Updated: Dec 9, 2019
The Be Deadly project is a collaboration between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and non-indigenous artists to create public art projects and murals to showcase Australia’s rich and diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Through the telling of stories about indigenous heritage and culture, the artists will work together to create a mural which exemplifi es these stories in what promises to be an exciting and important public art project. Reconciliation Australia spoke with Jake Anderson of the ‘Be Deadly’ project to learn more.
How did the idea for Be Deadly come about? The concept for Be Deadly was first envisioned when I met an inspiring young artist by the name of Shane ‘Mankitya’ Cook, while filming a documentary series. Over time Mankitya confi ded with me about his difficult upbringing - later, as he learned more about his Aboriginal heritage, he began turning his life around. Today, Mankitya is very active in his community. He works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, instilling them with the same sense of pride that he himself felt. This enlightenment also influenced his approach towards his art – soon, Mankitya began infusing traditional Indigenous techniques with modern street-art styles. This is what got my attention. Each artwork had a special story behind it in a style which was truly unique. Mankitya and I have become great mates. We often talk at length about the power of culture and art
and how it can be a great tool for reconciliation. We sometimes ask each other, “how can non-indigenous Australians respectfully engage with First Australians and their cultures?” As a non-indigenous Australian myself, I realise that this can be a sensitive issue, so we both felt that the best approach would be through collaboration. We came up with the initiative ‘Be Deadly’ with the aspiration to paint Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanderthemed collaborative public artworks. The artist would conceptualise a theme that would encompass their history, heritage and culture. They would then collaborate with a nonindigenous artist to create an artwork around this theme. In the project’s initial stages, we hoped to have the collaboration showcased in Sydney, but it proved diffi cult. Thankfully Yarra City Council in Collingwood, Victoria, got right behind the project. The next step was to engage some local Aboriginal artists. We were lucky enough to discover the Young family who are Gunnai, Waradgerie, Gunditjmarra and Yorta Yorta people, and who have a deep connection to the area, its people and culture. It was a real blessing as they ensured all the protocols were adhered to. All members of Young family are talented artists in their own right - thankfully they agreed to not only participate, but also curate all the artworks. All the non-Indigenous artists we spoke with jumped at the opportunity. They understood the importance and the honour bestowed upon them, relishing the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Aboriginal stories, culture and history. The artist line-up consisted of Aboriginal artists Robert Young, Lyn-Al Young and Mankitya, collaborating with non-indigenous artists Makatron, Heesco, Christopher Hancock, Sid Tapia and CamScale. As you can see by the artworks created, these artists are world-class.
How was the Be Deadly project received by the community?
Were there any surprising reactions, positive or negative? The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. When you have powerful stories, and rich culture and some of the most talented artists in the world, you can create something especially powerful. I think one of the most rewarding aspects was witnessing the Young family’s reactions - in seeing their concepts come to life, engaging with world-class artists and painting large scale murals for the first time.
Wurundjeri Elder, Colin Hunter Jr also visited the laneway and conducted a Welcome to Country ceremony. He passed on his knowledge about the local land, people and history and the history of the Collingwood area. He loved the whole concept and witnessing the artworks coming to life. We had visits from local Indigenous members who instantly loved what they were seeing. One of the local guys mentioned how he was having a bad day, but upon seeing the artworks it really cheered him up. This was a nice vindication - confi rming we were on the right track. The positive feedback has continued since we released the video (of the project) online. The feedback has been coming in from all over the country. Much of the feedback is coming from non-indigenous Australians who want to be evolved in the reconciliation process, help out in any way they can, but do not know where to start. Hopefully soon we will see some interactions of Be Deadly all over the country.
Why do you think public art—both in the creation and consumption—is a powerful tool for reconciliation? Art alone is a very powerful tool to bring about change. It has the ability to provoke emotions whether they are positive or negative. When you infuse this with unique cultures, you have something very powerful to contend with. Having the Young family driving the Be Deadly project helped us to ensure that each of the artworks represented signifi cant meaning for both artists and participants alike. We were all changed by
How can non-Indigenous artists respectfully collaborate with Indigenous artists
Do you have some tips about how to kickoff this process and build trusting relationships? I feel that many non-indigenous Australians would like to be involved in the reconciliation process but are unsure where to start. I would first suggest getting in contact with their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups, many of which have similar engagement programs. It’s especially important to actively encourage involvement from all members of the community. My experience is that local groups are very receptive and always on the lookout for great ideas – best to approach with an open-mind, a willingness to learn, and with respect for the protocols they have in place. Mankitya and I were always open to the possibility that the Be Deadly project may not have been deemed suitable - inadvertently or unintentionally - by the local community. If that was the case then we were prepared to respect that decision, no matter what.
What are your plans for the future? Do you think other cities could benefi t from this kind of initiative? We would love to see the concept taken up anywhere that the local indigenous community is receptive. We hope to take the initiative to Sydney as we feel our rich indigenous heritage could be further represented in the city. We live in one of the richest and unique cultures in the world - what better way to demonstrate this than by showcasing our indigenous culture? Both Mankitya and I believe that Be Deadly can help to shift perspectives – and help all Australians the impact that these initiatives can have on all Australians.
How can interested artists or community supporters get involved in ‘Be Deadly’? The Be Deadly initiative is not owned by anyone - it is for everyone, and we encourage people to pick up the initiative and add to it. We just ask that you be respectful to the local indigenous community as creating indigenous-themed artworks is very sensitive to the local people and the area. Each depiction may have different meanings to the local tribe, so keep in mind that this needs to be honoured and respected. This is why we encourage artists to involve local Indigenous artists in their collaboration and curation process. Others can contribute by helping us to securing a public wall as our canvas - the bigger, the better! This process involves gaining the permission of building owners and often, council permission. We are specifi cally looking for large-scale walls in a number of different cities, so if you can help out please be in touch. Be Deadly was humbling, inspiring and empowering - Mankitya and I were completely overwhelmed by the experience. We will never forget the stories we learned, the friendships made and the artworks created. Our rich indigenous culture is an unstoppable force that can transform our society for the better. Remember folks - Be Deadly! Find out more about the Be Deadly project at www.bedeadly.com.au