9 Apr 20

She Is Like No Other: A call and response to Umma (Mother)


Woken from this slumber
arisen to this plunder
my anger roars in thunder
my command you are under
I need no introduction
yet your mind it cannot function
you shut off your higher selves
you’re slithering for wealth

Well I’m a snake charmer
I built you with more armour
yet your mother you would harm her
yet your mother you would harm her

Dena, Gaia, Umma, Ina
Aka and Maka
welcome to the Umma, welcome to the Umma
1 Hannah Brontë, lyrics from Umma’s Tongue – molten at 6000°, 2017, HD video, sound, 4 min 50 sec, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

There are issues of the world that are pertinent to our time. We live our individual and community experiences; however, globally we connect through our ties to this earth. We are now in an age where the seas are irreversibly warming, and our air is becoming thick and grey. Animals are falling from the sky and washing ashore, strangled by the waste of the world. Entwined in their bodies are distorted sharp relics buried in flesh and earth. The hot black seas are rising; catastrophic winds take with them the remains of dry riverbeds, gust after gust. And as Mother Earth is disrespected, so too are women across the world.

In Australia, on average, one woman is murdered by a partner per week, one in five women has been sexually abused, and more than 85 per cent of women in Australia have been sexually harassed.2 ‘Domestic violence statistics’, White Ribbon Australia, https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understanddomestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/, accessed 21 Oct. 2019. Further to this, a 2017 report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who make up only 2 per cent of the population, are represented at 34 per cent in prison and experience higher rates of violence and assault than non-Indigenous women.3 Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record Coalition, Over-represented and Overlooked: The Crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Growing Over-imprisonment report, May 2017, p. 11, https://bit.ly/367hou9, accessed 28 Oct. 2019. Across the country, Indigenous children are represented in out-of-home care at a rate almost ten times that of non-Indigenous children.4 Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’, Jan. 2019, AIFS, Australian Government, https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-protection-and-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-children, accessed 28 Oct. 2019. Sadly, and infuriatingly, there are similar statistics for Indigenous women and children across the globe. Recently, movements such as #MeToo have started to pick away at the patriarchal towers of power across diverse spaces of social justice, sports, cinema and art. Founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, #MeToo is for survivors of sexual violence and, originally, Black women and girls and other young women of colour from disadvantaged communities who needed support and healing. It has since become an international movement as well as connecting to the intersectional spaces of Indigenous women and gender-diverse and non-binary peoples. Of course, Indigenous women and women of colour have been working against injustice for thousands of years. Matriarchs of communities have resisted, persisted and protected their own in the face of colonialism. In many ways, the effects of these structures and processes still harm us today.

Wakka Wakka and Yaegel woman Hannah Brontë comes from these thousands of generations of First Peoples of Australia. She makes connections to ‘ocean trauma and female bodily trauma’ in her practice. ‘In the landscape, bodies of water carry the trauma, as do women. Mistreating Country comes from deep disrespect.’5 Anne Loxley, ‘Hannah Brontë’, 2018, The National, https://www.the-national.com.au/artists/hannah-bront%C3%AB/heala/, accessed 21 Oct. 2019. The relationship between disrespect towards lands and disrespect towards women and children is not a coincidence; it is a real manifestation of the capitalist colonial regime.

Work harder
Dig deeper
Don’t listen so literal
The heavy beat I bring is old language it’s visceral
Something so basic as your terminology queen
I am beyond infinite
Omnipotent is me
My power knows no equal
For I bore all walks of people
Telepathic
So pathetic
I’m tired of your lies
You block your intuition using screens as your guise
I gave you all the gift to see without usin ya eyes
Listen little one
Let me put that in rewind
I gave you all the gift to see without usin ya eyes

Dena, Gaia, Umma, Ina
Aka and Maka
Welcome to the Umma , welcome to the Umma
6 Brontë.

When we enter the white cube – a museum, commercial gallery, biennale or art award – the balance is never equal. It is white men who still get shown more, paid more and profiled more. The Countess Report is a project and online resource on gender equality in the Australian contemporary art sector. A 2016 report, which looked at statistics for the year 2014, delivered some damning ones on female representation. It found that women made up 74 per cent of art-school graduates but only 34 per cent of artists exhibited in our state museums and galleries. The report asserted that this is clear evidence that gender biases play a role in determining what art is exhibited, collected and rewarded.7 Elvis Richardson, ‘The countess report’, Feb. 2016, The Countess Report, http://thecountessreport.com.au/The%20Countess%20Report.FINAL.pdf, accessed 21 Oct. 2019. While this research is incredibly valuable in raising the issue of gendered disparity in what is considered excellence in the arts, it is weighed down by the binary, and lacks understanding of where First Peoples’ gender representation sits, and how to interrogate where future work is to be done for the sector.

Sovereign artists like Hannah Brontë are following in the footsteps of powerful women by taking on structural patriarchy in the arts (and the world), and are asserting their voices and bringing intersectional feminisms to the fore and to gallery walls. Hannah is based in Brisbane and studied at the Queensland College of Art (part of Griffith University), where she majored in sculpture. She has a multidisciplinary practice that includes experimental video art, sound and music production, installation, body adornment, and weaving. A visceral language weaves through her work, intuitive and lived. This resonates and manifests as empowerment of women who have typically been pushed to the margins and not seen in these spaces: Aboriginal women, Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, queer women of colour, mothers, sisters and aunties.

In her stunning video work Umma’s Tongue – molten at 6000°, 2017, a cast of women rappers repeat the word ‘Umma’ or ‘Mother’ – it is Mother Earth’s ‘music video’. Ominous imagery of open-cut mines, exploding volcanos and a dying planet overlaid with the Ummas’ rap carries a message – that we must take action now and care for Mother Earth before it is too late. Rising in resistance against the storm of human destruction, Umma’s Tongue – molten at 6000° speaks to the significance of women in the healing and regeneration of our worlds. The future is female, and it is founded on respect and equality.

All your chaos is connected
It’s more than just the physical
Joined to the earth’s core
Insides burning its umbilical
Heart now as heated as the surface of the sun
Icecaps melting banks bursting
Watching all the rivers run
Taste of poison in the air, can’t you feel it on your tongue
See your fossil fuels all your violent tools
All that shit will run out
I thought I made you better
Yet you’re wearing me with doubt
See you all like to attack
So let me hit you with straight facts
Warring one another
Leaves scars upon my back
So know that you know that
Don’t make Umma have to clap back
See tsunamis I do that
Drought floods no need for that
Earth quake make no mistake
Leave you with only what you need
I gave you all nature’s delights
Yet you are consumed with greed
So do you live or choose the other
8 Brontë.

The ‘clap back’ to racism, oppression, ecocide and patriarchy in Hannah’s practice is nuanced. Her video and installations embody blak matriarchal power, lands and oceans, and feature women wearing weaving and body adornment produced as her ancestors have produced it for thousands of years, as a tribute to her Old People. These creative decisions act as tangible connections to her culture. In parallel with her arts practice, Hannah works as a popular DJ. Her passion for hiphop influences her work, allowing her to interrogate the ways in which women have been spoken about, spoken to and represented in popular culture. She works with female-centred hip-hop so as to not only challenge the historically sexually aggressive, male-driven genre, but to create the momentum for change.

Once you’ve devoured your mother
Legs shaking after birth
Own children are the curse
Plundered country to the worst
I am your beginning
I will be your end
Unless you heed my warning
And you begin again
Power structures are all broken
I have a fever, you’re the virus
You all look at me
Begging please
Inspire us
I’ve become disillusioned, from your violent intrusion
But I am the ever loving one
I come with a conclusion

Time for a spiritual revolution
No more opting for pollution
Do not live in your delusion
Consequences are proven gruesome
Sacrificial mother
Can’t be compared to no other
Don’t disrespect the Umma, don’t disrespect the Umma
Drill me
Frack me
Ain’t no metaphor as my children attack me
I am the innovator
Of all life’s creator
So trust I shall be your emancipator
Dena, Gaia, Umma, ina
Aka and Maka
Welcome to the Umma,
welcome to the Umma
9 ibid.

The world must turn to caring for Country – lands, waters and sky – as our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Hannah Brontë and the First Nations women of the world will persist in making work that is crucial for our time and that calls for climate action and justice, and which proudly and boldly supports women in demanding the equality and the respect that we deserve. She is like no other.

Notes

1

Hannah Brontë, lyrics from Umma’s Tongue – molten at 6000°, 2017, HD video, sound, 4 min 50 sec, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

2

‘Domestic violence statistics’, White Ribbon Australia, https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understanddomestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/, accessed 21 Oct. 2019.

3

Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record Coalition, Over-represented and Overlooked: The Crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Growing Over-imprisonment report, May 2017, p. 11, https://bit.ly/367hou9, accessed 28 Oct. 2019.

4

Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’, Jan. 2019, AIFS, Australian Government, https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-protection-and-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-children, accessed 28 Oct. 2019.

5

Anne Loxley, ‘Hannah Brontë’, 2018, The National, https://www.the-national.com.au/artists/hannah-bront%C3%AB/heala/, accessed 21 Oct. 2019.

6

Brontë.

7

Elvis Richardson, ‘The countess report’, Feb. 2016, The Countess Report, http://thecountessreport.com.au/The%20Countess%20Report.FINAL.pdf, accessed 21 Oct. 2019.

8

Brontë.

9

ibid.