for ourselves and our community.
Some things we have done in the past include: workshops for mob to learn new skills (including emu feather bundle and adornment making, a makeup tutorial, collage making, life-drawing), a three-day retreat on Taungurung Country, group exhibitions, collaborative performance- based art, collective mentoring sessions with established Indigenous artists, and inter-community collaborations with other people of colour including Still Nomads (African diasporic arts collective) and New Wayfinders (Pasifika diasporic arts collective).
The power of such spaces must not be underestimated. It is extremely powerful to be in a place that centres blakness and that is purposefully formed with the intention of bringing people together to create, or to simply know each other without external pressure or expectation. When your people have been forcibly separated for generations, togetherness is a big deal. And when you’re constantly questioned and told that you won’t amount to anything//you’re too black// not black enough — having the support of those who love you is a big deal. this mob is for all emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives who want to know and support one another and whose voices deserve to be heard. this mob also holds space for intergenerational links to be formed through mentorship, guidance and support.
The resistance to a collective with such a wholesome purpose is deeply rooted in white supremacy. When we don’t subscribe to the rules and expectations built for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art by the elitist white art world, and if we dare to in any way retort (e.g. collectivising to create a deadly and unified force of empowered blak artists) then the backlash of white fragility is forced upon us. It is suffocating, humiliating, hurtful and it has both physical and emotional impacts on our minds and bodies. It impacts the jobs we can get, the opportunities afforded to us, and the people who want to work with us.
Others’ fear of us becomes clear in the way that we are engaged with; the way we are questioned, exotisiced, taken advantage of and exploited, and eventually moved on. It is far easier for non-Indigenous audiences and event organisers to cast us as too aggressive and non- compliant than to listen to what we are saying and decolonise their own practises; we are expected to do this work for them and to do it with a smile. Too often our actions as young blakfullas are deciphered as hateful and perceived as threats to the very foundations of whiteness and everything deemed ‘good’ in this nation. We are inherently politicised as blak people and so the idea of a collective group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists who know who they are, and who know one another, is clearly very frightening to others.
We don’t make art to be praised by white people. The action of collectivising is shifting the focus from the outcome and the impact and onto the process. To be a part of this mob means we have the opportunity to collectively heal, to have people to turn to when things go wrong and to be there to support one another. It also means we have the chance to plan for the future, to make the most of all the work that has been done by our Elders and Ancestors to allow us the freedoms we have today and to continue their legacy in paving the way towards a more unified future of strong and staunch blak peoples.
One dream for the future is that this mob will have a permanent studio and exhibition space where we can make work, give critiques, learn how to install works in a gallery and have exhibitions. All without the pressure and violence of the white gaze. It will also be a space where all mob are welcome to come; to eat their lunch, feed their bubs, and just chill in a space that fosters the skills and confidence of emerging artists and is a safe environment to make the work we want to be making. Until we have that space, we will continue to assert ourselves in other spaces; blakening them up by bringing our stories and voices to the forefront of the conversation with pride and with the safety of our peers and Elders supporting us. We will do this by choosing to work in spaces that allow us this freedom, or by actively and overtly challenging spaces that don’t.
this mob is still very young. It’s ever-growing and shifting. It’s effectiveness is reliant on the amazing people involved and the spaces and support that we have access to. This next year we will be focussing less on public events and more on meeting privately to discuss what’s really important to us, to build up our strength and learn more skills to thrive. Support is always welcome.
** the term blak (as opposed to black with a ‘c’), was coined by artist Destiny Deacon in the 90s in a largely urban context and is now used widely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to distinguish our experience of blakness from others. There’s no one way to be blak, no skin tone or physical feature that can determine it, and this term speaks to the nuances that exist within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ unique experience of blakness.
Kate ten Buuren is the founder and director of this mob.