Australia’s leading festival of Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers, Boundless, returns in 2021 with a new approach to programming.
This year the festival is curated by the winners of the Writing NSW emerging curators development program, Zohra Aly, Tina Huang and Annie Brockenhuus-Schack.
The winners, under the guidance of Sisonke Msimang, curator of the literature and ideas program at Perth Festival, were given the opportunity to program two sessions each. In addition, Djungan woman and Sweatshop Creative Producer, Phoebe Grainer, was chosen to curate the opening session of the festival.
We asked the curators a couple of questions before the festival, to provide you with a chance to get to know them and their work better.
Can you give us a quick summary of the sessions you curated? What themes were you wanting to explore?
ShortCuts: A Plant and Story Swap is a plant show and tell with a writing component. It’s inspired by how my mum would swap plants with her friends and catch up. I wanted to find ways for people to practice writing, connection and find a sense of nourishment online.
Should I? Ethical Questions for Screen Storytellers is a panel discussing the ethics around storytelling for screen, it features cultural and screen practitioners: Dr Paula Abood, Pearl Tan, Laurrie Brannigan-Onato and Hajer Al-Awsi. With this one, I wanted to explore the impact stories have on wider communities and what we can do in light of this.
My first session Empty City, Lonely Girl is a care and storytelling event. This event was conceived at the beginning of Sydney’s lockdown. I wanted to put on an event where people could come and listen to stories of connection after such prolonged isolation and really just be taken care of. The original idea was that participants would enter a warmly lit room and lie down on yoga mats. Participants would lie down next to friends, next to strangers. And just feel – once more – the energy, the warmth of bodies in a space together again. But then, of course, lockdown continued and we’ve had to adapt. The event will now be a guided meditation over Zoom and we’re asking participants to create their own warmly lit space. And we still hope to create a (virtual) space that is deeply warm, nourishing, and safe.
My second event is When Breath Meets Air. This a spoken word event. It’s really just my attempt to enact a space, a concentrated architecture, of rapture. I want bodies to hum. I want the air to spark. And most of all, I want people to FEEL. (If we can also get people to think. That would be nice. But that is a secondary thing).
What was your approach to curating the sessions?
For Should I? I have been working with a handful of creatives and Information + Cultural Exchange recently to work towards a culturally safety risk assessment toolkit. It feels like there has been a growing awareness and recognition that industry standards need to change to better support how we tell CALD and Indigenous stories, in particularly with screen, and so it made sense to bring the conversation to Boundless audiences to openly discuss how we could move forward.
Originally, ShortCuts was intended to be a plant swap but with the program moving online, I didn’t want to entirely lose the essence of it, so it’ll be grounded in a sense of ritual and the sharing of stories. The session features new micro-commissions with three writers and encourages the audience to participate and feel engaged.
I would say that both of my sessions are fundamentally about celebration rather than critique. Increasingly, writing festivals have focused on critique (and this has been so important / the result of necessary reckoning with the systemic inequalities within literature). But I also think that festivals can be a space of celebration. And despite the dichotomy I’ve set up between critique and celebration, there is a part of me that also wonders if celebration can be A FORM of critique. In so far as if racism has a flattening effect on POC and Indigenous people and renders us as one-dimensional beings who only ever experience eg, melancholia or victimhood- maybe it’s a deeply radical act to get together on a Saturday night in October and just go off. To feel pleasure and rapture and to lead – for the briefest moments – a full life instead of a bare life. To brim with joy. I want to quote the writer Glennon Doyle here and say something like – we know that we can learn from pain. But maybe we can learn from joy too?
Why is Boundless festival important to you?
I find Boundless an opportunity to connect with curators, creatives, cultural workers and community. It’s important that there’s the space dedicated to platform Indigenous and CALD folks and have all types of conversations emerge.
The festival – as an artistic space – has always been very important to me. Festivals have exposed me to so many new and radical ideas, to so many moving performances and talks. But I know that lots of people (myself included) sometimes feel intimidated or alienated or simply priced out of the major festivals. And I think Boundless is important not just because it’s committed to diversity and inclusivity but because the festival is ethically committed to beginners in a way that other festivals aren’t
It’s committed to emerging curators, emerging writers, emerging producers, even emerging festival attendees (all of the events are free to attend!). And in doing so, Boundless is helping a new generation fall in love with festivals and giving that generation an opportunity to engage in a form of festival world building. I know that personally it has given me the chance to explore the spark, the resonance I feel when I enter the holy space of festivals and to get to live that out, to experiment with what means. I think that’s the real value of something like Boundless.
Visit the Boundless website for the full program and to see all the participating artists.
Register for free here.
Zohra Aly trained and practised as a pharmacist for several years before finally turning to writing, her first love. She has freelanced, writing for titles such as Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life and MiNDFOOD magazine. She has recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UTS. Her short fiction and essays have been published in the Sydney Review of Books, the UTS Writers’ Anthology 2020 Empty Sky and Second City, a Sydney Review of Books anthology published in May this year.
Tina Huang is a Chinese Australian writer and performer based in Sydney. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Lifted Brow, Cordite Poetry Review, Overland, and Going Down Swinging (forthcoming). In 2020, she was a NSW state finalist in the Australian Poetry Slam and in 2021 her poetry performance piece ‘c’est la guerre’ was commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia. She tweets @tennis_jock.
Annie Brockenhuus-Schack is an emerging curator, producer and writer based in Western Sydney. She holds a Masters in Curating and Cultural Leadership and her practice includes exploring the Filipinx value of kapwa (shared being) and its influence in curatorial methodologies, process-based curating, and care within collaborative practices. Annie is a participant for Sport for Jove’s Producer Mentorship and Diversity Arts Australia’s StoryCasters program. She currently works for Sydney Theatre Company and Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (CAAP), and previously worked at Biennale of Sydney. She is the co-founder of theatre production company Ka-llective and is currently developing a new theatrical work Salt Baby, with PACT and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre supported by AusCo and Create NSW.
Phoebe Grainer is a Djungan woman from Far North Queensland. She is a creative producer at Sweatshop Literacy Movement and co-editor of Racism: Stories on Hate, Fear and Prejudice (Sweatshop, 2021). Phoebe has performed in Saltbush (2017), Two Hearts (2018), Serpent’s Teeth (2018), Doing (2019) and Rainbow’s End (2019). Her essays, poems and short stories have appeared in The Lifted Brow, SBS Voices, Red Room Poetry and Sweatshop Women. In 2020, Phoebe was awarded a fellowship with Griffen Theatre Studio. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 2016.