2015 – the year of the sheep(ish) no more

 

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”
― Alfred Lord Tennyson

And so we close the books on another year at Peril Magazine.

Thank you to all of our readers, writers, volunteers, partners and colleagues for what has been a truly exciting year. Your comments, conversation and feedback have been integral to our work and we look forward to continuing to connect with you, particularly via Facebook and Twitter, both of which have been great forums for discussion on issues of Asian Australian arts and culture. #wehearya

Here’s what kept us busy in 2015, an update on some funding fun, and some food for thought for the future. As always, it’s nice to hear from you,  so let us know what you liked (and didn’t!) and if you’d like to get involved in 2016 – we even have an email for this sort of stuff too.

Measurable f*cks, Asia on the Edge and tasty collaborations

As always, in 2015, we were proud to share new literature through diverse forms, including poetry, drama, translations, creative writing, memoir, essays, biographical profiles, interviews and the like, particularly through our commissioned and open-call editions. Your stories moved us, shook us and reminded us of the rhizomatic complexity of Asian Australian identity and culture. It was an honour to share your stories.

Quan Yeomans Photo: Brisbane City Council
Quan Yeomans Photo: Brisbane City Council

In the first half of the year, we worked with the BrisAsia Festival to bring you Yum Chat, a creative networking event hosted by the Brisbane City Council where Quan Yeoman’s gave us all the f*cks he could muster, while simultaneously inspiring and delighting us with his tales of heady, late-nineties music stardom and the creative life that followed. For this Yum Chattier edition, our contributors shook off the shyness customary of writers, to meet together for the festival event, tweeting live as the panel discussion progressed, posing for ridiculous selfies, and then grilling the panel participants: actor, Merlynn Tong; filmmaker, Audrey Lam; motion designer, Joyce Ho; and MC, Michelle Law, while I tried to keep Quan’s mum to a reasonable time limit. The event was not only a packed-out success, with vibrant and challenging debate about the nature of creativity, the sustainability of diverse creative careers, and the role of personal cultural experience in professional arts-making, but was followed by a series of reflections from writers and creatives with links to the Philippines, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Iran and Croatia. While some conjured the complexity of answering, “where are you from”, others called out for plain old “good stories”, or just threw down the gauntlet calling for “a structural and intersectional analysis of privilege and oppression”. This was a #realtalk edition, and we’re excited to see how the Festival, one of Australia’s largest Asian-focused events, will evolve in 2016.

Rushdi Anwar, Facing living past in the present 2015
Rushdi Anwar, Facing living past in the present 2015

So, while Yum Chattier brought us the sweaty deliciousness befitting a heady session at the lazy Susan, our 21st edition, Marginasia, brought us creative delight and resonant, intellectual challenge in equal measure. We asked you for your thoughts about Asia on the edge, and you did not fail to deliver. Poets like Ivy Alvarez and Eunice Andrada gave us fierce, sharp, embodied critiques of exoticised femininity, while Rushdi Anwar sifted the ashes of war. In this year of ANZAC centennial celebrations, artists, Merle Kaptan and Caitlin Franzmann, exposed the qualities of a creative exchange that reaches between Turkey and Australia via the “the unknown trajectories of dialogue”. Many of the works were grounded in contemporary politics, often to devastating effect, as writers like Chris Su, brought a very personal perspective to the oft-discussed, but little understood tragedy of Christmas Island 2010. In a year that featured high-profile transgender celebrities, Kam Lee broke our hearts with less-celebrated lives at the soft, sticky margins.  Perhaps most exciting was the depth of critical engagement sparked by works that took to memoir and creative non-fiction to question where Asia ends and begins, like those by historian, Nadia Rhook; curator/artist, Léuli Eshraghi; writer, Angela Serrano; and media researcher, Arjun Rajkhowa. Reading this four-punch combination, we were asked how to move beyond an ‘imposed’ Asia, how to define what is “in or out” of this great regiona, how social marginality plays out in historical memory; and how nostalgia enables diaspora communities to mis-remember. Marginasia might not be found on any map, but this edition reminded us that the map is never the territory.

Troops at Darwin, The Argus, ca. 1941 (www.slv.vic.gov.au)
Troops at Darwin, The Argus, ca. 1941 (www.slv.vic.gov.au)

For our third edition this year, we were honoured to partner with black&write!, the Indigenous publishing and writing initiative of the State Library of Queensland, for a joint edition, Like Black on Rice. Together with co-editor, Ellen van Neervan, we asked six Asian Australian and six Indigenous authors for their take on the relationships, or otherwise, between those two groups. Beyond that thematic grouping, writers were free to take their responses in individual directions and that willingness bore wonderful strange fruit. Some of those exchanges were transformative and powerful, like the translated work of Raj Paul Sandhu, Mungo Man, a deeply resonant story of connection and change that has seen life in Punjabi, Hindi and now English, via Mridula Nath Chakraborty’s translation. For this edition, the conflicts were as wonderful as the communalities. Michelle Law made us soar with pride at Cathy Freeman’s iconic Olympic win in Yellow Gold, while notable curator and writer, Paola Balla, reminded us of the haunting legacy of racism, the relentless difficulty of difference. Paired together, Eugenia Flynn and Virat Nehru summoned journeys and transitions, sometimes with love and sometimes with bewilderment. Writers like Samuel Wagan Watson and Ou Yang Yu burnished the edition with power and passion. We tried not to shoe-horn the metaphor, but still we found themes emerging – dislocation, anger, joy, family, belonging, homecoming, nostalgia and loss.

Artsy politics and political arts

Dai Le, former Liberal candidate and founder, DAWN.
Dai Le, former Liberal candidate and founder, DAWN.

As if this incredible collection of stories wasn’t enough to keep you reading this year, in 2015, we were delighted to launch a collaboration with writers from the Asian Australian Democracy Caucus (AADC) sharing reflections on the current state of Australian politics as it related to its Asian Australian communities and constituents. This dynamic group of writers, thinkers, activist and citizens brought us a monthly blog update on issues of political representation and active citizenship, talking everyday politics with former NSW Liberal candidate and founder of the Diverse Australasian Women’s Network (DAWN), Dai Le; defending our mere existence against internet trollsters; and guiding grassrootsand formal political participation. There was talk of aliens and alien invasions.  It was a delight to connect with so many of these colleagues in person, especially at events like the Asian Australian Studies Research Network, Mobilities Conference, where founding Editor, Hoa Pham and I were able to share reflections on the nature of Asian Australian entities through the lens of 10 years of Peril’s work. There were shoes, and tweets, and identity challenges aplenty, if you don’t believe us, there are pictures.

At the same time, we kept our arts political too, with regular features from Politics Editor, RD Wood – spanning topics as diverse as black-white relations; a “natural education”; the exquisite poetry of Stephen James Finch, Tarfia Faizullah, Xiu, Xi, Nyein Way; , Tamil Feasts and the unsettling century that is emerging. Never afraid to go out on a limb, RD opened the door to new debates here at Peril. We partnered with Writers Victoria’s, and guest blogger Wing-Yi Chan provided insight into the energetic Chinese language and Chinese diaspora writing community in Australia, while Peril writers like Bella Li, Lian Low, Lia Incognita, Debbie Lim and  Loretta Miauw found new audiences via the D-Writers project.

Grand DiVisions for Melbourne Festival
Grand DiVisions for Melbourne Festival

Although we couldn’t go to every festival (even if we wanted to!), we sure as hell tried. Nithya Iyer, came on board as a speciality arts reviewer, spanning7,412 kilometres, wrangling my mother as an audience member at Neighboursexperimenting in healing, and broaching grand divisions, just to mention a few of the incredible events to which she applied her thoughtful consideration. We found 30 minutes with Filipino writer and agent provocateur, Miguel Syjuco and learnt to speak Australian (sort of). Our colleagues at RMIT’s WRiCE program were delightful – and hopefully will be quite “videogenic” in 2016 (teaser!) We kept the reviews coming and we’re hoping to do even more in the coming year – if you want in, don’t forget to email us! At the Melbourne Writers Festival, Peril Chair and Editor at Large, once again took on the mammoth role of documenting Asia Pacific Writers Forum, sharing the insights and key provocations of increasing diversity, media control and the literary economy.

Hotline Bling

No redux of 2015 would be complete with at least some mention of the storm in everyone’s tea cup: The Cuts to Arts Funding.

In some ways, the less said about this part of our year, the better. Not because we don’t continue to feel passionate about the ways in which this country demonstrates its ability to foster a diverse, pluralistic and compassionate society – we do. We’re just keen to look positively towards the future, by celebrating the art you are making, not lamenting the arts you’re not. (Well… sort of. And, um, ouch my face.)

For those who missed the memo, the May budget saw a proposed $104.7m of Australia Council funding move away from arms-length funding to the “National Program for Excellence in the Arts”. Some 2,000 plus artists, organisations and community groups felt moved to voice their responses to the proposed cuts.

With your feedback and input, we were one of them. We were also incredibly fortunate to have a chance to share these views, together with our colleagues at Mascara Literary Review, at the Senate Inquiry into the arts. While the process itself was a tough affair (feel free to skim to page 21 for the introduction of Fight Club into Hansard), the outcome was a qualified success, with the new Arts Minister Mitch Fifield introduced “Catalyst – Australian Arts and Cultural Fund”, which garnered some muted, equivocal responses. Maybe it was Christmas, maybe it was protest fatigue, but potentially we were just saving our confusion for the “Great” Australian Book Council.

Either way, we were a small part of the final report, particularly in the are of distribution, equity and diversity, where we were able to note:

We respect that these funding changes do not formally establish new or express barriers for cultural diversity. However, in a context that is already marked by inequality and imbalance, increased internal competition, sector instability and purportedly value-neutral phrases for excellence mask a disproportionate impact on creative producers, participants and audiences from culturally diverse backgrounds

We continue to believe that Australia’s cultural heritage – in all it’s complicated, colonial, messy glory, is one of its most valuable assets. Peril hopes to be able to continue to be a part of that culture.

Suffice to say, we were disappointed to learn that our funding submission to the Australia Council was unsuccessful in the most recent round, but this, in its own way, was no surprise, given the volume of submissions held over from previous rounds and the reduction in available funding. We would like to pass on our thanks to those colleagues, professionals and bureaucrats who have previously supported our work financially, and we hope there will be a chance to do so again in the near future! To all those who have supported our work with their time, labour, energy, passion, arts and vision – we are especially thankful and, although we cannot recognise you all by name, you are definitely in our hearts and high fives.

What we have learnt, more importantly, from this whole experience, is the depth of our readers thoughtful engagement and the value that our readers, writers, extended communities and colleagues (#wholovesadiversepublicwedo) place on our work at Peril. We remain grateful for your ongoing support and readership in this period of change.

Crystal Balling

So what’s in store for 2016? Well, lucky you, we’ve still got a little more left in the tank to be able to woo you with our perspectives on arts, culture, politics and society as they relate to Asian Australia, or Asians in Australia, or Australians in Asia, or however we can make those things work. We’re keen to hear from new writers, new journalists, poets waiting at the wings, and writers who have well and truly taken flight.

We’re going to have to shake the tin, but we promise you’ll be invited. And to make sure that we’re giving you more of what you want when you want it, we’ll be asking for your assistance, both in terms of formal feedback and informal chats! Look out for us at events, email us, or connect on social media if you want to keep informed.

There’s a lot going on in the world in 2016: someone announced some new world order, there’s a federal election on the way, apparently there will even be some sporting event. All this while Australian and international artists, writers and critical thinkers will be considering the role of the arts in this country as a practice, an industry and a way of knowing the world we live in.

People, the backbone and then some 

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We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, but Peril isn’t anything amazing or secret, a clandestine den of artisanal orientals – we’re a group of people, like you, who love stories, who make art, who think about what it means to live in Australia now, and who come from a variety of cultural, academic, professional, personal and life backgrounds and circumstances. We have had some lovely partnerships as a part of our work, with organisations and entities like WRiCE and Writers Victoria, both of which are also full of people, working hard at the busy-ness of #writerlife.

We’re sad to have said goodbye in 2015 to former editors like Jarni Blakkarly, Anne Lau and Amena Ziard, but we also wish them the very best in their future endeavours! All three of these fine individuals continue to be active in arts, journalism, community and activist networks, so look out for their bylines, so you can say “you knew them when…”

My additional thanks must go to RD Wood and Nikki Lam, who have between them juggled festival directorship, numerous speaking engagements, teaching, professional careers and personal arts practice, making them both frighteningly amazing displays of over-achievement. I am awed to be able to keep working with them in 2016.

Our ever energetic Board, lead by Lian Low and Hoa Pham, has, together with Lia Incognita, Raina Peterson, Sam Low and Rose Godde, provided guidance, thorough stewardship and passion for what Peril is and does. They are an inspiration to be around.

Oh wait, and there’s you.You’re pretty much the most amazing of them all, because without you Peril simply wouldn’t exist. We would be the proverbial poem, falling in the proverbial wood, with only the one hand clapping.

Stay tuned, here and via  Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to count you among our friends.

It won’t be long before we start talking 2016’s proper business, but until then, thanks for being here for 2015. It was a hell of a ride.

Author: Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is Peril's Editor in Chief and Poetry Editor. Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and radio broadcaster. She is currently Artist in Residence at La Boite Theatre in Brisbane and a Board Member of the Queensland Poetry Festival.

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