Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Indigeneity and Performance

Award Holder

Professor Helen Gilbert

Dr Ian Henderson (partner investigator)

Higher Education Institute

Department of Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London

Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King's College London

By focusing on performance by indigenous peoples in different parts of the world, this project examined how oral and embodied practices are passed on within societies and across different cultural groups. Indigenous performance was chosen for its highly developed systems of non-verbal communication, including oral, kinetic and spatial modes of artistic expression, and its potential to probe Western ideas about text-based knowledge. The project was comprised of a series of three interdisciplinary workshops that brought together world-leading researchers from Britain and abroad to debate specific but connected concepts in relation to indigeneity. Focus themes for the individual workshops were ‘Mobility and Belonging’, Orality and Transmission’, and ‘Heritage and Material Culture’. The second of these events coincided with the Origins Festival of Indigenous Performance (27 April - 7 May 2009), produced by Border Crossings Theatre and involving Aboriginal and First Nations artists from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Participants across the workshops series were drawn from disciplines as diverse as geography, anthropology, performance studies, musicology, politics, heritage management, dance, media arts, history, and postcolonial theory. The involvement of international visitors, including indigenous scholars and artists, was a key feature of this project. While theatre, dance and film were the main expressive forms examined, the term ‘performance’ was interpreted more broadly to encompass a range of other events. These included site-specific and mixed media work, political protests, ‘cultural’ performances incorporated into heritage tourism, and sports-based pageantry such as the opening ceremonies of Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

Insights drawn from workshop discussions were made available via public talks at the Origins Festival and a panel presentation at the 10th Biennial European Association for the Study of Australia conference ('Dis/solutions: the future of the past in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific'), held at the Universitat de les Illes Balears, 22-25 September 2009. Research inspired by discussions will be published in a forthcoming special issue of Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, to be edited by Professor Gilbert.

  • Workshop 1: Mobility and Belonging: 13 February 2009 (More information here)
  • Workshop 2: Orality and Transmission: 15 May 2009
  • Workshop 3: Heritage and Material Culture 18 September 2009

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.