Laughter, more than tears, tells this foundation story of black-white relations.
What did we feel coming away from the show of the theatre production, Namatjira? That things will get better, that they are better – between black and white Australians and for Aboriginal people themselves. And this was despite the sad, even bleak last scenes that show the unrelenting pressures on famed Arrernte watercolour painter Albert Namatjira as he tried to manage his success in the white world and his position within his own large family and wider clan; and despite our recognition that these pressures in many ways are unchanged today.
So how better? By the very fact these two outstanding Aboriginal performers, Trevor Jamieson and Derek Lynch, and all their collaborators, are able to trace this foundation story of black-white relations through laughter, more than tears, and through a rich narrative, not ideology, sentiment and slogans. And by the fact that they have drawn sell-out houses around Australia; that 850 people, mostly remote community residents, traveled into Ntaria / Hermannsburg for the staging of the play there last Wednesday night; that Araluen sold out two shows on Saturday and could probably have sold out a third. We are hungry for this – being able to laugh at ourselves, at our collective foibles, clumsiness, ignorance as we deal with one another, being able to rejoice in the creativity and friendships that bridge the gaps. For the revelatory story of the show is the friendship (much more than mentorship) between Namatjira and the World War I veteran turned artist Rex Battarbee – the ways that art opened up possibilities for them both, became the bridge between them and the ground for a friendship that endured. KIERAN FINNANE reviews.
Pictured: Derek Lynch (left) and Trevor Jamieson, with artists from the Namatjira family in the background. Photo by Grant McIntyre, courtesy Big hART.
Behind the sell-out theatrical tour of Namatjira, which has its final Australian performances in Hermannsburg and Alice Springs this week, is a three-year project for social change through art. Longer than that if the start is counted from Big hART's Ngapartji Ngapartji project. I ask Scott Rankin, Big hART's director, how he thinks the company's involvement with people in The Centre has contributed to social change over this time.
Complex problems require solutions on many levels, he replies. The social change debate is mostly focussed on "quick fixes" to force change through action that is mostly "siloed" into a single government portfolio.
Big hART's approach is to work at the grassroots level, with individuals. What is required from community and government is to support those individuals – he calls them "entrepreneurs" – who are effecting change in their lives, going beyond the usual "soft Left versus hard Right" adversarial approaches to the issues.
Art and culture are used as catalysts and perhaps never more pertinently than in the Namatjiira Project which has at its heart an emblematic story of a man effecting radical change, through art, in his life, the lives of those around him and indeed the cultural and social life of the nation.
Namatjira, the theatre production, is in its own way an emblematic story, as the most successful current touring production in Australia. It shows, says Rankin, that good art, attracting widespread attention and acclaim in the country's big cities, can come out of remote Central Australia. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
PHOTO:Hamming it up big time – in the 2010 Alice showing of the work-in-progress Derek Lynch as the Queen (left) and Trevor Jamieson.