Priya Pavri is an independent curator currently based on the unceded land of the Kulin Nations. She has a history of growing community projects and organisations through unique and creative endeavours and is committed to seeking alternative models of working with community that challenge existing leadership and governance structures. Informed by a background in Law and Arts, she has lead community projects in the not- for- profit and government sector in urban and remote Australia, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.
We recently sat down with Eliki Reade to chat about FAMILI’s We Take Back Our Mother Tongues’ development, it’s connection to land, justice, and communal wellbeing.
Priya Pavri (Arts Gen): Can you tell me about FAMILI and your involvement?
Eliki Reade (FAMILI member): I joined FAMILI in January 2021 but didn’t start working closely with Ripley (the founder of FAMILI) until May or June. Riply described FAMILI as a collective to support emerging and established musicians within the Pacific creative network, that then also sought to explore notions of identity relating to our culture, displacement, queerness, and different gender expressions. And, within the collective, it was important to make space to interrogate climate change: its effects on communities back home, as well as Indigenous ideas of connection to the land and others.
When I came on board, Ripley was looking at how we expand on the first work FAMILI had developed for Midsummer Festival in 2020 and dive deeper into these ideas. That’s when we started working with organisations like yourselves at Arts Gen to think about what a processes-based-approach to making experimental music could be that incorporated deep conversation and thinking about the world we occupy.
Off the back of that and the lockdowns of 2021, we put our heads together and developed an artist laboratory. The lab workshops would assist in connecting us with key collaborators involved in the project, to share their practices and ideas around slow and intentional creation. Following the elemental themes of fire, earth, water, and air, Ripley devised a Talanoa/lecture series that relies on the pillars of Attunement, Entrainment, Devotion, and Futurity each representing an elemental counterpart respectively. These themes draw upon listening but also are crucial in grounding our responses to stewardship and the protection of Country. We were prompted to think about how we are connecting to each other and land; how we move together across this land; how we show up for each other; the fluidity between land and body; and how interrelated this relationship is to the way we live.
PP: You’ve spoken a lot about this relationship between land and body, with each artist exploring the natural elements, fire, earth, water and air. How has this learning collectively led you to think about our ecology and climate change differently?
ER: There are culture wars currently going on over how we address environmental degradation and address large-scale issues such as climate change.
I wish to ground this resistance in a politic that feels gentle, that feels open and welcoming. To sit down and be with each other to think about the place in which we stand and how we benefit from this relationship to that place. This pushes our resistance in a way where it feels approachable, and open for others to engage with.
Often what’s missing in larger conversations around climate action is a spiritual conversation about ‘responsibility’. I know that folks might have their reservations towards those feelings and the ways in which spirituality has and can be exploited. But I think what it is to me is the ability to believe in and to fight for something greater than myself, like climate justice. I need to feel like I’m spiritually aligned with the message at heart; a higher purpose so that we can feel grounded in the work, and in the resistance.
PP: How did you take this framework you were developing, these ways of thinking spiritually, and share it with the FAMILI artists in the lab?
ER: We invited different artists whose works we aspired to, in particular the ways in which they write or explain their practice. This involved inviting people like Jackie Sheppard, who focussed on Attunement and sharing her practice of movement in relation to Country. It was really grounding and gave the artists (us!) insights into how we relate back to and map ourselves on Country, building on how we think critically about our relationship to Country.
We also invited Lucreccia Quintanilla to focus on Entrainment with us, and she spoke to rhythm and how that unites people through the ritual of dance and gathering, alongside how that is a sense of dissolves borders both internally and personally. We also discussed how this state of collapsing borders can be extended beyond the personal as well.
We invited Chi Tran, who spoke to Devotion. Unfortunately, I was away for this session. But they reflected on devotion within work and play, and how these are interrelated. The group also discussed how when one has a practice, that this is devotion.
Finally, we had our last session with Manisha Anjali that focussed on unpacking our dreams (Futurity). There’s a lot of decolonial thought and academic writing that refers to the importance of dreaming within resistance and liberation movements, and how one must be able to imagine the future they wish for.
And to the question, through these sessions we asked artists to reflect on the four elemental pillars and consider their relevance to themselves and place.
PP: Is there something in learning and being with these practices that you think that can apply to the world outside of the arts and art making? How do these concepts that you have cultivated here apply more broadly? How can we take these practices into our day-to-day lives, especially when we think about our relationship with the land and climate?
ER: I feel Attunement, Entrainment, Devotion, and Futurity aren’t exclusive to creative practices. They can be applied in every aspect of our life and really draw on this idea of mindfulness. I think mindfulness can be carried out in all aspects of life, whether I’m cleaning the dishes and thinking about the relationship to the water that I’m using in the sink; the dishwashing liquid that I use; how and where this process is extractive; and how does that impact on me? How is it that this liquid goes back into the river waterways?
How is it that I’m in relationship with those around me and in training with them? And, finding a shared rhythm or a way to understand moving through this world together? These practices are the first step in how we think about our place in this world, and that shapes how we then take from it.
PP: I’m interested to know what you learnt as a community organiser and a facilitator from these labs? These roles can often be quite different.
ER: It can be difficult to cultivate a space for reflection and slowness while having an administrative burden to carry. Organising can be very demanding and can take a lot of time. And especially with the crew as large as we have (eleven performers), it can be hard to inspire people to participate, to give people a sense of agency in which they feel like they want to show up.
I think one of our reflections was that if we were to organise something at this scale in person again, we would try and look for more production support. More people power. I think working between the two of us (Ripley and myself) was quite demanding.
PP: It sounds like what you are referring to is the capitalist work of doing anti-capital work.
ER: Yeah, yeah. It’s such a weird duality to hold. When you have that moment at the end where you’ve held it all together and you’re like, this was so good and so worth it. But I’m also exhausted from all the bureaucratic needs you must meet to create something like a lab.
PP: And, what’s next for FAMILI?
ER: Well, briefly, and I’m going to have a big fucking break.
And then we come back and we’re into development for the next show. We’re just looking to finish writing and composing. The music that was developed at the lab was really great and we now need to mix it for presentation.
PP: What are you hoping the audience receives from these performances?
ER: I’d be interested in thinking more about how we share the themes we are working with (even in written form after a performance) to make them more accessible. There’s so much that goes into FAMILI’s work that it would be interesting to think about what we could share that expands on this story. I hope people are able to feel and understand the ideas we are exploring. I’m sure they will through the lyricism and the vibe that we set. But yes, I think in time we talk more, think and write more deeply.