News / Meet the Boundless curators

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.

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?

Annie Brockenhuus-Schack

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.

Tina Huang

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).

Zohra Aly 

I am an older woman writer, a Muslim, a migrant. In Why I Write, I want to give a platform to the voices of writers like myself. What does age mean across cultures and in different countries?  What amplifies our voice and what diminishes it? More importantly, how do we see ourselves? I want to explore why we write, and what we bring to the table.
For Unwrapping the Muslim Writer, I wanted Muslim writers to examine how they address taboo subjects within their work. How honest can they be and how do they toe that fine line between sharing enough and revealing too much? Do the different forms of creative expression – fiction, memoir, spoken word and theatre – enable alternative pathways to explore taboo topics? What are their strategies for dealing with the aftermath of publication from family and elders? I’m looking forward to a discussion amongst peers about craft and strategy, that will be of value to any writer grappling with difficult topics, regardless of faith or culture.

What was your approach to curating the sessions?

Annie Brockenhuus-Schack

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.

Tina Huang

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?

Zohra Aly

Curation is about being curious and open to ideas, having ears to the ground, knowing what conversations need to be had and how to facilitate them. It’s a powerful position to be in. Sisonke was an inspiring and passionate mentor and my co-curators Annie and Tina were valuable sounding boards for ideas.
The premise for Why I Write is very close to my heart. I brought together published authors with a diversity of thought and experience and as the moderator, I hope to ask questions which will speak to the audience.
For Unwrapping, I wanted to bring together writers who traversed the various forms of writing to explore what freedoms and restraints each format posed.
Islam is a faith which crosses so many countries and cultures. I was keen to represent varied ethnicities because culture plays as much a role as religion in how we approach thorny issues.

Why is Boundless festival important to you?

Annie Brockenhuus-Schack

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.

Tina Huang

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.

Zohra Aly

I volunteered at the first Boundless in 2017 and remember being awed at how accessible the authors were to emerging writers like myself. Being an emerging curator this time has enabled even closer connections with established authors and the opportunity to ask about their why and how. Festivals are not only about authors but also the audience. I didn’t want to lose sight of my inner audience when curating and preparing for my sessions.

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 HeraldSunday 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.

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