Daily Archives: 14 September 2012

Hungry for Art indeed

In case you haven’t heard, the New South Wales government is in the process of a vigorous attack on education in this state. Judith Ridge has posted passionately and lucidly on the subject at Misrule (full disclosure: she says some nice things about me at the link, in the middle of much else). If you haven’t been noticing the headlines, you can catch up here.

Amid the carnage:

On September 11 the NSW government announced that it would stop funding art education in TAFE, leaving 4000 students without access to finishing their courses in 2013. TAFE Art courses are the main provider of art education in NSW, with many prominent artists getting their first ‘hands on’ training in TAFE. The withdrawal of funding will mean that only the wealthy will be able to afford private art education and NSW will suddenly find it no longer has emerging artists with skills coming through.

That’s right, art education in TAFE will no longer be funded as of 1 January next year. No transition – just a short sharp shock. It’s anyone’s guess what that will mean for people who started a year or two ago confident that the NSW government would honour its implied contract, let alone the hundreds of artists who survive thanks to part time or casual teaching. TAFE is of course the poor relation in art education: when the National Art School boasts of its many illustrious alumni, for example, it rarely mentions that most of them attended when the NAS was actually East Sydney Tech, part of the TAFE system. So art is vulnerable because of course the contribution that artists make to society is routinely rendered invisible, and art teaching at TAFE is double vulnerable because it doesn’t have prestige at the big end of town.

There’s an online petition at CommunityRun, which is the source of the quote above. Do have a look and, if you agree with its gist, sign it. Students at a number of TAFEs are organising, including St George, Nepean, Goulburn, Moss Vale, Meadowbank and Wollongong so far.

The Hungry for Art Festival has hardly finished attracting hundreds of people to  The Gallery School at Meadowbank than the government announces it’s in effect closing the school down. (Because where will they find alternative funding in three months, and will the school still be public, affordable and accessible if they do?) The facebook page of FAIM (Fine Arts Inc Meadowbank) is humming.

As you might guess, the Art Student is in the thick of the campaign against the cuts. Among many other initiatives, it is the subject of the final printmaking project in her Advanced Diploma.

The project is inspired by the petition sent to the Pope by the House of Lords in 1530 pleading for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. That petition was displayed in Lux in Arcana, the exhibition of material from the Vatican Archives that we were lucky enough to see in July. As well as signatures, the petition boasted the seals of about a hundred lords and bishops hanging on leather thongs. The effect is impressive, but also beautiful.

The Art Student hopes to attract a similar number of artists to sign a petition (wording similar to the one at CommunityRun) and carve a small soapstone block with a symbol representing themselves that can be printed in sealing wax and hung from the petition.  The art student will supply the soapstone, and the artists are welcome to keep the carving once the imprint has been made..

If you know any artists who might be interested, send them this way. My email is jonathan at shawryan dot id dot au.

Lionel Fogarty’s 1995 selection

Lionel Fogarty, New and Selected Poems – Munaldjali, Mutuerjaraera (Hyland House 1995)

Lionel Fogarty is described on the Australian Poetry Library (APL) website as ‘a poet who has opened up the new space of black Australian post-surrealist writing and done much to reformulate our understanding of poetic discourse and its roles in both black and white communities’.

I bought this book years ago and it has been intimidating me from the to-be-read pile ever since. Now that I’ve finally read it I’m not so much intimidated as baffled, which, come to think of it, isn’t so unusual for me around poetry: I remember feeling that many of Frank O’Hara‘s poems might as well have been written in Icelandic for all I could make of them. But you know, even if straightforward poems aren’t all alike, every difficult poem is difficult in its own way. I experience Lionel Fogarty’s poetry as difficult in a number of interesting ways, some of them suggested by the APL quote above.

First, he writes in a version of Aboriginal English, and uses words from Aboriginal languages. The book’s glossary is some help with the vocabulary, but the syntax isn’t always easy to follow on the page, and Fogarty doesn’t go out of his way to ease the task for white readers. He writes in his introduction, ‘White man will never really fully interpret what a black man is thinking when he is writing.’ Fogarty writes as an Aboriginal man, heir to a genocidal history and survivor of continuing genocidal policies and practices; I am reading as a beneficiary of the same history and still with a world view largely conditioned by white privilege. That probably sounds dreadfully pious, but the fact is he can quite reasonably expect me to put in some work.

In a fascinating 1995 interview with Philip Mead published in the online poetry magazine Jacket, Fogarty responded to a question about his use of language:

I think what people should do is read my poetry, in an Aboriginal way, take the Aboriginal side of my language, and then reflect back on the English side. That’s the only way you’re going to get a balance of understanding. I think my most important thing, like I always say, is to revitalise or to get a full language into practice of the detribalised areas, of the urbanised, so-called, Aborigines. That’s my main thing.

I don’t know if it’s a separate thing, but there’s also what the APL calls his post-surrealism. I take this to refer to the hallucinatory element of some poems and something that’s happening in the language that isn’t just about Aboriginal English. From that same interview:

What I like to get into people’s minds, when they read my things, is that they get a picture, they get a painting from it and that’s the only way they can really understand all the mosaic, the patterns of the words I put down on paper. At the same time they can hear my voice coming through quite clearly, then they can really understand the poet.

I need to spend a lot more time with this poetry before I can do much more than struggle with it. But so as not to completely chicken out of saying something, here are the relatively unproblematic opening lines of ‘Farewell Reverberated Vault of Detentions’, a poem that imagines a day of freedom from oppression:

Today up home my people are
indeedly beautifully smiling
for the devil’s sweeten words are
gone.
Today my people are quenching
the waters of rivers without grog
Today my people are eating delicious
rare food of long ago.

This isn’t difficult, if difficult means hard to understand. However, I do have difficulty with it. I don’t know if indeedly is Aboriginal English. In any other context I would have read it as a Ned Flandersism. Likewise, sweeten used as an adjective, quenching as something done to waters rather than by them, apparently erratic use of full stops and capitalisation: my copy-editor reflexes go wild. I don’t think that Fogarty has written these lines with an intention of discombobulating white pedants. This writing just doesn’t care about my concerns. It’s talking to someone else altogether, and if I want to keep up I have to let go. But then I’m at sea. I am as much at a loss to pick up on the nuances of this language as I am when I’m reading French or Italian – which is very at a loss.

It’s true, in the couple of videos I found of Fogarty reading, the poetry communicates much more effectively than when I read it for myself and hear it, inevitably, in my own white, middle-class, linear-syntax-conscious voice. This TEDxSydney 2010 video is fabulous, for example: