Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Written by Alethea Beetson, Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, Queensland Museum  and Imelda Miller Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum

All year Digi Youth Arts unsettle artists and mentors have been engaging, discovering, interacting, activating, calling out, evaluating, commenting, questioning and creating new artworks inside and outside Queensland Museum. As artists in residence, Digi Youth Arts have been focused on producing new works across six art forms – street art, theater, film, dance, visual art and music. This year alone, artists from four of these art forms have showcased new works developed in collaboration with industry mentors.

In the June issue of Antenna, we reported that Digi Youth Arts unsettle participants had already started to move the museum into new spaces with the creation of two new artworks as part of Brisbane Street Art Festival. Over a weekend in February 2017, a massive crowd of approximately 15,000 people passed through the Whale Mall at Queensland Museum and witnessed the creation of the artworks ProperTies by Land Writers (Warraba Weatherall and Daniel Jones) and Digi Youth artists (Merryn Trescott, Narlee Henderson and Vashti Borthwick); and Always has been by Mz Murri Cod (Libby Harward) and Digi Youth artists (Dylan Mooney, Georgia Walsh, Emily Wells and Phi Sandy). Around the same time, a new theatre performance titled ANTHRO APOLOGY played out in the museum’s main foyer. Through these, the young performers brought a unique experience to life for the museum and the people who work here, while addressing the cultural rights in museum collections.

Participants from Brisbane dance workshops rehearsing their performance

Next up was the film and dance components of unsettle, with Digi Youth Arts extending their reach into the far north of our State to engage with youth in Palm Island, near Townsville, and Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. The film project saw the creation of four short films. Youth filmmakers from Palm Island and Brisbane used the medium of film to express their own unique perspectives and interpretations of Queensland Museum and its collections of cultural artifacts. In doing so, the young filmmakers took the audience on a storytelling journey that explored connection to people, place and objects. The youth artists were mentored by established Indigenous filmmakers Tamara Whyte and EJ Garret throughout the filmmaking process as part of unsettle. The films were screened at Queensland Museum in June 2017 and were enjoyed by an audience of community members, including community elders. It was wonderful to be able to welcome the young filmmakers from Palm Island to Brisbane for the first screening of the films.

The final unsettle event for 2017 was a dance performance. Youth artists from Tagai State College in the Torres Strait, as well as Brisbane based artists, created new work in collaboration with dance mentors and choreographers, Hanzo AhwangWare (Torres Strait Islander Dancers) and Katina Olsen (Brisbane based dance group). The new works were developed during a four day intensive workshop and were a reflection of the performers’ unique perspectives during their time here at Queensland Museum. The 10 young women from Tagai College come from different islands in the Torres Strait, and developed a performance that spoke to the journey of a young girl to a young woman. Emily Wells of Digi Youth Arts said that working with Tagai State College, Thursday Island and Queensland Museum to bring this component of the unsettle project together was a milestone for Digi Youth Arts.

“Torres Strait Islander culture has always been featured in the work made by our young people, but this is the first time our organisation has collaborated with a specific community group from, and currently living in, the Torres Strait Islands,” said Emily.

Palm Island filmmakers at work
Palm Island film participants workshopping ideas

The moving performance was attended by 120 people, including 70 members of the Brisbane Torres Strait Islander community, and had many of the Torres Strait Islander elders very emotional. On reflection, unsettle for a moment brought together young and old. Elders who can no longer travel to the islands were able to connect with family, islands and culture through the young dancers’ performances. What a memorable year it has been with Digi Youth Arts in residence at Queensland Museum. We look forward to 2018 when unsettle will present the final components of the project – a visual arts exhibition and a musical performance.

“The unsettle residency is creating work that matters. It is helping raise awareness of the relationship between institutions and our communities. unsettle also shows artists how colonization has impacted the way we create work and how our work can move to decolonize Australian audiences. As an emerging artist, unsettle has provided me with opportunities that have helped me establish myself within the Brisbane arts scene. It has helped to give me a foundation in which to work from throughout my career. It has also, more importantly, provided me with a greater sense of community and has helped me to further discover my ancestry and culture” – Aidan Rowlingson, unsettle participant.

Want to learn more Digi Youth Arts at Queensland Museum? Read more about Unsettle, our new 660: Calling home exhibition, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures on our website or visit us at Queensland Museum!