Overview Introduction Foreword Preface Essays

Maya Hodge and Kate ten Buuren

We sit on a continuum—within a larger ecosystem of cultural creation that spans thousands of generations and that will continue on into the future. Collective Movements traces the ripple-effects of creative practices from the past, reflecting on creators today and looking locally at groups from across Victoria. It highlights collectives and collaborative actions born out of a community need—an ethos of care for our people and the survival and evolution of our culture through creative means. Each group featured works in different ways and across many mediums, but their core ways of being and doing are similar—community is always at the heart of it.

As young creative practitioners, we understand the significance of collectives—we’re in them ourselves and seek out opportunities to work in collaboration with our peers, broader community, and Elders. Being co-curators of Collective Movements alongside N’Arweet Professor Carolyn Briggs AM PhD has been a nourishing process that honours an age-old intergenerational practice. We started the project in the midst of a pandemic, at times feeling the difficulty and irony of curating an exhibition centered around the importance of sharing space and coming together to create, all while we were being forced into separation. N’Arweet’s guidance and profound knowledge of place, people and connections has grounded this project and kept us on track in moments of doubt. For that we’re eternally grateful.

‘Each group featured works in different ways and across many mediums, but their core ways of being and doing are similar— community is always at the heart of it.’

Framing the ‘collective’ in place

Yorta Yorta curator Kimberley Moulton asks us to consider what it means to be a collective from a First People’s standpoint, through her text ‘One Mob, Once Voice, One Land: The Meta-Collective’, published in Mázejoavku. Indigenous Collectivity and Art in 2020. The text looks at Sámi artist collective Mázejoavku who were active from 1978–1983 in Máze (Sápmi, Northern Norway). Kimberley states that First Peoples collectives have fundamental differences to non-Indigenous collectives. These fundamental differences draw from Indigenous peoples’ innate connection to one another and to the land—defined by clan and kin, Ancestors, the Country we come from and that they may be guided by totems or other non-human kin—‘Together through our cultural values and sovereign status, we connect across expansive deserts, oceans, mountains and tundras. Beyond our inherent shared experiences, collectives have been formed for political and social action, for strength in numbers. People coming together with artistic, political and environmental intent have changed the world many times over.’1

Our connection to land is what sets our collectives apart from non-Indigenous people. As the sovereign people of these lands, we have a responsibility and an ever-present relationship to the lands where we are from and live. We exist in connection to all that is around us, not in competition to, or ownership of.

While developing Collective Movements, our curatorial group yarned about how the waterways serve as connectors between us. These river systems have sustained our people for generations and carry stories across the land. Visually, when looking at maps of river systems, we draw connections between them and the veins in our bodies, or similarly our family trees. Historically, members of our families were born and lived in communities on the riverbanks because they were edged out onto the fringes of white townships. They were not welcome elsewhere. So, our people created our own spaces to cook, sing, give birth, grieve, love and create along these waterways, which in turn gave back to us. Rivers and waterways have always been a part of our stories and our artistic expression because they flow like the blood flows through veins. It’s no accident that the collectives that are part of this show are also tied to the waterways, which in turn bind each other together.

There is a global shift occurring, where collective practices are being celebrated—perhaps as an antidote or response to the global pandemic forcing us all into isolation. Blakfullas however, continue the legacy set by our community’s collectives and collaborative actions and know that this is nothing new.

Finding ourselves as part of the group

When we practice our culture, it connects us deeply with our Old People. In his essay ‘It’s Not Just What We Learn, It’s About How We Learn It’, Tiriki Onus discusses learning through making and the comfort he takes in knowing that when we practise our culture, we are not the first to do something; we inherit the practice from our Ancestors. This contradicts the white endeavour to be the first to ‘discover’ or ‘invent’. Our collectives refuse the white ideology of the lone genius artist. Often members of the group share power, decision making and financial gain, with multiple voices adding to the impact of their work. Indigenous scholar Mary Graham is well known for her theory on collective frameworks and Indigenous knowledges as she states, ‘We believe that a person finds their individuality within the group.’2 Professor Aileen Moreton Robinson reinforces this perspective saying ‘In Indigenous cultural domains relationality means that one experiences the self as part of others and others as a part of the self; this is learnt through reciprocity, obligation, shared experiences, coexistence, cooperation and social memory.’3

Our approach to collaboration differs from Western ideologies because we collectively experience the urgency for unity—walking towards it without having to define what it is. We have been forced to rebuild what was taken from us and forge a pathway through co-ops, health services, art hubs and community groups. We are born into long lines of family, history, connection of Place, and when we meet mob for the first time, we already have a deep understanding of one another.


In the article ‘Coming through Ceremony’ published in Overland journal in 2021, Kim Kruger discusses the political landscape that surrounded the formation of ILBIJERRI Theatre Co-Operative in 1991. She considers Gary Foley’s argument that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy—established in 1972 and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—along with the demands of activists for Land Rights, led to the Liberal party losing power in 1973 and the Whitlam government stepping into power. This in turn saw the construction of federal arts funding and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, allowing for, as Kim calls it, a ‘cultural flowering’ to occur across the country.4

In the year following the establishment of the Tent Embassy, Elders and community in Victoria formed the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) and other community-controlled services that were pushing self- determination for the betterment of Aboriginal people. Arts programs were established within these organisations, acknowledging the link between the arts and our people’s health and wellbeing. This included the setup of Koori Kollij and the Nindeebiya Workshop in the early ’80s, which provided spaces for peer-to-peer learning and mentorship from Elders and established practitioners for those emerging. Students of Koori Kollij went on to be involved in the Aborigines Advancement League’s Community Employment Program which led to the iconic Koorie Mural under the leadership of artists like Yorta Yorta man Lin Onus.

We’re proud to have commissioned a mural work using the same methodology of mentorship and sharing between artists that was shaped back then. The mural Paying Homage to Culture by artists from The Torch who were mentored and guided by Uncle Ray Thomas—one of the original muralists who contributed to the Koorie Mural—will remain on Monash University’s Caulfield campus well beyond the closing date of the exhibition.

ILBIJERRI formed in the same era and significant ’cultural wave’ —the 1980s and 1990s—as Bangarra Dance Theatre, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, Nindeebiyah Workshop and Koorie Kollij, when Blakfullas were using art and cultural expression as a form of resistance, empowerment and connection. ILBIJERRI’s inclusion in Collective Movements communicates the significance of the people and groups who were actively making change in this period—how they shifted the cultural landscape forever—as well as the potency of Blak voices in all areas of our creative sector.

A few years down the track in 1996, the We Iri, We Homeborn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Festival took the city by storm, showcasing the largest display of Victorian Aboriginal art in five exhibitions across multiple high profile venues, including the National Gallery of Victoria’s Access Gallery. The festival, run through the City of Port Phillip, celebrated and made visible the living culture of Koorie people and—as Maree Clarke says—‘put Victorian Aboriginal art on the map’ and challenged widespread misconceptions that there was no ‘real Aboriginal art’ in Victoria. The beginnings of the renaissance of possum skin cloaks was just prior to the turn of the millennium, thanks to four women: Vicki Couzens, Debra Couzens (1962–2021), Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm. The women worked together to recreate cloaks of their Ancestors, and then shared their knowledge with communities across the South East. This reinvigorated the cultural practice of cloak making and children today are growing up wearing and making possum skin cloaks. In this period of time, our people worked tirelessly to amplify our cultural practices here in Victoria and made space for creative and cultural connection and experimentation. Their actions have had a lasting legacy and show how change is possible when we work together.

We’ve been doing this since forever

The individuals within these groups, and the groups themselves, are a continuation of creation that has been practised here for generations. They do not start at the formal beginnings of these distinct collectives, nor do they end when the collectives dissolve. Each conversation put into action, agreement to work together, or natural outcome of a yarn that happened while weaving or over drinks at the pub, builds momentum that ripples out further than the group. When one moves, we all move. This demonstrates how our culture evolves and flows and has continued here for thousands of generations. This is not a project about art but rather about people and our connections. At the core of these groups is the collective desire to leave things better than the way we found them. Fighting for our voices to be heard, our cultures to thrive and our stories and relationships with one another to be maintained and fostered forever.

Kaiela Arts has roots going back far beyond their formalisation as an arts centre. They are open for all community to come together, experiment and create, with their activities today reflecting the ways of being and doing that have long been practised on Yorta Yorta Woka. Similarly, sisters Kelsey and Tarryn Love maintain their connections to culture and practices that have existed in their family lines for generations through the work they make in their collective Koorroyarr. Their work with possum skins and weaving, and the designs they use, demonstrate the ongoing and intergenerational effects of the work their Aunties Vicki and Debra Couzens started—alongside Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm—in reviving possum skin cloak making in the ’90s.

Latje Latje Dance Group Mildura exemplifies the intricate layerings of family, community and cultural expression that led to the empowerment of many people from many different nations. The group ran for almost forty years, formalising in Robinvale in the late ’70s, and later moving to create a much-needed space in Mildura and its surrounding regions for young people to have a place to come together and learn to dance in contemporary and traditional ways. This group’s presence and impact is still felt in Mildura and beyond; it continues in the dances still danced today, and the living memories of those who took part.

Ballarat-based collective the Pitcha Makin Fellas are an ever-evolving group with varying contributors but a vision that remains the same; they represent important issues that they see in the news and in their local community, using their signature stamping style and leveraging their strong, collective voice to speak back to violence and injustice.

We continue to feel the impact of the 1996 We Iri, We Homeborn Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Festival, and the legacy of the five core members of the Koorie Arts Project team who delivered art materials and trekked across the state to collect artwork from over 100 makers to exhibit across the city.

Collectivising as a means to make the changes that we want to see is reflected in the work of emerging collectives such as this mob—a fluid collective that provides space and support for young artists to come together and create on their own terms. Their installation in Collective Movements, Gunyah Manu (Home Camp), 2022, embodies their way of working: bringing people together to share and yarn and learn through making, in the safety of each other’s company.

Much like ILBIJERRI formed to combat the lack of representation of our stories and peoples on stages across the country, Ensemble Dutala are carving out space in the classical music world by providing pathways for Indigenous musicians. The group addresses the lack of safe spaces for emerging practitioners to play together and is—as Deborah Cheetham AO says—an important beacon for aspiring musicians.

Artists from The Torch, an initiative conceived to provide creative outlets and opportunities to incarcerated and post-release Indigenous peoples, worked collaboratively with Uncle Ray Thomas to create their mural that depicts our reciprocity with the lands, waterways, plants, animals and Ancestors.

Our next movements

As youngfullas, we have inherited these stories and the responsibility to uphold the importance of forging spaces for ourselves and acknowledging the history of the journey to where we are now. In the same vein, we have these spaces to practise what our Elders and family have fought for—for us to resist and to thrive into a future where future generations will not have to perpetually experience what they did. The groups within Collective Movements exemplify the distinct practices of relationality and collective building that convey the unique and important reasons why Blackfullas come together to create, and the incredible movements of the Koorie arts community: movements of art resistance, activism, reclamation of cultural practice, of people moving across Country, of waterways and the rippling impacts this has had in the lives of mob living in Victoria. As curators, we’ve been left with hearts full of our peoples’ storytelling, which we now wear proudly on our shoulders. Our movements as Blackfullas have been one of survival—under the cover of night, in broad daylight as people marched off missions, through whispers of language, ceremony in secret, with pride, and sorrow and anger. Co-curating this show has been a long journey for the both of us. We have bonded as Aboriginal women and grown in our friendship, we have learnt about the ongoing movements of people and practice across the state and beyond through the groups within this show and tied to it, and the importance of creative resistance through yarns with Elders, aunties and uncles and the next generation.

1. Kimberley Moulton, ‘One Mob, Once Voice, One Land: The Meta-Collective’, in Katya García-Antón (ed.), Mázejoavku. Indigenous Collectivity and Art, Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), Oslo, and DAT, Kautokeino, 2020, p. 209.
2. Mary Graham, ‘Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews’, Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, vol. 3, no. 2, 1999, p. 106.
3. Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Aboriginal Women and Feminism, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 2002, p. 16.
4. Kim Kruger, ‘Coming through Ceremony’, Overland, no. 243, Winter 2021, https://overland.org.au/ previous-issues/issue-243/feature-coming-together-for-ceremony/.

‘As curators, we’ve been left with hearts full of our peoples’ storytelling, which we now wear proudly on our shoulders. Our movements as Blackfullas have been one of survival—under the cover of night, in broad daylight as people marched off missions, through whispers of language, ceremony in secret, with pride, and sorrow and anger.‘