Rachael Wallis announced as NT Artist in Residence in Taiwan…

— by Kate Rendell

Ineke Wallis and Rachael Wallis on country in Nhulunbuy, photo by Richard Mann.

Artback NT, together with the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Development Centre in Taiwan, recently announced the successful artists for the 2018 Taiwan-Australia Indigenous Artist in Residence program. Dancer Rachael Wallis, from Nhulunbuy in north-east Arnhem Land, is the inaugural NT artist. In June, she will travel to Rinari in southern Taiwan for a six-week residency exploring and exchanging dance, culture and story with local Indigenous artists. Here, Rachael speaks with Communications Manager Kate Rendell about her upcoming trip…

Congratulations on being the inaugural NT artist for this residency in Taiwan. How exciting! What are you most looking forward to?

Thank you. Yes, it’s very exciting. I am most looking forward to living in a different place – stepping away from my work, my day-to-day routine and getting to embrace, share and enjoy a different culture and way of life!

Creating this space for my own artistic practice, my own dance, will be strange for me – I work six days a week in Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala teaching dance to kids, so this is an incredibly important opportunity for me as an artist. To have the time to go deep and create – to be the learner again rather than the teacher – and to respond to the inspiration around me will be amazing.

You will be living and working in the Indigenous community Rinari in southern Taiwan, what do you hope to achieve in six weeks here?

I am very open to whatever may come – I think Rinari may be a busier and more urban city than where I am from – so this will be interesting to learn and explore.

Wherever we live we are influenced by the people and environment around us. Experiencing a new landscape in Taiwan will make me think and create in different ways – the different air, smells, gardens, plants – the climate and landscape may be different. Especially the mountains.

In terms of the cultural exchange I hope to be able to experience and learn local song, dance and music and let this influence my own dance – then come back and sharing this with the kids and community here.

Sometimes working in your own community feels a bit remote and distant to everything that may be happening elsewhere in dance and the local can become a bit repetitive. Whenever I get to have visiting performers or experience new dance and music I feel sparked by the encounter – this has effects on my own dance. I am excited to express the experience of Taiwan as a dancer and teacher.

Why do international First Nation connections, such as this exchange, matter?

First Nations connections remind us how important and vibrant it is to be a First Nations person – that we have a different way of life stemming from creation worth celebrating. Connecting up reassures and confirms the value of our identities.

It is also lovely to see people valuing culture. International connections strengthen and affirm culture – together we hold on to and support each other. This is important for the next generations – so we continue culture.

It’s really interesting to me too that some of our stories actually connect East Arnhem Land with South-East Asia and Taiwan. We have stories of an ancestral woman who journeyed down from the north, who eats rice and has beautiful straight hair and there is a long tradition of trade of the trepang. I am very interested in exploring these histories and finding what local stories there may be in Taiwan and what they say about trepang and these journeys.

Rachael Wallis will be an Artist in Residence in Rinari, Southern Taiwan during June – July 2018. 

On her return, Rachael plans to share this experience with all other artists in her region by running workshops in communities locally and outreach programs in homelands, working towards performances at Yirrkala, Garma and/or any local festivals or events.

This residency program is generously supported by the Northern Territory Government, Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Australian Office in Taipei.