NAIDOC Week Artist Interview: Amrita Hepi

It’s NAIDOC week, an annual national celebration held from the first Sunday of July, to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC week consists of events and celebrations across the country.

Performing Lines has the privilege of working with a host of First Nations artists across a wide spread of disciplines, in each of our state offices. Their insights and creative practices form an invaluable part of our artistic footprint as an organisation. This NAIDOC week we have spoken to a small handful of the First Nations artists with whom we work.

First we hear from Amrita Hepi, an interdisciplinary choreographer and dancer, of Bundjulung/Ngapuhi territories.

How are you keeping busy these days?

At the moment I am living in Naarm and am busy working on my show RINSE that will have its full length premier in October this year as well as a few other projects within visual arts. I am also swimming a lot!

What does this year’s NAIDOC week theme, “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!” mean to you? To whom do you think it’s speaking?

To me this theme is about what it means to show up for people, and to be an active participant and how we choose to do that. I know that for a lot of mob there is an intrinsic sense of responsibility in the many things we choose to do – as well as what it means to be part of a community.

In my work I am interested in the politics of participation and believe that we are always participating in cultural shaping whether we are conscious of it or not. So being aware of how we choose to do that is important.

Amrita Hepi, a First Nations woman, sits on a large draped length of multicoloured dyed fabric which takes up the entire background and visible floor space. She has shoulder length black hair and is wearing a white and red jumpsuit. She rests her arms on her knees.

What role do you think the Arts play in the broader struggle for First Nations justice and decolonisation?

This question is tricky.  It’s contentious to think that we (as first nations people)  are always in a mode of “struggle” and that the art we make has to serve the explicit purpose of “justice and decolonisation” that it needs to be overtly political in its approach. Although I will say this mode of political art inspires me and I see companies like Marrugeku who are doing this work and I am incredibly lucky to have been a part of their practice and making and activism.  While I do think there is struggle toward justice I don’t believe that my practice should always have to be about “the struggle” nor is it on me solely to educate or decolonize anyone.

To answer this I think Arudhanti Roy says it better in War Talk: Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

I’m really inspired by Martine Syms. I love her work. And of course and forever Marrugeku – JURRUNGU NGAN-GA (STRAIGHT TALK) was one of the best works I have ever seen in my life. And is essential viewing for everyone

Who are some First Nations artists and voices that you think everyone should be following?

Mia Kin Boe, Nayuka Gorrie, Marrugeku, Nakkiah Lui, Brooke Boney, Hayley Millar Baker.

Amrita Hepi is an award winning artist. Her current practice is concerned with dance as social function performed within galleries, performance spaces, video art and digital technologies. Her new work RINSE is currently in development after a short version premiered with the 2020 Keir Choreographic Award, where it won the Audience Choice Award.

View her full artist profile here.

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.