Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

What Is Same but Different and Why Does It Matter?

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

What Is Same but Different and Why Does It Matter?

Article excerpt

These technologies that are coming into our communities; we need to exploit them and use them how we want to use them. To record, transcribe, translate our Jukurrpa, our history. Most people, normal Australians, haven't seen our culture for what it is-what it is really ... Importantly it is made by our own people for our own people.

Curtis Taylor1

This special section of Cultural Studies Review brings together a select series of multi-media presentations originally delivered at two one-day forums titled Same but Different: Experimentation and Innovation in Desert Arts, which were held in Alice Springs in 2012 and 2013. We begin by paying our respects to the traditional owners and custodians of the country that Same but Different took shape within, the Central Arrernte people of Mparntwe/Alice Springs. Thank you for hosting Same but Different on your lands.

Same but Different, the first national forum on experimentation in Central and Western Desert arts, was developed as a partnership between research scholars Jennifer Biddle and Lisa Stefanoff, in association with Desart Inc., the desert art centres representative body. The first Same but Different event, held at the Desert Knowledge Precinct (DKP) in 2012, brought together eleven different arts organisations, representing thirteen different language groups, with art sector and research colleagues, and community associates, to create a new space for engagement, communication, partnership and exchange. Feedback from participants in this first forum was overwhelmingly positive, and a second Same but Different was held, again in Alice Springs at the DKP, in April 2013. This was followed by a curated evening of screenings of new, experimental Indigenous animation works, Desert Animations, which premiered in Sydney at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW, before touring nationally and internationally, including a screening at the 2014 American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington DC. In 2015, Same but Different has expanded to incorporate a multi- platform national exhibition, an artist-in-residency program (at Cicada Press, UNSW) and a symposium held at Galleries UNSW/NIEA/UNSW Art & Design, Sydney, under the new title 'We are in Wonder LAND: New Experimental Art from Central Australia'.

What, then, was the rationale behind the establishment of Same but Different? What reasoning is behind this long-term partnership, this platform and its expansion, and in turn, why now this special edited section for Cultural Studies Review?


Same but Different was born out of both intense frustration and excitement. Frustration, in the first instance, because of the relative lack of public awareness of what is arguably some of the most energetic, urgent and significant cultural activity Baking shape in Australia today. Beyond the success of the Western Desert painting movement, a new arena of intensive activism and vanguard aesthetics is currently taking shape across the desert, largely absent from national debate and unrecognised by major exhibitions. Art history and analysis has not kept pace with what emergent desert art works demand.2

An astonishing array of new works in new media is developing, instigating new trajectories of aesthetic tradition and destablising established frameworks: recycled and found object forms, fibre and soft sculpture, short film, animation and digital portraiture, history paintings and works of acrylic witness, and new intercultural ceremony and festival. Quite simply, Same but Different was established to enhance the visibility of this range of exciting new works by creating a networked, Aboriginal artist-centric context for showcasing these vital aesthetics. Desart Inc.'s role (as the peak representative body for desert community art centres) was essential in facilitating Same but Different's unique convention of desert-living Aboriginal art makers, Indigenous artists and curators (based elsewhere), creative producers, activists, cultural researchers and art sector industry colleagues. …

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