The Future Is Clear
Blak-Queer Futurism at Blak Dot Gallery
by Robert Ruckus
It is a beautiful occurrence to stand about and see people of all backgrounds come together, be happy and feel safe. Vibrant colours adorn the bodies of many who attend this exhibition opening at Blak Dot Gallery in Brunswick on a mild January evening, children dance about with their families, and the atmosphere cries out with community. A sense of (re)connection pulsates within this room tonight. This is the power of BLAK-QUEER FUTURISM.
To be present here is to witness a glimpse of a future without restraint or fear. I identify as Australian born, from the blood of migrants, yet as much as this land is a familiar home to me, I have also felt as if I am a guest within it. These walls and floors, on the other hand, welcome me to the lands within the hearts of the multi-disciplinary artists these creations belong to. A question resonates and flows through these works, as if the world outside as it currently exists is not the future it should be – the future that could be created.
Each artist’s personality shines throughout, with carefully considered elements that represent not only the artist themselves, but the deeply rooted connection to the world they exist within. Aspects of the earth – in land, in water, in the sky above, the fire within its belly beckoning from below – weaves itself around and along the concrete surrounds to offer a glimpse of co-existence between the natural world that welcomes us and the technological world that propels us.
It’s overwhelming the sense of joy it brings to be surrounded by people I love, people I wish were around while I was growing up, people who show me to be unafraid, who hold me when I no longer understand why this world is the way it appears (but does not want) to be. They welcome me home in my adulthood in a way that no other has. The night is filled with appreciation of difference, diversity, and the imagination of a future full of the warmth, colour and light that such things provide.
I am left with a notion that the future is to be as vibrant as the energy Alec Reade & Kalyani Mumtaz have managed to co-curate, instilling a positivity rarely experienced when thinking forward to that which formerly seemed inevitable – the tech dystopian wasteland. Blak-Queer Futurism is not a world built along such divided lines. This is not ‘us and them’, not the bleak, nature-less face of a world destroyed by greed, toxins and plastics. In this gallery, tonight, the future embraces each guest equally and without restraint. We open ourselves to acceptance and hope, and here discover the wellspring of our joy.
Curators Alec & Kalyani acknowledge and thank the Wurundjeri people and Elders past and present of the Kulin nations on whose lands this event took place, and granted the opportunity to discuss the intertwining presence of past, present and future through their eyes alongside the artwork adorning the Blak Dot Gallery walls.
You talked about looking backwards to your ancestry as a way to reconnect and understand your future. How has this affected you personally and in return affected your artistry?
Alec Reade: I think looking back has manifested in ways which I’ve always done, but until recently never understood or recognised. Whether by asking for permission from Elders, or inadvertently hearing of friends or family who seek guidance or talk to their ancestors, I hope to practice similarly. This may be in many forms, either through permission granted from elders of the community, through replicating arts practice from before our time, or through family research and story, we connect with these ancestors; and in many of our cultures it is understood that our ancestors walk through us. Simply by being, we connect. So, by extension, creating something new can also be ‘looking back’.
There is a sense of reclamation of the body, of language, of symbolism, of the self, and of the land within these artworks. Why do you feel these artists all found similar resonance within their works?
A.R. In the process of co-curating the show, I asked each artist to focus on positive manifestations of the future, and to avoid responding to oppression, and so, naturally, each of the works encompass things that the artists look towards for strength, be that the self, the lands and waterways, or symbolism. These outlets serve as foundations for many cultures, and individuals within a culture, within the show. So, rather than reclamation, it is a reinstating of each individual’s connection to those things. I think each artist was merely enacting their own truth, guided by their cultural understandings.
Kalyani, your artwork dissects aspects of consumption organically. What consumes you to analyse the intersection of the technological and natural worlds we are surrounded by?
Kalyani Mumtaz: Tech tends to be featured in dystopian narratives as sterile and destructive to nature/humanity. It’s something that felt very alien to me growing up in the forest. I would like to place tech in the hands of Indigenous peoples who are expert at developing tools while maintaining Eco friendly systems.
There’s this risk, as you pointed out, about how being “on trend” – in regard to how queer people and people of colour are represented in the media – could lead to a reinforcement of the very issues you are attempting to tear down. This appears to be an constant struggle at points of power, cultural and societal shifts. How do you therefore envision our future as embodied in this positive change and action?
K.M. I think the risk is more early-onset risk. Normalising what were once silenced narratives may be hard in the beginning as we decipher genuine response from misunderstandings or misrepresentations – who is just co-opting narratives for social capital when it is ‘on trend’, who still thinks and enacts insidious forms of racial violence either with or without knowledge, and who genuinely tries to contribute to these narratives.
I think the fortunate thing about this is that once these perspectives take the forefront it will be hard to silence them or derail the conversations being had. Those of us who are privileged and who also identify with those stories and lives that were once silenced are lucky, in a sense, as these conversations have been ongoing, but we exist in a time where communication is more accessible, and accessing these conversations is an ever-stronger possibility, so unification and mobilisation may also be made easy.
Already, you see this being enacted through movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ to protests against ‘Invasion Day’. Numbers are growing and connectivity is improving. The positive change will follow.
In our current climate there is a fight for identity. What is identity to you and at what point do we finally begin to start embracing all identities as the norm? And is this the true futurism?
A.R. The fight existed long before I joined it. I think the recognition and combating of White Supremacy, as well as Heteronormativity and Patriarchy is central to equity. I think futurism is intangible and what we do now is necessary to manifesting a future we desire. Embracing identities is the easiest part, addressing toxic forms of normativity and holding ourselves accountable when we regress is the harder part, which is why I see it as more necessary in the push forward.
Blak-Queer Futurism, co-curated by Alec Reade & Kalyani Mumtaz, Blak Dot Gallery, 33 Saxon Street Brunswick (VIC), 18 January – 4 February 2018 – blakdot.com.au