The second All a Part forum examined networks of community. Associations between community and the arts goes to the heart of what is important for many aspects of the contemporary arts ecology: culture, family, identity and belonging. As the previous forum demonstrated, representation and visibility is an important way to acknowledge connections, and understand more of the social and political contexts that shape a work of art.
Through processes of collaborative art practice, there are also ways to address and reassess the intersections between invisibility and communities; where art can be used as a tool to spotlight issues affecting the region. Connecting communities with art in the gallery was another topic of discussion, as was the importance of sharing knowledge and learning.
Art and solidarity
One of the central themes that unfolded across the forum was the ways that art and community-driven practices link to ideas of solidarity: bringing visibility to communities in crisis through art, and extending these networks of witnessing and storytelling into the gallery space. This was a process discussed in the first presentation by the Jakarta-based artist duo, Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett. In their recent art practice, they have collaborated with communities on Jakarta’s northern coastline to bring visibility to a community in crisis. At present, Jakarta’s coastline is subsiding at a significant rate, due to environmental and infrastructure challenges. In the presentation, Irwan Ahmett noted that ‘a long time ago, Jakarta was rich with crocodiles, but now we cannot see crocodiles – only garbage and plastic waste’.
Jakarta is a ‘magnet’ for Indonesians who want to start a new life, and it was argued that the city symbolises ‘Indonesian dreams’. However, the disparities between the lives of rich and poor citizens in the megacity show the issues at play. Precisely because of this, the artists have collaborated with members of the public to collect community information, and have used flexible methods of art making – public interventions, videos, photos, durational performances, walking and documentary processes – to draw attention to these issues. This, in turn, means that the artists combine their interventions with a practice centred on help, mutual assistance, and collaboration. Through processes of bringing together art and community-driven topics, they noted that ‘the sense of community grows quite easily, and in the large scale it [has created] … more solidarity and support to help each other without any kind of government roles’; offering artistic responses that focuses not only on community, but also ideas of citizenship and social responsibility.
Teaching, learning, communicating
Connections between art, solidarity and citizenship offer important links to ideas of knowledge-sharing and education, both in and outside of the classroom context. Farida Batool noted the significance of university art schools for community development. She argued that they are not only a space for scholarly and academic pursuit, but important too for their non-commercial contexts: contexts that are apart from the market-driven machinations of the broader art worlds outside of university. Through such an immersive space, it was noted, there are ways for students to find strategies through practice that connect to place. Speaking on a similar point Salma Jamal Moushum argued that the true essence of what connects people to place is storytelling: ‘it is about storytelling; lots of storytelling that connects back to village and the community’.
Through processes of collaboration, research and learning at university], students will learn to start engaging with the people around them; how to research and make connections, how to feel for the place where they are living – not just to pass through it, but to actually feel it.
- Farida Batool
The emphasis here on non-commercial spaces demonstrates the value of social space to communities, and illustrates the way that dedicated places for learning and art appreciation have positive impacts not only on artists, but on the broader community too. One of the key issues identified in the previous section was that of access. Returning to this idea, the question of how to facilitate accessibility to these types of social spaces for the broader community should be considered. Where are the hubs for storytelling, ‘lifelong learning’, and community-driven arts connections? Is it possible to extend the impact of learning-spaces to new contexts and communities, in order to facilitate greater understanding on the arts and its histories?
Local audiences, local engagements
The combination of issues surrounding access, community and learning-spaces extends to the gallery setting. For APT10, the ACE Project was established (the Australian Centre for Asia-Pacific Art (or ‘ACAPA’) Pasifika Community Engagement Project). This initiative aimed to connect Pasifika communities from across Brisbane and Queensland with the activities at the Gallery; where QAGOMA became a site for public programs, for artwork activations, and for bringing communities together through shared artistic and cultural events.
In the second presentation of the forum, QAGOMA Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, and ACE Project Coordinator, Ruha Fifita, presented on the main activities and events that occurred through the program. It was a Gallery-wide initiative; operating on all levels from curatorial and educational design, to installation, display and public programs. Queensland has the highest concentration of Pasifika peoples, compared to any other state in Australia.It is also home to the fastest growing Pasifika population in the country. In such a context, the impetus for designing programs, curatorial displays and engagement events tailored to specific communities is strong.
The ACE Project sought to ask: ‘what role does engagement with local Pasifika communities play, and how can this be strengthened?’. In doing so, the ACE Project collaborated with local organisations to emphasise community-centred modes of learning. They found structures of knowledge-sharing and engagement that looks beyond Eurocentric models, and embraced interactive frameworks that are culturally safe, enriching and educational. This extended to all facets of the ACE Project, through a holistic focus on how to engage communities within a gallery and institutional context. The results from the program are significant: up to 70% of the audience participants in the ACE Project’s programs had visited QAGOMA for the first time.
Through the sustained emphasis on ‘learning mode’ and a focus that centres on activation and interactions, the ACE Project highlights what is possible when spaces in the gallery are made welcoming and inviting for people from diverse backgrounds. This is especially the case when they are articulated and presented through a local, community lens: through citizenship and culture, and a methodology that draws from Pasifika perspectives. It brings together institutional and the grassroots audience perspectives, showing the potentials for how methodological approaches to public programming and gallery education could be tailored into the future.
Key issue: Community and care
Recent debates in contemporary art theory have often centred around ideas of care. This was not a topic explicitly explored by any of the panelists or artists in the forum, and yet it manifested through ideas of caring for the city and for the environment in Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett’s presentation; care and interest in engaging diverse communities through public programs, and for sharing stories, art and cultural knowledge through the ACE Project. It is also seen in the ideas of caring for local history, and indigenous history.
We can’t decolonise … We can never remove that part of our story. And neither should we. We’re not going to smash down the statues. We need to remember those stories. In fact, there’s so many stories that have been glossed over that we’re working really hard to recover; to re-indigenise the space [so we can] bring these stories back for all of us [in the community], not just those of us [artists] who have learned how to paint.
- Vicki Lenihan
Unearthing and ‘reindigenising’ stories, and bringing visibility to them through sharing and learning, can be seen as an approach that helps to care for stories. The process of reframing these discussions is therefore one of the ways that art and stories can be understood as part of an ecology that cares for community, and that presents knowledge in new ways. Although Vicki Lenihan’s reference was specifically to her own community, the broader idea of caring for forgotten histories and stories has resonances with many of the forum participants. How can we better understand this practice of care for community – in the many ways it manifests – and bring visibility to it in the gallery space?
Drawing attention to the social, spatial contexts where art is made helps to centre the stories that emerge from and through communities. It brings visibility to art, and finds meaningful ways of engaging communities with their stories. Bringing these exchanges to a global gallery setting extends the opportunities for learning, and for bearing witness.
1. Tita Salina, Indonesia b.1973, Irwan Ahmett Indonesia b.1975, Garuda Berkepala Naga (The Dragon-headed Garuda) (still) 202, Two-channel video installation with found objects, Installed dimensions variable, Commissioned for APT10. Courtesy: The artists.
2. Kamruzzaman Shadhin, b.1974 Bangladesh, Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts, Est. 2001 Bangladesh, The fibrous souls 2018-21 (works in development in Thakurgaon, Bangladesh), Purchased 2021 with funds from Metamorphic Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation. Image courtesy: the artists.
3. APT10 ACE activation space - weaving activity with Brisbane Tongan community, Bodhi Tree Terrace, GOMA
Caitlin is a writer, curator and PhD researcher in Art History and Curatorship at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on contemporary Southeast Asian art in cross-cultural contexts, as well as on themes of play, futures, the environment and urban aesthetics in art from across the Asia-Pacific region. She completed a Bachelor of Art History and Curatorship (Honours, First Class) at the Australian National University in 2020.