Ali Gumillya Baker, Mirning
Faye Rosas Blanch, Yidinyji/Mbararam
Natalie Harkin, Narungga
Simone Ulalka Tur, Yankunytjatjara
The Unbound Collective are a group of artists/academics working out of Flinders University on Kaurna Yarta. Their work embraces complex questions of what it means to be sovereign peoples – Yidinyji/ Mbarbram, Yankunytjatjara, Narungga, Mirning – and exist both within and outside of the institutionalisation of the colonial settler state that continually seeks to categorise and contain them.
What are the ideas that we can collectively bind ourselves to and what are the ideas that can set us free?
Bound and Unbound: Sovereign Acts – decolonising methodologies of the lived and spoken.
This multi-stage-multi-site project is presented through a poetics of performance, song, poetry and video-projection. The installation activist pieces enact inter-generational transformations of old and new stories to explore the bound and the free. What ideas we are bound to historically, and what we choose to (un)bind ourselves to and from now and into the future.
We acknowledge Dr Julie Gough as creative collaborator in conceptualising and presenting Act I.
Act II was presented in three stages. Two site-specific performances were conducted in and around the city's colonial 'cultural-precinct'. Accompanying images and text were also installed to weave a QR-code narrative of sovereign love poems on ten bus shelters in the city and suburbs of Adelaide.
This work was commissioned for TARNANTHI Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Visual Art Festival in October 2015.
Act I and II speak back to colonial institutions of power as dominant sites and repositories of cultural knowledge production.
This is a counter narrative repatriation of love to ancestors and loving rupturing reminder that this is Kaurna Yarta, Kaurna land.
Sovereign Acts III | REFUSE is the third work in a trilogy of research, video and performance works that explore the capacity of ideas to both bind and set free, alongside cultural continuance and institutional containment.
This third Act was commissioned by Vitalstastix for the multi-staged Climate Century program, and explores two readings of the title, REFUSE, as both resistance and waste.
This work draws on the history and stories around Yerta Bulti, Port River, and the history of nuclear campaigning from generations past, through the lens of community continuity, environmental campaigning, and the river as a living story.
This is Unbound's critical-creative resistance and refusal to acts of environmental degradation on Aboriginal land. It honours the role of Aboriginal women in caring for the Country, particularly the intergenerational transmission of knowledge with regard to movements of resistance, refusal and sovereignty through protest.
We acknowledge Dr Lou Bennett as creative collaborator in composing two songs and presenting this work.
Sovereign Act IV | OBJECT is the fourth Act, commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art for The National: New Australian Art, 2019.
We acknowledge Dr Romaine Moreton in writing the 'artist statement' for this work (https://www.the-national.com.au/artists/the-unbound-collective/sovereign-acts-iv-object/).
Four women enter the gallery space. They move softly, quietly. The carriage of light, the vibration of voices, and the spectre of Indigenous womanhood gently moving through the western coloniality of power, represented here by the gallery itself. They carry small projectors, will sing to the portrait of Captain Cook, and speak poetry to the outdated, violent, racist ideas of western colonialism. The women are captivating with their stillness, enduringness. Their bodies in all their beauty challenge narratives historically controlled by anthropologists, such as Norman Tindale, who led expeditions out of the South Australian Museum. The static nature of scientific texts such as Tindale’s is juxtaposed to the fluid movement of The Unbound Collective – Aboriginal women who culturally transmit through gesture and song, using light to project ancient knowledge into the living present. The spectre, the audience expects, is an Indigenous haunting, a return of an Indigenous, unyielding presence. However, this ancestral presence, invoked by the bodies of four Aboriginal women, is here to remind us that in Indigenous cosmology, everything is in flux, and all things are continuous. They make that which is invisible, visible.
The Unbound Collective’s Sovereign Acts IV: OBJECT (2019) is an interrogation of the passive condition of the object, and an active protest of objectification. The performers physically and conceptually move within this binary, their identities bound and unbound. The Unbound Collective move together as an embodied single, complex thought, where the living flesh and the archive are caught in a dance. The Unbound Collective conducts a dialogue with the cold, hard fixity of colonial structures and patriarchal order, their unquiet tranquillity instantaneously destabilising the rigid structures of institutionalism. Small projectors in their hands marking their way, The Unbound Collective bring mystery to nomology, interrupt the scientific gaze, and disturb colonial authority. The Unbound Collective come to repatriate the named and un-named Aboriginal people held in institutional collections, augmenting a repatriation process that is simultaneously an act of love. The women walk carefully, their light-bearing forms moving through moribund spaces, weaving kinetic maps that reinscribe ancestral presence back into place.
Sovereignty is quiet. Sovereignty is intimate. Sovereignty is love. And Sovereign Acts IV: OBJECT puts love back into place. The Unbound Collective remind us, let us not be still in the fixity of the archive. Let us move. Bound. Unbound. Abound. As an Aboriginal woman, I feel safe in the protest of The Unbound Collective and their shedding of objectification, for I know they have held each word, each stone, each mortar, each idea, each love act, each act of love, every sovereign moment, like an Ancestor repatriated. Sovereign Acts IV: Object is a testimony to the collectives of women, the value of conversation and knowingness in the presence of the text, and the text like a tomb is cracked open to free the living essence of all that is ancient and unyielding. The Unbound Collective show us that Indigenous presence is enduring, and erasure cannot be affected by incarceration, quantification or dissection. The ancient is soft, malleable and always weaving itself back into place. The old people are not absent, nor are they silent, and they are returned to the living presence through The Unbound Collective’s performance of sovereign love.
Sovereign Act V | CALLING is the fifth Act as an installation and performance commissioned by Samstag Museum of Art, 25 Apr to 19 Jul 2019.
Sovereign Act V: CALLING presents a critical reflection though poetry, story, song, performance, video-installation and archival letters, responding to two major Australian War Memorial exhibitions launch on ANZAC Day, 2019: For Country For Nation, and Reality in Flames: modern Australian art and the Second world war.
This work is concerned with making visible what has been concealed by colonial institutions of power, and beckons the viewer to pay attention, to look carefully for absences in our collective knowledge and to not be passive in our investigations, with particular consideration to Australia's First People's representation in war.
In Ali Gumillya Baker’s Racist texts, books are piled perilously high - four and a half metres - looming above our heads so that we must crane our necks to read their spines. We are unable to open these books and thumb through their pages but their titles face outwards, not to be ignored. Compiled over a period of five years, Baker’s installation of texts stand as an ‘anti-memorial’, a marker of what has entered the narrative and what remains absent.
Inside the space, we stand upon a map of Adelaide – the network of rivers, streams and estuaries that lined the landscape before the city was built twists and weaves across the floor and across our bodies. The recorded voices of the Unbound Collective and Kaurna Elder and scholar Uncle Lewis Yarluburka O’Brien enact memory and storytelling, and speak back to sovereign identity and ways of understanding: “my skin speaks, my skin hears, my skin listens.” In Western tradition, the written word is relied upon to carry our history forward. The ongoing work of the Unbound Collective confronts that tradition through the visceral and emotive power of storytelling in all its forms, pushing for a more complete archive of human experience and consequence.
Through this call to action the gallery space becomes a space of resistance, resilience, and re-action.
We acknowledge Kaurna Elder and scholar, Uncle Lewis Yarluburka O’Brien and Senior Kaurna knowledge holder Michael O'Brien, as collaborators in this work.
The Unbound Collective returns to Tarnanthi with a retrospective showcasing their long-running Sovereign Acts series, which reveals and challenges the containment and exclusion of Aboriginal people by institutions of knowledge, culture and power.
Sovereign Acts | In the Wake is presented as part of Tarnanthi: Festival Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. Tarnanthi is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia.
This retrospective of our five Sovereign Acts considers the ideas of what it means to be bound, and what it means to be free. Placed on the skirts between the records, are new imaginings. Sovereign loves poems, songs of calling for long-held philosophies, for times of grief, for protection of country and activism. Our love of trees, our bodies and love letters to our families. We are our future archive. We are compelled to perform in the wake. As ours skirts slowly twirl, the archives change and blend into new awakenings. To rise-up, stay afloat and keep watch in the wake of the last light.
We honour our families and communities and all those who continue to stand in solidarity. We would like to thank everyone, the individuals and organizations, who have supported, mentored, collaborated and encouraged this work over six years. Living in the wake is living black existence. Bound and Unbound.
Purple Flowers and Dust was commissioned for a multi-site exhibition curated by Lisa Radford and Yhonnie Scarce, The Image is Not Nothing (Concrete Archives). The exhibition premiered at ACE Open as part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival before touring to the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, The University of Melbourne. (https://aceopen.art/exhibitions/the-image-is-not-nothing-concrete-archives/).
This work Purple Flowers and Dust honours legacies of un-ending relationality through histories of activism, resilience and protest, and the active reconnection and repatriation of old stories lost, found and re-imagined. These stories shape and rupture our skin as Country, through colonial archives and beating hearts. Our bodies layered with landscape, records and memory – we wear it all to shine a light on anti-nuclear activism in South Australia and the ongoing relevance of the Irati Wanti, Leave the Poison campaign led by the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta (senior Aboriginal women from Coober Pedy, South Australia) from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
This is an old love story about radio-active dust and ideas that refuses to settle, the refusal to accept desecration through uranium mining, the transport of waste and uranium oxide concentrate through lands/rivers/seas, and the ongoing struggle against a waste dump on Aboriginal lands. We honour all First Nations and Pacific communities who fight to protect country and black lives.
This is our call and response responsibility to protect Country and refuse the old fixed-imaginings of State. We are indebted to the wisdom, strength and love of our ancestors and activists such as the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. We sing, write and project our fallout-stories against this larger epic backdrop to our collective-collected lives, and we continue to talk straight out.
We acknowledge Dr Lou Bennett in co-writing the song Purple Flowers, with the Unbound Collective, which was debuted at the exhibition opening, performed by Simone Ululka Tur.