With 10 days of @AdelaideFestival now under my belt, the theme of Adelaide Writer’s Week – Telling Truths – has also very much been a constant part of my broader festival journey.
How we reveal, tell and interpret truths has been explored, investigated and dissected through a myriad of ways. From the hauntingly beautiful photojournalism of Another Life:Human Flows/Unknown Odyssey’s at the QBE Gallery (Festival Centre Foyer), the chaotic dislocation of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in Counting and Cracking, revealing the power of words and memory with By Heart, to the physicality of the Man with the Iron Neck. At the core of all these is the most important question – what is the truth, whose truth are we telling and who can reveal what truths?
Having fallen in love with photojournalism since a teenager, one of the inspirations behind my decision to seek a career in journalism, I believe in the power of the camera. The truth that it reveals is stark. There is no-where to hide and this is exquisitely the case with Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys.
The exhibition from the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography involves 26 photographers, including some of the best photojournalists in the world and features 160 works chronicling the drama, despair, hope and humanness of the refugee flow out of Africa into Europe in 2015/2016.
Curator Hercules Papaioannou says the aim of the exhibition is to show how people seeking a safe haven is not a new thing. It has been with us for millennia. Photography, since its inception, has been the medium that has powerfully illustrated the modern history of the dispossessed. Yet Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys documents a change in that gaze. Possibly thanks to the internet, the refugees of the 21st century are no longer apathetic or oblivious towards photography. Not only do they allow others to document their journey undertaken in the hope for a better life, for safety, but also use selfies to depict their gaze as they look out on an uncaring world.
Those who do not have much to lose, do not hesitate to expose their nakedness, without knowing exactly how their image will be used. Their only hope lies to its excessive and exaggerated strength. (Hercules Papaionnou, Curator Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys)
It is an unflinching, brutal and haunting but also a beautiful exhibition. I recommend that you take the time to absorb all that is portrayed before you, particularly the images rolling on the two TV screens. If you truly want to understand the human condition or are just a lover of the power of photography, this is a must see.
It is also worth noting that during the past week one of the doyens of international photojournalism, Reuters’ Yannis Behrakis, who has captured the best and worst of humankind in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sadly passed away. Some of his Pulitzer Prize winning photos on the exodus feature in this exhibition.
The search of a better life and what prompts someone to flee their country is also at the centre of the joint Belvoir and Co-curious joint theatre production of Counting and Cracking. This account of the Australian refugee/migrant experience is set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war.
Set in both Colombo and Sydney, Counting and Cracking covers a 50 year time span involving 16 actors from five countries who effortlessly switch languages to provide a voice to the migrant experience with its associated tensions between the old world and the new, between young and old. Playwright S. Shakthiharan has fused his own family experience with others from the Sri Lankan diaspora to create an epic saga told with humour, empathy and poignancy.
The minimalist specially created theatre set in the Ridley Centre at Adelaide Showgrounds enables time and place to be transcended effortlessly. It is easy to imagine yourself in the tropical heat of Colombo or the dry scape of Sydney’s western suburbs.
For one who was not overly aware of the background to this long running civil war, watching how a country can so easily descend into chaos and the impact of such events on families and lives change in an instant, was an eye opener. It is also a brilliant commentary on the insidious nature of Australia’s current asylum policies. This is very much a play for our times that also reinforces not only what it can mean to be an Australian in the 21st century but also our humanness.
Fittingly with Writer’s Week still raging in the background, Teatro National D. production of By Heart with Tiago Rodrigues, reveals the truth of words and memory. It is a beautiful work that brilliantly and passionately celebrates words, memory and love – which together is a very powerful combination.
In each performance, 10 audience members are asked to join Rodrigues on stage to learn a poem by heart with Yours Truly one of those volunteers. As we take on the task he weaves a magical tale that links his grandmother, Boris Pasternak, a Dutch television show, George Steiner, Farenheit 451 and the greatest storyteller of them all – Shakespeare.
From the stage and I suspect it is the same from the audience’s perspective, you are held spellbound. This is a collective experience. Like a choir master, Rodrigues’ warmth, humour and patience puts those of us on stage learning the poem at ease. When one of my fellow volunteers admits that it is French, not English, that is her first language, he breaks out into fluent French. Yet despite a few nerve wracking moments, in the end the 10 of us all combine together to recite the poem – by heart.
Thought provoking, inspiring, funny and moving. Ultimately By Heart is a love letter to books and words and how in a period where truth is questioned, our memory of stories not only helps to keep them alive, but I suspect us as well. It is simply theatre at its best.
Finally the painful truth of youth suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions in too many Aboriginal communities, is cleverly confronted and investigated with the Legs on the Wall production of Man with the Iron Neck.
The use of physical theatre and video in this engrossing work generates an energy that permeates throughout the whole production. While this is a story told from the Aboriginal perspective, it sensitively crosses the cultural divide to shine a light on the devastating impacts of suicide. This is an issue that has no boundaries.
Man with the Iron Neck is important Australian theatre. While suicide and mental health is at its heart, the Aboriginal cast and writers have superbly illustrated how the direct and indirect truama suffered by their people through colonisation and ongoing disadvantage, provides that final breaking point that has led to so many, like Bear, in this story, to decide to take this most final of steps.
This is a message that resonates on so many levels.
In an era where truth is constantly questioned the seeking and telling of truth is of paramount importance. Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy with this 2019 Adelaide Festival program are shining a wonderful light on our truthtellers. The reviews above are only a small sippet of my 2019 @AdelaideFestival journey undertaken so far with seven days still to go.
A summary of Adelaide Writers’ Week and the musical notes enountered with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Robyn Archer’s Picaresque will be the subject of separate posts.
I can’t wait for what the remaining seven days will bring.
The 2019 Adelaide Festival continues through to 17 March. For further information on the program and events visit adelaidefestival.com.au