The Politics of Art and Representation


I was recently invited to join 10 speakers at the Footscray Community Arts Centre for an event focusing on ‘The Politics of Art and Representation’. Speakers were a collection of arts practitioners, theatre makers, actors, visual artists, academics and comedians – I was just  tag along.

Below is a transcript of my address – 30 Oct 2014

I’m not an artist. I know artists but I’m not an artist. But I love art. To me, art is mastery of a skill, it is a habit of creation and curiosity – continually being refined and expanded, refined and expanded, refined and expanded – to express something internal or external, to connect an emotion or story, to share a learning or tension.Art does something to us all in very different ways, these ways are developed through our lived experiences, history, culture and emotional state.

I love visual arts, painting, it constantly blows my mind – the skill, detail and techniques that an artist deploys on a blank canvas. It blows me away that an artist can hold an image in their mind at an atmospheric level yet, can dive into the smallest detail and understand how the slightest stroke of their brush adds to the bigger picture. But, it is the art of oration that leaves me breathless, inspired, challenged and in awe. Names like Churchill, Seth Godin, Obama, Mandela, Robert Kennedy, Noel Pearson and of course Dr Martin Luther King Jr – this is my art collection. Dr Kings ‘Mountain Top’ address to the sanitation workers of Memphis in 1968, the day before he was assassinated in a work of inspiring, prophetic leadership.

“Longevity has its place, but I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go to the mountain top. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But, I want you to know tonight, that as a people, we will get to the Promised Land.”

My Father, is a Minister and a great orator. I grew up watching him deliver sermons to congregations to inspire introspection, reflection, faith and connection. He once shared with me the parable about the farmer who was sowing seeds. Casting seeds on soil that was dry, cold and arid, casting seeds on soil overgrown with weeds and thorns and finally casting seeds on fertile soil.

This is not a parable for the horticulturalist in us, it is not speaking to our green thumbs, or in my case – the hope of a green thumb – but rather about receiving a message. Being the kind of audience that will receive a message when it is laid out before you. Will you be cold and arid like the first soil? Will you be distracted and overwhelmed like the soil that gives life to weeds and thorns or will you be open, nurturing and responsive like the fertile soil.

The power of oration is not in the effective us of language and the configuration of words strung together but in its ability to create something in its audience. The question it sparks with in an audience. It is the ability to reach into somebodies soul and shake it awake asking ‘what are you doing’ – ‘what do you stand for’.

When Dr King says that “the hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined non-conformists, who are dedicate their lives to peace, justice and brotherhood“. He isn’t just referring to or calling on an imaginary figure and applying a label of a disciplined non-conformist, he is saying ‘YOU – it is you who stands with me, who stands besides me and hope for a peaceful, just and loving world who are disciplined non-conformists.

The art of oration calls on an audience to enter into a contract, a bond – that cannot be transferred through a recording, a picture, an artwork or a transcript. The art of oration is most effective when this artful seed is sown on fertile lands – open hearts. It is most powerful when creating meaningful connection. It is most inspiring when it calls on you to lead, to reflect, to take a stand, build a system, break a system, to represent or to change.

The power of oration to create, is summed up in tonight’s theme: the politics of art and representation’ because to me; Oration is politics. Oration is art. Oration is representation. But I think the question is; what kind of audience will you be? If tonight I am the farmer simply sowing a seed, which soil will you be today, tomorrow and as you walk your journey through life.

Thank you.