Not your normal music festival: Mona Foma rejects sexism and homogeneity

Like Launceston’s Cataract Gorge, Mona Foma has broken through cultural fault lines to ensure its first iteration in Tasmania’s north will be a celebration of art and music like no other.
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Robin Fox, Single Origin, Block Party, Mofo 2018. Image: MONA/Jesse Hunniford.

By operating under a philosophy of diversity that puts to shame any other claim to offer “something for everyone”, Curator Brian Ritchie says live performers and visual artists are chosen for their individuality and artistic integrity, and that all forms of homogeneity are deliberately eschewed.

‘The thing that stays the same about Mona Foma is that it is mostly a music-based festival but not based on any one particular style of music, not aiming for a particular age demographic – we have an incredibly wide range of people coming to the shows from little kids to people in their 80s or 90s,’ he told ArtsHub.

‘We have everything from straight-up classical music with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra all the way through to hip-hop and edgy kinds of electronic music and improvised music such as American jazz, Ethiopian jazz and punk rock. This may sound needlessly eclectic but it’s not – it is based on the concept that everybody who is in the Festival has a very unique outlook.’

This year’s headliners include Aussie singer and raconteur Courtney Barnett; Ethiopian jazz architect Mulatu Astatke; electronica outfit Underworld; Swedish icon Neneh Cherry, and immersive multimedia artist Oneohtrix Point Never, whose four-part show MYRIAD, which mixes medieval folk, electronic dance music, R&B, and science fiction-esque visuals, will be an Australian exclusive.

While all festivals offer up headline acts as a nod to the necessities of being a profitable event, Ritchie says there are clear definitions about the acts chosen to be frontrunners – and it’s not all about popularity.

‘In a normal music festival the headliner could be anything whether it is commercial or something maybe a little bit out there like Nick Cave but in our festival it has to be someone who has to have a very strong statement they are making,’ he said.

‘You call them headliners but they all have as much artistic integrity as the most obscure people on our bill. It’s just that they may have become popular through longevity or whatever factors that make people popular.’

Aussie singer Courtney Barnett is joining the lineup at Mona Foma 2019.

With renovations underway at Mona Foma’s traditional home, Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) – and a 10-year history in that city – Ritchie felt it was almost obligatory to explore another locale.

Launceston fitted the bill perfectly with its historical architecture, outdoor spaces for art and two stages, as well as Albert Hall and clubs, which will host live music and installations.

The move is also a deliberate attempt to give Launceston artists a higher profile and to help smooth over the rivalry between the two cities. On his personal website message and press release, Ritchie decries: ‘Our partner, the Tasmanian State Government (aka citizens and taxpayers), has asked Mona Foma to help it break down the Berlin Wall/Mason-Dixon Line/Demilitarised Zone that runs through the state, using music and art as the battering ram.’

He told ArtsHub he has been scouting Launceston for some time and is excited about showcasing local talent, including Amanda Perrer whose giant inflatable installation is a contemporary take on Rodin’s The Thinker.

‘There is a gorge running through the middle of the city which is remarkable and might be unique in the world to have something of that kind of natural beauty and we will be using Cataract Gorge Reserve as one of our venues for an art installation, MAN by Amanda Perrer and also a mediation concert series,’ he said.

‘Launceston has a lot of beautiful venues, it has several really good museums and a lot of really talented artists, musicians and we are going to stir the pot a little bit.’

Another key element of the Festival is the deliberate curation of female acts. This year Mona Foma welcomes Les Filles De Illighadad, a psychedelic Saharan desert rock outfit hailing from Central Niger, and Launceston stoner grunge rockers Bansheeland, among others.

‘We think female artists are generally under-represented but also under-rated in terms of their quality and once we made a conscious effort to book more female artists we were amazed at how frequently they would be the high points of the festival, even if they didn’t have as high a profile as some of the other male, headliner types,’ he said.

‘And then we figured it out – it’s because of endemic sexism in the music business. So we will prioritise people.’

Ritchie says a three-day pass – which is cheaper this year than in previous years – is the best way to experience all that Mona Foma has to offer.

‘It’s the kind of festival where the smart consumer comes and checks everything out rather than looking to see if there is something they already know and basing their visit on that,’ he said.

‘We don’t expect people to like everything, but they should at least find it interesting and, if they don’t, they don’t have to wait too long until the next thing starts. We will have two outdoor stages and indoor stages, plus “oases” [offering] beer and wine and cocktails.’

For the full program and tickets, visit the Mona Foma website.


Cathy Anderson
About the Author
Cathy Anderson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist and the co-founder of digital content creation agency Ginger Brown.