The statement was made: “Artists shouldn’t be restricted by cultural boundaries when creating work”. There was laughter, jeers and cheers in this controversial debate; but ultimately the affirmative team won SSI and PEN Sydney’s #VividIdeas Reverse Debate.
The audience and judges decided the better argument came from those who said creativity should not be limited by cultural boundaries. However, this argument came with important conditions: As Thomas Keneally said:
“We can write from other cultures’ perspectives, but we can do so with respect and affection”, and with permission.”
The debate was fought out between two high-profile teams of speakers. For the affirmative, SSI and PEN had partnered lawyer, author and former refugee Deng Adut, comedian, writer and television presenter Chris Taylor and living legend Thomas Keneally. For the Negative team, artist and illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft, conservative commentator Daisy Cousens and journalist Caroline Marcus spoke. The teams were judged by SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis and professor of law and intellectual property lawyer Michael Fraser.
SSI Arts & Culture Coordinator Carolina Triana said cultural appropriation was a highly contested and complex issue that affected artists and communities from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds in Australia.
“Quite often the SSI Arts & Culture Program gets well-meaning requests from established artists seeking to link up with refugees to tell their “journey” story,” she said.
“What are the ethical considerations in place to tell someone’s (often traumatic) story? Does the right to freedom of expression supersede the right to retain control of one’s cultural identity and experiences? How much creative licence can you give an artist to tell other’s stories and experiences? When do we draw the line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation?
“The Vivid Ideas debate was an opportunity to discuss the effect of cultural appropriation on the production of creative works in Australia and have a light-hearted but thought-provoking discussion about this contentious issue.”
SSI Case Manager and PEN Sydney member Mark Isaacs said he thought Michael Fraser did a great job making sense of the arguments presented by all the speakers.
“In his concluding remarks, and also on behalf of his fellow judge Violet Roumeliotis, he said ‘I think when we respect our own creativity we respect the creativity of others. Permission is what legitimises appropriation and only permission, because it is a transaction between equals’.
“In other words: Let’s champion creativity and imagination, but let’s do it with respect.”
The debate was watched live by 120 people and was reported about on Sky News, in The Daily Telegraph, Crikey and The Guardian. On social media, the debate was also widely discussed and reached an estimate 300,000 Facebook and Twitter users.