21 March, 2017 in
A new class of critics will be unleashed on YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival from Friday 5 May, as The Guardian Masterclasses empowers a group of nine Victorian-based Aboriginal writers to become arts critics. They’ll provide their reviews, insights and valuable critiques. Here, we have a chat with one Blak Critic, Tyson Yunkaporta.
Who your mob? Where you from?
My born country is here – Melbourne, but I never lived here until last year – moved to Queensland when I was a baby, moved around a lot and finished up on Cape York in my twenties, Wik mob grew me up there then and I’m 45 now.
I’ve got disrupted ancestral connections in the south, like South Australia and Victoria and I know most people like to identify through that descent way but I haven’t really connected with those mobs over the years, so can’t claim land, language, culture that way in the south. I don’t know much about it.
My family on the Cape through customary adoption, Apalech clan, where my name comes from, that’s my closest family members and the main part of who I am and how I think and what I know. So I’m just Bama really. I have some other adoptive and cultural ties to mob in WA and Western NSW too, but that’s not my culture way from how I was grown up, although it influences some of my carving and cultural practice.
In three words, describe for us your country…
Aak ngatharam Ngul-Mungk, which translates to: My story place is Moving Stone. Brolga fulla.
What made you apply for the Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival’s Blak Critics program?
I have always fantasised about being an arts critic. I love critical writing and did heaps of it when I was an English teacher, and at uni too. But I saw that those people are all connected upper-middle-class people, so it wasn’t really accessible to me, without those networks, and living out bush most of my life.
But now, last year I moved to the city and here’s all these networks and opportunities. Blak Critics, do I dare apply? I didn’t think I’d get in. Couldn’t believe it when they said I was accepted. I hate living in the city, but I tell you what, there are some perks.
You had your first weekend workshop with Luke Pearson and Jack Latimore from IndigenousX, and Jane Howard from the Guardian, how did you find them and what did they have to offer?
Really solid, connected perspective. They showed us all the possibilities. I was worried how my cultural methodology for writing would work with this genre – it doesn’t really fit. But they opened up all these possibilities and it’s not as narrow as I thought.
We’re even looking at developing our own Black Critic methodology, based on yarns and relationships with the artists and community.
And Jane Howard may well be the most switched-on white lady I ever met. It’s a rare thing to meet people who really know their business and also know how to transmit that knowledge well, but when you see it, it lifts you up.
What about the other participants selected for the workshops, how did you find them?
There are some amazing minds in there and I’m humbled to be sitting with them. Won’t mention names, but one young fulla I just sit and watch his brain at work, blows me away.
Strong, strong women with strong voices and complex minds and knowledge to back it. Diversity there, in different skill sets as well as cultural ways.
We’re still figuring out Men’s Business and Women’s Business and exactly what the boundaries are when speaking for the cultural work of an artist of the opposite sex – but looks like some of us will co-author pieces to deal with that.
What do you hope to gain from your involvement in the Blak Critics stream of Yirramboi?
Well, imagine an evaluative dialogue with our mob, by our mob, for our mob, to strengthen the quality and cultural integrity of our artists. I’d love to see something like that emerge, and if I can offer anything to that process I’ll die happy.
We’ll check in on Tyson in coming weeks to see how he is travelling.