Journalists, comedians and writers will explore the blurry lines between freedom of expression and cultural appropriation at an event that will tip the traditional debate format on its head.
Cultural appropriation controversies continue to dominate headlines, targeting everything from festival wear to the hairstyles of the Kardashians, but critics argue these continual outcries are stifling the creative expression. Should artists be restricted by cultural boundaries when creating their work?
Held as part of Vivid Ideas on 7 June, Borrowed Voice: Freedom of Expression vs Cultural Appropriation will question the concepts of identity politics and political correctness in Australia’s creative industries through a ‘reversed-debate’ format. 'Affirmative' speakers will argue the negative standpoint to highlight the shortcomings of the opposing view, and vice versa.
Mediated by journalist Stan Grant, the debaters will include:
- Deng Adut — lawyer and author
- Chris Taylor — comedy writer and member of The Chaser
- Caroline Marcus — reporter and columnist
- Thomas Keneally — writer
- Bronwyn Bancroft — artist and illustrator
- Daisy Cousens — writer and journalist
Caroline Marcus, who joins the negative team, said the very concept of cultural appropriation was laughable.
“It’s not just the policing of harmless fun under the guise of targeting so-called ‘cultural appropriation’’ that should concern us, but attempts to shut down discussion – and indeed criticism – of dangerous cultural practices for fear of causing offence,” she said.
“Think about the treatment cartoonist Bill Leak had from the Human Rights Commission when he tried to illustrate the problem of high levels of child abuse and neglect in Indigenous communities. It’s a very worrying trend in Australia and around the world.”
Author Mark Isaacs from Sydney Pen, which co-organised the event with not-for-profit Settlement Services International (SSI), said the limitations of freedom of speech and expression had become the latest political and ideological battleground in Australia.
"Our right to free speech does not give us the right to abuse, to discriminate, to slander, to disseminate hatred. Championing the right to bigotry or the right to humiliate sullies the philosophy from which these freedoms were born," he said.
"Creative works that ignore cultural, religious or ethnic boundaries have the potential to silence those on the fringes of society by allowing the dominant culture to monopolise the creative space. I believe we should try to achieve a balance where artists are encouraged to have freedom in their creativity but not to restrict the opportunities of others."
SSI Arts & Culture Coordinator Carolina Triana said the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation was a hotly contested issue in Australia’s creative industries.
“Many creative professionals believe they should have the freedom to ‘try on other people’s hats, as author Lionel Shriver put it at last year’s Brisbane Writers Festival,” she said.
“The problem with that view is it can lead to the exploitation of the stories and experiences of, what are often, marginalised communities. It’s a complex issue — does the right to freedom of expression supersede the right to retain control of one’s cultural identity and experiences?”
The event will take place as part of Vivid Ideas on 7 June from 6–8pm at the Cell Block Theatre in Darlinghurst.
Vivid Ideas is Asia Pacific’s annual celebration of innovation, creativity and change community, and is held as part of Vivid Sydney, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas. For more information or tickets, click here.
For interviews, media passes and other enquiries, contact:
SSI Communications Coordinator
0488 680 397
Interviews can be arranged both on the night and in the lead up to the event.