In honour of our Cleverman exhibition, writer Nayuka Gorrie took the reins as commissioning editor and asked four exemplary emerging Aboriginal creatives to respond to the series. Nayuka writes:
Cleverman is many things to different people. It is both modern and ancient. It is magic, it is real, it is history, it is future, it is all. Cleverman first graced our television screens in 2016 which feels like a lifetime, or at least a different world ago.
In many ways the show, which caters to an international audience, while applying historical and contemporary abuses of mob here, proves prophetic for many other marginalised people in a Trump era, and closer to home the treatment of asylum seekers. It also signalled a shift in Australian television and heralded a changing era of black television and entertainment. This was before Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok. More and more black writers and entertainment are dominating in niche and varied genres and forms of television.
For this series of content, I approached different artists and asked them to respond to the show. Emily Johnson, a visual artist, created a beautiful illustration (featured below). Commissioning Emily made sense - her own work explores blackness and futurism. Paul’s music and rationale reminds us of the need for distraction, in this case music, from the realities of experiencing colonisation. Paul reminds us of the need for entertainment as reprieve. Kimberly’s piece sees the possibility of entertainment to educate and shift the hearts and minds. She also expressed the importance of seeing ourselves reflected back at us.
Enoch, working in television themselves, explores the purpose of black television and ultimately lands on it being for us. If television does not subvert colonial reality, if it relies on the colonial reality to tell stories, is it really liberation? While black television may be different things to different people, to be liberated is to create work that is self-determined and not tarnished and directed by the desires of white people and the white gaze.
Black television is fraught with the pressure to be everything for everyone: entertainment, yet education for non-Indigenous people, accurate, relatable and responsible to mob around the country. Each artist and writer commissioned responds to Cleverman in their own way, whether illustration, soundscape, text art and analysis, because Cleverman, and indeed black existence, is layered, and not limited to singularity.
Nayuka Gorrie is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer. Nayuka wrote and performed in Season 3 of Black Comedy and is currently writing a book of essays exploring colonialism, which you can support on their Patreon.
About the illustrator
Emily Johnson is a Barkindji, Wakka Wakka and Biri Guba woman, with ties to her father's family in Wilcannia and her mother’s family in Cherbourg. Her work has most recently featured in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Nakkiah Lui’s play Blackie Blackie Brown, which is due to have another season in 2019 at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in 2015 and continuing with Honours in 2016, Emily now works at Carriageworks in Eveleigh NSW while continuing to illustrate in her spare time. You can follow Emily on Instagram at @darthem123.