Between community and commodity: exploring Samoan- and Sudanese-Australian young women's aspirations in their video art creations

Year: 2013

Author: Harris, Anne, Zipin, Lew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

 In this paper we explore complex work on identity and aspirations among young people from a power-marginalised urban fringe region - Melbourne's western suburbs - in their engagement with Culture Shack, a creative arts program run in 2011 collaboratively by a small Victoria University team and several local community arts organisations. An international set of artists was brought to Melbourne for two weeks to work with young people aged 14-24 from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds. In groups guided by the artists, these young people created videos, short plays or animations. Culminating the program, they presented their creations to an audience including academics, teachers, youth workers and community artists.
As data, we draw on the young people's art creations, their interview testimonies, and an audience discussion about their work which took place at the end of the performance day. We look particularly at two groups of girls - of Samoan and Sudanese backgrounds - who, guided by a Caribbean-Canadian hip-hop video artist, created music-and-dance videos. As analytical tools, we draw on Appadurai's conception of ‘capacities to aspire', Williams' conception of ‘emergent structures of feeling', and Bourdieu's concepts of ‘habitus' and ‘doxa', with reference to synthesis of these concepts in current research projects on aspirations by Zipin, Sellar, Brennan and Gale (ARC Discovery: DP120101492), and Harris' writing on the productive nexus of creativity, diversity and aspiration (see Harris 2013; Harris & Lemon 2012; Harris 2011).
Our analysis focuses on tense contrary impulses, in the young girls' video work, for aspiring towards futures. One is to express and re-create identities based in their ethno-cultural communities, including the complex hybridities in which they read local-global contexts from their standpoints of generational time and social space. In this regard, we analyse complex artistic forgings of varied lived-cultural elements, including religious and linguistic backgrounds, street struggles with racism and violence as ‘minority' group members in Australia, and diasporic imaginaries of places where they and/or their parents were in ‘the cultural majority'. The other impulse is creative adaption to commodifying media genres such as YouTube, driven by fantasy desires for popular-cultural recognition. Exploring this tension, we consider how the girls' hopes for futures, emergent in the creative opportunities provided by Culture Shack, are both fragile/vulnerable and resilient/pro-active. We also consider how such creative work on identity and aspiration might generate ‘sub-cultural capital' for school engagement and success, if facilitated by aptly designed school arts programs.