Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Indigeneity and Performance

Workshop 1 Mobility and Belonging 13 February 2009

Venue: Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London

This workshop focused on relationships between mobility and belonging as expressed in, and mediated by, indigenous performance practices. Following Tim Creswell (2006), mobility was conceived as socially produced movement that is intimately connected with the ways in which we encounter people, objects and places, both in real and imaginative terms. As an embodied material practice, indigenous performance rehearses, reproduces and/or revitalises forms of mobility, as well as creating new modes and patterns. It may also express disruptions in social movement and attachments to place brought about by colonisation.

We aimed to explore the tensions between indigenous performances of mobility and traditional notions of indigeneity as a marker of rootedness or belonging to particular geographical spaces. The workshop also considered how mobility reflects and negotiates cultural power and how modes of social movement are transmitted. Of related interest here is the transnational circulation of indigenous arts and their reception by non-indigenous audiences.

Stimulus questions:

- What forms of embodied knowledge (sensual, spatial, kinetic) are encompassed in indigenous performances of mobility?

- How might indigenous conceptions and enactments of mobility inflect current thinking about cosmopolitanism and cultural belonging?

- In what ways can indigenous performance contribute to our understanding of the politics of mobility in past and present times?

- How does performance negotiate ideas about mobility and belonging in relation to issues of rights, citizenship and heritage?

- What can indigenous kinetics reveal about connections between social practices, communities and places?

The following downloads are available
Workshop 1 Participants (bios, photos, preparatory comments regarding presentations)
PDF341.87 Kb

Workshop 2 Orality and Transmission 15 May 2009

Venue: Gooodenough College, London

See also

Helen Gilbert and Ian Henderson would like to thank Professor Rachel Fensham, Department of Dance, Film and Theatre, University of Surrey, for her chairing of this workshop. Professor Fensham also participated in all three workshops.

This workshop included the participation of several writers and performance practitioners whose work featured in the the BorderCrossings Theatre's Origins Festival of First Nations (artistic director: Michael Walling) which coincided with the workshop. Helen Gilbert and Ian Henderson also participated in public panel discussions in the Festival. All workshop participants also attended the Festival's keynote lecture by Canadian filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin which took place after the workshop.

The workshop itself examined cultural transmission by focusing closely on oral practices as aspects of intangible heritage. As contemporary indigenous performance demonstrates across a range of artistic, social, legal, cultural and educational domains, orature functions not so much as a preliterate mode of communication but rather as an emphatically embodied transaction. In this respect, a key aim was to explore ways in which orality, literacy and mediality dynamically interact, particularly in the reception and preservation of oral practices. Performative aspects of storytelling and witnessing, and their role in collective constructions of historical memory in indigenous cultures, were encompassed in this theme. The discussion also drew initial impetus from Joseph Roach’s influential research on links between orature, performance and participatory enactments of social memory (1996) and moved on to consider the ways in which localised inventions of indigenous performance negotiate political and spiritual agendas in the present.

Stimulus Questions

- What can indigenous performance reveal about how oral practices and traditions are transferred across time and place in minority cultures?

- What is the status and function of oral transmission in rapidly modernizing indigenous societies?

- What are the key tensions between orality and textuality in various genres of indigenous performance and what is invested in each?

- How are ‘traditional’ oral practices being preserved, modified or mediated in print and electronic media? What kinds of rhetorical documents ensue and what is their status in relation to live performance?

- What are the connections between oral storytelling, collective listening and social memory in indigenous performance situations?


The following downloads are available
Workshop 2 participants (bios, photos, preparatory comments regarding presentations)
PDF825.18 Kb
Ian Henderson introduces Aboriginal Australian Film in BorderCrossing Theatre's Origins Festival programme, London 4-17 May 2009
PDF380.86 Kb
Professor Rachel Fensham gives an account of Workshop 2, Orality and Transmission
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Workshop 3 Heritage and Material Culture 19 September 2009

Venue: Royal Holloway, University of London

In this workshop we felt enabled to capitalise on our experience in the previous discussions, both in terms of the shaping of content and the organisation of the day.

We also felt enabled to frame the workshop more broadly within the overall Beyond Text programme, presenting the projects it comprises as interested in: (i) expressions of human culture that do not necessarily leave written traces and/or are intrinsically non-scriptural (that take place ‘beyond’ traditional understanding of what ‘text’ is); and/or (ii) ways in which new digital technologies might inflect research methodologies and outcomes (that involve forms of knowledge transfer ‘beyond’ writing and reading print-based publications). On the face of it, by focusing on indigenous performance, our series seemed to fall more readily into the former category, but presentations and discussions in all the workshops also engaged with issues raised by the latter.

This third workshop focused on ways in which the study of indigenous performance practices can illuminate key characteristics of heritage. The aim was to analyse functions of heritage within specific social/cultural groups as well as in cross-cultural situations. Heritage was considered not just in terms of transmitting and perpetuating objects, discourses, values and practices, but also in an expanded sense as mobilising historical understanding or social memory to nourish a desire for solidarity between generations. In this dynamic conception, heritage practices and industries were understood to be as much concerned with modes of transmission as with the creation of tangible archives.

Stimulus questions:

- How is heritage transmitted and reinvigorated across different genres of indigenous performance and in multi-media forms?

- What can site-specific performances by indigenous artists reveal about relationships between land, place and heritage?

- How are aspects of indigenous heritage presented and consumed in global and/or transnational contexts?

- How do the politics of authenticity work in relation to indigenous heritage as created and transmitted in live performance and to diverse audiences?

- What can we understand of heritage from the material remains of indigenous performance, especially those archived in non-indigenous repositories?

This third workshop coincided with the launch of Royal Holloway's Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research.

The launch included a lecture by workshop 3 participant, Professor Joseph Roach (Yale) which can be found at


The following downloads are available
Workshop 3 Participants (bios, photos, preparatory comments regarding presentations)
PDF415.06 Kb
Ian Henderson, EASA conference paper on Workshop 3
PDF235.18 Kb

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.