As the crowd gathers along the river outside Signal, Peter Garrett’s voice echoes “the time has come to pay the rent”, right before being interjected by “you have stolen our land… and we want it back! Pay da rent. Pay da rent. Pay da rent.”. right off the bat, artists Gabbi Briggs and Arika Waulu make it clear they aren’t here to muck around.
At the entrance of the space the house rules are established in black and white: “This is a safe Blak space. A space for Blackfullas. Refugees welcome. If your blood is of a settler, please respect our request to only access the designated settler zone. This is for us: This is for you.”
Real Blak Tings sets out to create an alternate universe that usurps the power, and holds the oppressor accountable. In doing so, these women provide marginalised communities access to experience empowerment. Thick white tape and a fence clearly define where the visiting settlers are permitted in the space, reversing the segregation laws that still exist in living memory for a lot of Australians. Along the fence, beautiful native leaves accompany a semi-transparent mirror, offering occupants a moment of reflection whilst the Blackfullas observed from the other side. Whilst some may find it confronting to be observed on such an invasive level, I think it’s comparative to the common Aboriginal experience in Australia
The artists spoke of how the piece celebrates matriarchal lore, which has not been recognised on these lands since colonisation. Along the wall inside the space, gorgeous portraits of women portrayed them as strong, fierce and formidable warriors, embracing both culture and feminism in one strong pose.
Outside, guest artists helped solidify the message of the evening. Uncle Robbie Thorpe speaks, reminding us of the sacred lore that once governed this land, and how it worked in harmony with the land around us. Eric Avery, Monica Karo and Mauriel Spearim then entertained us one by one and filled the chilly Melbourne air with breathtaking songs.
Unnaturalized is a glimpse into the polar opposite of the cis-Caucasian-hetero-dominated world of Australia in 2017. Whilst some may not be ready for that jelly, others will find it a refreshing break from reality. Real Blak Tings are unapologetic in their approach to re-establishing the Blak Matriarchy, and I don’t think they have anything to be apologetic for.
Unnaturalized is now on at Signal, open from 10am-5pm daily until the 14th May 2017.