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Ema Tavola in conversation with Jenny Fraser

December 2009


Ema : the other APT is the work I would hunger for after walking through the formal gallery space of the Asia Pacific Triennial, how did the concept evolve?

Jenny : The Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) has a notorious reputation for ignoring Aboriginal Artists, especially local artists in Brisbane and surrounds. It is one of the only state-run art institutions in the country that does not have an autonomous Aboriginal art department - instead Aboriginal Art comes under the jurisdiction of the "Australian" Art Department and is therefore restricted in its collection and exhibition capacity. In its regular exhibition program, in more recent years, QAG has made some efforts to soothe some of the barking dogs, so to speak, but they are the dogs with the loudest bark of course, and as you can see from the works in the other APTs, there are many more artists out there, working in many more mediums than QAG cares to acknowledge.

The idea for the other APT formed during the 2002 Asia Pacific Triennial when they only featured one Aboriginal Artist. As an artist who has lived and worked in and around Brisbane for over twenty years, I decided its not good enough for a government-funded institution to be so obviously exclusive and divisive. I also wanted to exercise my rights and responsibilities, as a local, to provide visitors with an alterNATIVE insight into amazing talent and often supressed perspectives. I am fortunate in that I travel a lot and get to experience great generosity of spirit from the locals in places all over, so its only natural that I reciprocate when a gathering of Asian and Pacific Artists and supporters happens in my home town. As it turns out, others feel the same.

Ema : Acknowledging a range of professional backgrounds, the artists in the other APT seem to represent the significance of cultural foundations and community for Indigenous people. Is cultural awareness as important as art world recognition?


Jenny : Everyone involved would have their own individual take on it, but I am fairly convinced that most of the artists would feel a responsibility to contribute to the spirit of the gathering. Even though we are all so wide-spread across the country, we can feel the energy of collective consciousness, and its true, most of us have already paid our dues to our respective communities.  That’s not something to be taken lightly, and art world "recognition" pales in comparison to something so historically important, that can be likened to a corroboree for the now.   


Ema : Is The Other APT seen in any way as a rebellious act aiming only to piggy-back on the marketing hype of the APT?


Jenny : During the 2006 show some of the artists met up with the visiting Asia Pacific Triennial artists and they were indeed informed that the other APT was viewed by QAG staff as a renegade undertaking. While I don't necessarily mind this kind of reputation (except for enduring unfair retribution towards my own artistic career*), it really isn't fair to the artists who are simply exhibiting to new audiences. It was fortunate that the artists had an opportunity to explain their position to the visitors, but really such disregard for meaningful contribution to artistic dialogue and support for those of us with the insider-perspectives really is disheartening. Fringe or alternative events happen all over the world, in other capital cities in this country, and are viewed as a significant and necessary contribution, but unfortunately Queensland has a long way to go.  In years gone by, other galleries in Brisbane featured artworks related to the "Asia-Pacific" theme but now it seems that fear of insulting the APT police detracts from getting into the spirit of it all.   

Ema : What is the significance of creating this platform for artists in the context of the APT; what is your curatorial agenda?

Jenny : We're in a culture war here and I am personally driven by ideas that can speak to that and attempt to unpack it, or provide some food for thought. I view the arts as the last bastion and I know its something worth fighting for.

Of course the artists and other people involved have their own reasons for being a part of the other APT but they graciously allow me to be the spearhead. Working with ideas is so gratifying and I feel that all of our ideas together add weight to the travel and blow of the spear. 

... and not much has changed from the other APTs initial curatorial premise for 2006: to show works from Indigenous Australian Artists, and also show meaningful works from other Artists that may constitute them as a friend in culture and good visitor to this country, in meaningful dialogue and otherwise.

Ema :  Exhibiting outside of the institutional framework of the Queensland Art Gallery, is artistic and/or conceptual accessibility a concern when selecting artists and works?


Jenny : The message is always more important than the medium.

Ema : The artist Maryann Talia Pau talks about her practise as not the beginning, and not the end. With the acknowledgment of ancestry and cultural heritage, it’s a refreshing approach to think of these artists, practises and exhibitions as part of an Indigenous cultural continuum, what would you like to see the other APT leading on to in the future? 

Jenny : In an ideal artworld we wouldn't need to envision the livelihood of the other APT, because it's approach would eventually be appropriated and swallowed up by the mainstream and we would see fair and equal representation of the big names alongside emerging artists, the range of artform areas, gender balance and geographical spread. 

Meanwhile we'll just keep showing them how its done in a culturally appropriate, inclusive and fresh way and offer it up to everyone, the way good hosts should. 


Ema : Like the APT, the Auckland Triennial presents a strong international line-up with local and/or Indigenous artists only making up a small minority. Whilst it is great to see high-calibre international artists exhibiting locally, it feels like the local scene and/or curators have an inferiority complex. What do you think the criteria is for the selection of the artists in the APT and why are local artists not given fair representation in the context of international art superstars?


Jenny : Well the inferiority complex is also known as Tall Poppy Syndrome, and apparently those in the Art Industry have the right to cut down those rising above it…  and we all know that practitioners in the southern hemisphere need to be recognized in the “sophisticated” artworld overseas, in order to reflect a pale imitation of that here.

It took QAG almost two decades of staging the APT before they could summons the generosity of spirit to include New York-based Tracey Moffatt, who is also a Brisbane local.  Meanwhile some other artists have been graced with the opportunity more than once in consecutive APTs. So it’s difficult to envisage that QAG have criteria at all. Perhaps we can just put it down to: whoever is the “flavour of the month” or “the usual suspects”, and of course, whoever is also well-behaved.

In Australia we also have what I like to call the “One Rule”. There is an unspoken rule that there can only usually be one Aboriginal Artist in a survey show, or at best, one “Urban” and one “Traditional” (also known as the Rad and the Trad). Nevermind that Aboriginal Art is one of the most prolific art industries in the world and internationally no one really knows or cares what “Australian” Art is.  Perhaps this highlights the construct that the mere presence of any Aboriginal is a symbolic projection of white anxiety, and the gatekeepers of whiteness have long-held fears that the Natives might band together – with each other, and also with the visitors, therefore interaction between the groups should be limited and controlled. 


* Letter to Premier Anna Bligh

Reply on Premier Anna Bligh's behalf

writers bio's:


Ema Tavola is a visual artist and curator of kailoma Fijian and  New Zealand Pakeha ancestry, currently living in Manukau City, South Auckland, New Zealand. She works as a curator at Fresh Gallery Otara as the Pacific Arts Co-ordinator for Manukau City Council. Ema works towards developing the profile of Pacific Arts for Pacific audiences within Pacific contexts, artistic self-determination, in New Zealand and in Suva.


Jenny Fraser is interested in refining the art of artist/curating as an act of sovereignty and emancipation. She is a centrifuge for Aboriginal Media Arts, founding cyberTribe online Gallery in 1999 and the Blackout Collective in 2002. Jenny was the co-ordinator for the new media arts component of 'Spirit & Vision' a Trienniale featuring 94 Aboriginal Artists at Sammlung Essl in Vienna, 2004, and also part of the curatorial working group for 'conVerge - where art and science meet', the 2002 Adelaide Biennial, which was a major survey of Australian new media artworks. More recently she was the first Aboriginal Curator to present a Triennial exhibition in Australia: ‘the other APT’ coinciding and responding to the Asia Pacific Triennial in 2006 & 2009.