The festival that reinvents itself every year

Returning in 2022, Parrtjima shares Aboriginal knowledge and stories on Country to pave a better path for all Australians.

Set against the 300 million-year-old natural canvas of the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, 2022 Parrtjima – A Festival in Light marks the beginning of a new thematic approach for the festival by drawing upon the natural elements. 

The 2022 theme, Sky Country, offers a glimpse into First Nations stories and knowledge that can help guide our way in the expanse of the universe. 

In her sixth year steering the creative vision for the life-changing event, AGB Events First Nations Advisor and Parrtjima Curator Rhoda Roberts AO told ArtsHub: ‘Understanding Sky Country makes us realise – yes, how small we are – but also how vital we are as well.

‘[It’s about] lining up with the knowledge systems that we have as First Nations people and to be guided by our principles of ecology,’ said Roberts.

The free 10-night festival returns to Alice Springs Mparntwe from 8-17 April 2022 and continues to offer new insights and ways of engagement. 

A major cultural tourism event, Parrtjima is celebrated not only for its visual spectacle but for the embodiment of an authentic Aboriginal narrative, exemplified through an array of programs, performances, and workshops delivered by a lineup of emerging and established talent.

‘Every year we do different installations and we are very evocative about what we are producing,’ Roberts said.

She is confident the upcoming festival will reward visitors after the past 20 months, in which ‘Australians have adjusted their thinking,’ adding, ‘I truly believe that there is a real awakening in this country; more and more Australians want to have an authentic and original experience. And for First Nations Australians, some of the languages, songlines and stories have been really awakened.’ 

Roberts shared that Elders in the community have been waiting for the right time to tell those stories. 

‘It’s the 21st century,’ Roberts proclaime. ‘It actually is the right time. All of us in Australia are realising that, so I think we’re in a real renaissance.’ 

ENGAGING THE NEXT GENERATION

Visitors can look forward to a diverse lineup of curated programs, released in February, in which renewal is taken to the heart. 

Each year’s program welcomes in new talents from the next generation of cultural practitioners, fostering their practices while also providing an invaluable platform to share the knowledge of established artists.

‘We are an ever-adapting culture, so we need to bring in our contemporary voices as well.’

Rhoda Roberts AO, Parrtjima Curator
‘Spirit Kultcha’ light projection at Parrtjima 2021. Image supplied.

Disciplines defined by the Western framework become fluid and reinterpreted at Parrtjima, where ‘everything is interconnected,’ and participating artists have the freedom to show the breadth of their practice. 

More than just a festival, Roberts said Parrtjima seeks to present the wealth of knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal people, where deep listening is crucial as the land sends us messages carried by the wind and sky.

‘We are introducing Australians to a different narrative. Our land management and our fire management is very different to the Western philosophy, which we all know hasn’t worked.’ Roberts is hopeful that by, ‘actually having those incisive Aboriginal voices talk about ecology and land management, people will walk away and reconsider what’s happening in their backyards.

‘When our visitors come there is a real wanting – they want to connect, they want to meet local people, they want to engage and have conversations.’

Roberts emphasised the importance of engaging the next generation and showing young people a multi-faceted view of First Nations culture.

‘Sadly, a lot of young people get a very different reading of what First Nations are in this country, if they only get that information from the media,’ she reflected. 

Alongside the visual and theatrical awe, those who visit Parrtjima will be swept away on an emotional journey.  ‘Visitors get a sense of what that holistic sensory experience can feel like, and how it affects our daily behaviour towards First Nations people,’ Roberts said. 

‘If Australians could start to participate and understand that, we’d have a different country,’ she concluded. 

Registrations are now open for Parrtjima 2022 – A Festival in Light.

Celina Lei is an Arts Writer at ArtsHub. She recently acquired her masters in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Prior to joining ArtsHub, she was an editorial assistant at the Hong Kong based ArtAsiaPacific magazine and is an art host on independent Instagram platform Club Ambroise. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne, Victoria. Instagram: lleizy_

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