‘We’re shifting the paradigm of what is perceived as First Nations art’: YIRRAMBOI Festival brings the power

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‘We’re shifting the paradigm of what is perceived as First Nations art’: YIRRAMBOI Festival brings the power

Stills by Daniel

Naarm is gearing up for a spectacular celebration as Australia's leading First Nations festival returns from May 4 to 14 to showcase the diversity of First Nations culture.

YIRRAMBOI returns for its fourth and biggest year yet! The translation of the festival title in the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung languages is “tomorrow”, which perfectly sums up what you can expect to understand by attending the diverse collection of events this May. The ambitious showcase collates a massive 300 artists in just 10 days to perfectly encapsulate the interconnectedness and diversity of First Nations creatives worldwide.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in and around Melbourne here.

The Uncle Jack Charles Hub will be the centrepiece for this year’s event, paying homage to the iconic First Nations actor, activist, and revered Elder of the arts community. Located at the Meat Market in North Melbourne, the hub will be a cultural haven for visitors to experience First Nations comedy, music, and art.

The rest of the festival will be spread across 40 venues and locations, with a citywide Blak Out and Archie Roach Block Party on May 6 to take over the city. Another exciting focus for this year’s event spreads across five brand-new projects under the theme of Blak Futurism. These projects will challenge any preconceived notions of First Nations art, to exhibit the breadth of talent in upcoming generations.

Beat caught up with the co-leads of YIRRAMBOI; Sherene Stewarts and J-Maine Beezley, to learn what to expect this year and what they’re most excited about.

“This is the largest First Nations festival in Victoria that supports a plethora of mediums, including ones that haven’t been done before in the First Nations space, in an effort to remove the red tape that society has placed around these artists; we’re shifting the paradigm of what is perceived as First Nations art.

“Many people look at us in 2023 and still think that we only do dot painting or get painted up and do a corroboree. That’s important to the foundations of who we are and our cultural practices, but we’re much more than that,” explains Sherene.

YIRRAMBOI looks into a world reimagined around the thinking that if Covid bought us to our knees, who would survive in this country? Sherene adds, “We get to delve into what we imagine as a blak future.” The festival programming is a direct response to current topics, be they political or artistic, and the significant lineup includes new and existing programs with a purpose.

All of the producers and curators of YIRRAMBOI are First Peoples, and the curation of such a significant lineup is an achievement in itself. “We want to give an opportunity to as many creatives as we can. There are so many storytellers out there with great stories to tell, and we want to provide a platform for them to do that,” explains J-Maine.

YIRRAMBOI does a beautiful job of balancing stories and expressions from both younger and older generations, who were asked what the future looks like for their community. Sherene explains that YIRRAMBOI is the perfect opportunity for the wider community to experience not only First Nations art, but also get involved. “Victoria’s First Nations art scene is so niche and so underground, the community that we are a part of every weekend is captured here, so we’re giving everyone an invitation to see our world. We see the festival as a call to action; it’s us asking you for allyship.”

Sherene continues, “First Nations people have a voice; we don’t need anyone to give us a voice; what we need is a platform and opportunity to be heard. I think that’s an important part of the foundations of what YIRRAMBOI is. The through-line that J-Maine and I have created for this festival is the question, what does a Blak future look to the individual? You’ll come to find that we see ourselves in the future as leaders of our country that we’ve looked after for generations.”

YIRRAMBOI festival runs from May 4 – 14 with a stacked line-up of free and ticketed events spanning the breadth of artistic expression in the First Nations community. Find out more information here.

This article was made in partnership with YIRRAMBOI.