Review: Youthquake Collapses Colonial Narratives

Art has an incredible power to make us feel, and dis rupt‘s Blak youth takeover of Hamer Hall was exhilarating and inspirational, writes Davey Thompson. Blak Critics is a YIRRAMBOI initiative giving voice to First Nations writers and critics.

YIRRAMBOI Festival was back in 2019, inundating the city with Blak talent as part of Australia’s premier First Nations arts festival. Getting off to a great start, dis rupt saw a Blak youth takeover of Hamer Hall during the citywide Blak-out, Barring Yanabul.

Spread throughout Arts Centre Melbourne’s riverside edifice’s multiple levels, dis rupt featured a wave of incredible young talent gathered from around Melbourne, showcasing dance, music, drag, visual and performance art.

Beginning with a Welcome to Country by N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, senior elder and matriarch of the Boonwurrung, set against a phenomenal view across the Yarra River and onto the city, it was an incredibly significant moment. N’arweet reminded us that beneath the concrete covering the earth lie the footsteps of her ancestors, placed there long before any one of us had been born. This and other profound statements from one of our Traditional Owners as well as contributions from the various curators really helped to set the tone of the disruption we were about to witness inside Hamer Hall.

Blak Order, Moorina Bonini and Edwina Green. Photo: James Henry

You would had to have snuck in through the stage door out the back of the building to have missed dis rupt. Entering through the main foyer, patrons were greeted with large paperbark signs addressing the house rules for the event: ‘…in entering this space you respect, recognise and acknowledge your white guilt and western eyes, to come with no intention except to accept.’ A brilliant way to address certain baggage in the room, it was a salient reminder that art has this incredible power to make us feel and understand things through new perspectives. The house rules also did a fantastic job in reminding non–First Nations people that we’re on this journey together.

Terror Nullius: All Fall Down, Savanna Kruger. Photo: James Henry

Much like you would see in a murder mystery, a taped outline marked the spot where a body would have lain below the paperbark. As the evening progressed, those outlines mysteriously grew in number until, unexpectedly, a First Nations person would walk through the space, drop dead and lie there waiting for their outline to add to the taped markers before continuing on into the evening as if nothing had happened.

A gut-wrenching interpretation of our country’s lack of understanding about how dire the death rates have been for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities since colonisation, this story is all too familiar for First Nations people. To see it play out in this fashion broke my heart – exhilarating, inspirational and rage-inducing all at once.

Breathe Yinarr, Maylene Slater-Burns. Photo: James Henry

As the crowd descended further into the bunker that is Hamer Hall, the outside world faded away and we were flooded with performances from a plethora of ridiculously talented young people.

Maylene Slater-Burns’s vocals echoed from underground up, filling these vaults with passion, grace and intensity. Tré Turner’s Drag of Kwatye stood as a solid reminder that the white mainstream is not the only form of fierce out there (go get ‘em Tré!). Brent Watkins, Yosua Roem and Sean Ryan’s Culture Evolves invoked the spirits of their ancestors whilst showcasing some Jabbawockeez-level dynamic, sharp, punchy hip-hop.

Drag of Kwatye, Stone Motherless Cold. Photo: James Henry

Surrounded by these young Blak creatives – the next generation of big thinkers, movers and shakers – playing out amidst the footprints of N’arweet’s ancestors was an emotionally overwhelming experience for this reviewer. The pure talent and drive of these young creatives left me so inspired, charged and primed for the next chapter of our lives, whilst also slowing me down to reflect on my family’s story and our contributions to community. The most proud and the most pained parts of our history and culture were on full display, and it took longer than expected to drink it all in and let it settle.

Culture Evolves, Brent Watkins & Yosua Roem. Photo: James Henry

An event of this scale is impossible without a meticulous and collaborative curation process, and my heartfelt congratulations and praise go to Taungurong woman Kate ten Buuren and her collaborators Kalyani Mumtaz and Cienan Muir. Through their collective work, they built a phenomenal event that I hope will become a YIRRAMBOI staple, much like the Blak Critics program that has made this review possible. Through dis rupt’s takeover of Hamer Hall, they have created something truly unique and sacred. Our ancestors would be incredibly proud.

dis rupt curator Kate ten Buuren. Photo: James Henry

dis rupt premiered at YIRRAMBOI Festival 2019. This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, VicHealth, and the Arts Centre Melbourne and The City of Melbourne through YIRRAMBOI Festival. Its development was supported by Darebin Arts.

Header image: Drag of Kwatye, Jean-Paul Weaver by James Henry