I acknowledge the traditional and rightful custodians of the land on which I stand, live and work, the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their elders – past, present and emerging. I acknowledge the ongoing legacy of sacred storytelling, ceremony, ritual and performance which has blessed this land for over 60 000 years, the ancient wisdoms and knowledges of this nation’s First Peoples, and their sovereignty on this land, which was never ceded. I recognise that treaties have not been signed and that genocide and systematic oppression are ongoing. I acknowledge my position as a settler living on these stolen, sacred lands, and work to position myself in solidarity with my Indigenous whanau//family of these lands. I extend my respects and acknowledgement to all First Peoples who may come to read this, and to any who are practising culture, lore, custom and language, in resistance to colonialism and cultural genocide.
Muniak Mulana, meaning future spirit, is the creative child of Brent Watkins (Culture Evolves), a Gunnaikurnai and Yamaji artist, and Neil Morris (DRMNGNOW), a Yorta Yorta artist. The work explores themes of loss, mourning, resilience and transformation. These artists utilise movement, sound and landscape as means for navigating cultural identity, Indigenous futurisms and ancientness, and the ongoing resistance and resilience in the face of colonialism and cultural genocide.
This is a thank you letter to these two First Nations artists for gifting us something that is so sacred and so urgently in need of witnessing and experiencing right now. This is an acknowledgement of the ancient presence conjured before us last night, and the enormous power, resistance, loss and mourning that was shared.
Entering the space, I am immediately welcomed by a room anointed in whenua//land, the enriching presence of bark, leaf, stone and dirt forming the warmth and comfort of a sanctuary. The room falls dark and the performance begins. As light seeps back into the room, it falls upon Brent who kneels, curled over before a mound of eucalyptus. His back warps, breathing, forming and reforming. He moves with the intelligence of water, fire, electricity, animal and earth coursing through him; a way of shapeshifting and embodying that appears completely innate and natural. Moving in collaboration with the whenua//land rather than upon it, he is both grounded and weightless, at once.
Brent performs cultural dance infused with hip-hop and, although I recognise one from the other, I cease to pinpoint where one ends and the other begins. Every movement, regardless of origin, carries a depth of meaning and emotion, which renders the concept of ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ irrelevant. Neil emerges from beneath a possum skin cloak to address us in Yorta Yorta language. Everything the performance engages in carries clear purpose and importance;I feel the significance of the ritual that is being performed in our presence. Neil speaks with a staunch resistance as he calls out the oppression and abuse that First Peoples have historically, and are presently, fighting against. Brent heaves against invisible shackles that are so real as I witness his pain, rage and exhaustion that I can see he is channelling, living and reliving the traumas of his ancestors. Both artists, through sound and body, bear their hearts to us; wound and sacred treasure.
As the performance unfolds, I see stories emerge before us. Brent carves out song lines in the earth, and opens circles of sound with yidaki//didgeridoo. The soundscape produced by Neil builds an encompassing, rich basis upon which the world they create for us can exist.
Neil, eyes piercing and honest, unravels potent stories, scaling through spoken rhythms that traverse realms of ‘rap’ and ‘spoken word’, smoothly and purposefully. Both appear very at home here; both are grounded and are sure in every movement, word and gaze.
The lights fade on the lasting image of two First Nations men, descendants of ancient power, staring back at us. They exude a wisdom and ancientness that I know to be an inheritance of their ancestors, who were present in the room with us for the entirety of their storytelling. The skill and seamless delivery of this mahi//work is impeccable; it is clear to me that they carry the ancient skills and knowledges of their ancestors in dance, the oral tradition of story (Stories?) and song, and the performance of sacred ritual. We are gifted the poignant, powerful deliverance of Indigenous excellence and ancient Blak power and wisdom harnessed before our eyes.
To Neil, Brent and all who worked on Muniak Mulana – seeing mahi//work like this reminds me why I, too, am an artist. The urgency of this performance speaks to me – a calling you must respond to – because right now, there is no choice but to fight, to stand. For those of us who also carry this calling, and for all your brothers and sisters, elders and children, who will see Muniak Mulana, I am certain when I say: what you offer to us is great strength and vitality. It is a true blessing. Thank you.