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New podcast challenges cultural whitewashing

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Gina Fairley

The Culture Cycle is a new series that asks whether Australia’s arts and cultural sector looks like Australia.
New podcast challenges cultural whitewashing

Lena Nahlous interviews Benjamin Law; courtesy Diversity Arts Australia; Photos by Jennifer Macey

Launched by Diversity Arts Australia, new podcast The Colour Cycle aims to disrupt cultural whitewashing by questioning the degree to which Australia’s arts and cultural sector resembles Australia at large.

The seven-part series is hosted by Lena Nahlous, Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS). Nahlous told ArtsHub: ‘The trigger was the Beyond Tick Boxes symposium that we held last year where we brought together people from the arts sector to talk about cultural diversity in the arts. We didn't want these conversations to disappear or to stay locked in that room. We wanted them to have a broader reach and a longer life, and we felt podcasts was the way to make this happen.’


Read: From ticking boxes to thinking outside the square

She added in a statement: ‘We want our podcast to open up conversations about why our arts and screens don’t reflect Australia’s real cultural diversity. We’re also showcasing some brilliant artists and creative workers along the way.’

The series was funded by Create NSW with support from the Australia Council. Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre also provided important in-kind support.

‘Podcasting is a very intimate medium, and people listen to podcasts while they're travelling or at home. It gives them the space to really digest the themes and discussions and to think about what's being said in their own time,’ Nahlous told ArtsHub.

Lena Nahlous and Zainab Syed; courtesy Diversity Arts Australia; Photos by Jennifer Macey 

What's covered?

Nahlous starts by asking the tough questions: ‘What does it feel like if your culture is largely invisible on stage, on screen and in our galleries? And what are strategies for change?

‘We hope our podcast will challenge cultural whitewashing and the idea that you can just tick a box and tackle the "diversity issue". The issues are not only attitudinal but also institutional and structural, and things can only shift when all of these elements change. We also intend to have a lot of fun and be a little provocative along the way,’ she said.

The series kicks off with a conversation with writer and actor Benjamin Law in the episode, ‘Creating new reflections’, where Law speaks of the challenges of casting his Asian-Australian family in television series The Family Law.

Law says: ‘Growing up without seeing yourself reflected back in your nation's stories is a quietly dehumanising thing.’

In episode two, ‘Making spaces for refugee artists’, Carolina Triana describes how the first New Beginnings festival helped launch many refugee artists, while in episode three, ‘Identity politics for creatives’, Nahlous talks to writer, performer and broadcaster Sunil Badami about labels and why David Malouf is never referred to as a gay Lebanese author, merely a great Australian author.

Other guests include performance poet Zainab Syed and Australian Human Rights Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommosane.

Nahlous explained: ‘We talk to artists and arts workers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds about their experiences of trying to break into the sector, dealing with stereotypes and changing the dominant narratives.

‘We are also hoping that this series will influence change and showcase some lesser known artists from culturally diverse artists,’ she told ArtsHub.


Image courtesy Diversity Arts Australia

Nahlous said there are plans for a second series. ‘Our plan is to train young people from culturally diverse backgrounds to work on these and to make their own content and travel around Australia interviewing people and recording key events.’

With more than 20 years experience in the sector, Nahlous has curated, directed and creatively produced exhibitions, films, festivals, performance and arts projects. She is former Executive Director of Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE), established Switch digital arts centre and co-founded the Arab Film Festival. She also sits on the Board of Sydney Writers’ Festival.

The Colour Cycle is available now on Apple iTunes. For more information go to Diversity Arts Australia. The organisation has also produced a series of short videos, which will be launched this month on their website and Facebook page.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.