Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two sides of the Pacific


Offered for exclusive tastes in Santiago is high class Australian meat cuisine.

Bin night

Meanwhile, Melbourne artist Peter Burke is filling Altona billboards with the real drama on the streets of this southern city.

Dark clouds not on the horizon


Within the liberal classes, we have become so used to our own sense of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, we may be blind to the danger of complacent insularity from within.

The People's Republic of Brunswick is a widely celebrated bastion of multiculturalism. After Italian, Greek and Arab, the latest region to add its culture to the suburb's diversity is African. In Lygon Street is the new store with goods and crafts from east Africa. Mahmoud Leman is here holding a bowl made by local Eritreans from recycled materials. His wife Halima Sheikhdin has been particularly involved in this activity.

I visited this store on my way to a 'town hall' meeting at the East Brunswick Hotel where a panel was discussing the latest plan for development in Brunswick. The hotel was packed to the gills with locals keenly interested to ensure that their suburb was protected from threats from outside. One of the proposals considered was a ring road to direct cars away from Brunswick.

Looking around at the crowd, it was hard to find anyone - including myself - who was not Anglo middle class. There were no Greeks or Africans present. While seeming noble in motive, reflecting a shared consensus in 'green' values, I couldn't repress a feeling of apprehension that this is a kind of middle class gentility whose hidden purpose is to ensure homogeneity. It's a terrible thought, which I attribute to some devil whispering in my ear. But I await the voice of the angel to dispute this.

And last night, I went to the surprise lecture of the next director of the Sydney Biennale, David Elliot. While celebrating 'impurity' in art, he actually contextualised this within the consciousness of the artist, rather than a critical engagement with impurity as we have seen in psychoanalysis or postcolonialism. The sense was that the free bohemian artist was above the crude divisions that exist in the world. This disengagement of art from the world (suggested partly in this year's Biennale) does not bode well for responses to climate change. Will re-localisation prove to create comfort zones for well-endowed elites?

Well, someone has to ask the question, if only to be proved wrong.

Sunday, July 27, 2008



At Melbourne's Platform gallery is a curious exhibition for us commuters to reflect on our lack of belonging to the land.

Here's how Sharon West explains Gubbaworld:

Presenting colonial pseudo-histories and other follies
Gubbaworld is derived from the Koori name for white people. This exhibition parodies the notion of the museum diorama cabinet, offering pseudo narratives of Victorian settler history and draws reference on the Indigenous dioramas of Melbourne Museum and the Great Colonial Exhibitions of the late 1800s. The work themes also focus on settler and Indigenous contact, exploring parables and inversions that satirise the ideas of the great Southern land, the Noble Savage and white colonisation.

It's a humorous take on the naïve settler romance about native peoples. There's some reversals, as in the piece below, which put Koori's in the place of cultural tourists.

The effect of this exhibition is for us to laugh at the outmoded colonial movements, such as Jindyworabaks, who essentialised Indigenous cultures. But it does raise the question of where this places us today. Is the now official acknowledgement of Indigenous custodianship enough? Where do non-Indigenous now place themselves in this scene today?

DSCF3953A new Jerusalem
An attempt in the transplantation of British culture onto the Indigenous landscape. The Koori campsite is remodelled into a pleasant English village

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We're in, they're out


The Occidental is, primarily, the place of hegemonic epistemology rather than a geographical sector on the map. Samuel Huntington demonstrated as much when he placed Australia in the First World and in the West while leaving Latin America out.

Walter Mignolo The Idea of Latin America Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, p. 37

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Two leaders of the South

Recently two leaders of southern nations have delivered lectures at the London School of Economics. Though both coming from ex-colonised on the other side of the world, and representing fresh democratic energies, they had very different stories to tell.

image The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd started his address on 7 April with jokes about the Australian superiority in cricket. His 'colonial strut' reflected a young boisterous nation goading its slow-moving but beloved parent. The speech was an opportunity to outline Britain's relation to the aspiration that Australia be the 'most Asia-literate nation in the collective West.' He made an emphatic point that:

Today I want to argue that, in a rapidly changing world, Australia and the United Kingdom have a lot to gain from working with each other to shape the emerging global order – particularly given Britain’s strength in Europe and Australia’s standing in Asia.

So here is the arrangement of the two close Anglo nations within the collective West. Britain looks after Europe, and Australia looks after Asia. The assumption is that the collective West is the principle actor on the world stage, steering history on a safe course. No doubt this assumption will be seriously challenged in future years.

image Three days before, the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet addressed the LSE about the situation in her country. It began as a very serious talk, emphasising issues of statecraft and the role of the government in transcending competing interests between different groups. While a little dry, she had some interesting things to say about the challenge to confront the culture of political belligerence and create a civic discourse in which opposing points of view can debate calmly. Towards the end, she started to make some jokes in a way far more spontaneous than Rudd. There was no reference to Britain whatsoever in her talk.

As she left he podium, Bachelet was presented with a cup similar to that given to Nelson Mandela. As another leader of the South, was Rudd given a similar gift?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Betancourt's release - it's not all good news


So after six years in jungle captivity, Ingrid Betancourt is finally released. Certainly, one can only share the joy of her release, the relief of a painless rescue and the ecstasy of a family re-united.

But there's also case for some regret. One of Betancourt's first acts on release is to fly to France and express her appreciation for the support of the French people, particularly the President, Nicolas Sarkosy. 'I owe my life to France', she says.

It seems a strange statement for her to make. France apparently had no role in the rescue operation. It was the Colombians who risked their lives for her.

The immediate flight to France, where she has begun to give details of the horrors of the Colombian jungle, can only confirm the belief in most first world counties of the lawlessness and barbarity of the South.

There are many references in the story of her rescue to a Hollywood script. It's as though she was saved not by real soldiers but by Stephen Spielberg. The way the story has been told is testimony to the cultural hegemony of the West, and the fantasy of world redemption that is enacted in US action films.

So, despite the joy of Betancourt's reunion with family and friends, I feel a twinge of regret that this episode only confirms the hierarchy of North and South - the powerful, civilised force of the North, pitted against the disorganised, barbaric forces of the South.

It reaffirms the aspirational perspective of the South, where the lucky few who are able to escape are lauded as great national heroes.

None of this counters the pleasure in Betancourt's release. I just wish she would have stayed in Colombia.