Disrupted Festival of Ideas: A Discussion with Dance Activist Amrita Hepi

Published on July 26, 2017
Categories - Blog, Events, Featured, Q&A

This weekend, 29-30 July 2017, the fourth annual Disrupted Festival of Ideas provides a feast for the mind as some of the country’s most powerful thinkers converge on the State Library of WA. This free event is made up of keynote presentations, panel discussions, workshops, conversations and engaging encounters that promise to ignite and inspire.

One of this year’s guests is dance activist Amrita Hepi. What’s a dance activist, you might ask? “It’s a title I never gave myself,” laughs Amrita, “but it’s something I rolled with. I would say a dance activist is someone that uses dance as a force of advocacy to campaign for things that matter in a public/social realm.” A Bundjulung and Ngapuhi woman, Amrita is interested in the body as a point of archive, memory and resistance. She will be joining other panelists to discuss why she and others of her generation have chosen to engage in the public sphere in Millennial Myths on Saturday 29 July.

As a generation characterised by digital connectivity, millennials are more often than not adept at using the digital sphere to forward activist aims. For Amrita, “Any platform you can take to support your campaign takes a role, and with the digital sphere, and the internet particularly, it has the power to quickly harness a global reach.” On one hand, the global reach of the internet that Amrita mentions offers the possibility for widespread engagement and connection. But on the other, I wonder if by clicking ‘like’ on another person’s post, we get the feeling of having done something to fight the good fight, without really making a change.

Amrita agrees that “it can be a rather passive or inactive way of showing support,” but she also sees the value in online engagement and exclaims, “hey, it’s a start!”. She argues that something as simple as interaction on social media can “help the ebb and flow of change through education”. She also points out that a click through to an article can happen without you knowing, “and even if they disagree, their opinion might become slightly more informed.”

In our discussion Amrita brings up another important point; that it’s tiring to keep fighting, even if you’re passionate about the cause, and that’s okay. “Not all of us have the energy to continue to have the conversation constantly,” she says, “but that’s how we can support each other, by asking what needs to be done, by checking in with those constantly having the conversations and seeing how you can help, even if it’s helping with their washing!” That’s where doing more than clicking ‘like’ is so valuable.  That extra step is “looking for where it is you can be useful and donating your time and sharing your resources rather than simply sharing an article,” explains Amrita.

But there’s another problem with online and offline activism that Amrita has identified. She sees a real danger when an individual centres themselves over the people they are trying to help gain social recognition. Unfortunately she has become aware of this a lot in recent times, “especially in the art and online realms, which is not only infuriating but is dangerous, too”. She offers an example:

It’s great to be a white ally to black people, and to want to show your solidarity and that you care about, for example, instiutuionalised racism within insitituions – we need that! Please come to our rallies and respectfully support us. However do you need to make art about something that you don’t experience? Do you have to co-opt the black experience to capitalise? Is that how you can be effective? Or is supporting black artists to make their own work about their own lived experience more important? I think it’s the latter.

Amrita combines her critical conversations with action using her dance classes as a platform. Unashamedly centred around pop culture, these classes sell out around the country; her Perth edition Power Moves for Perilous Times will be an avenue to engage both physically and mentally. Part lecture and part dance class, this one-hour workshop is aimed at beginners to expand your power-movement repertoire. Amrita promises “a tiny bit of a lecture, a lot of loud music, power struts, a mosh pit, sweat, LOLs, Destiny’s Child and a good time.” Amazing! You can register for the class over here, it’s happening from 3-4pm on Saturday 29 July. No registration is required for Amrita’s other session, Millennial Myths, the panel discussion between Amrita, Ziggy Roma Fatnowna, Nayuka Gorrie, Conrad Liveris and facilitator Dr Rebecca Huntley, taking place on Saturday at 1pm.

To browse the full program of speakers and events, check out the Disrupted website. I encourage you to head down to the State Library of WA this weekend with open ears and an open mind. Listen to the conversations then discuss ideas with friends whilst enjoying a coffee or a beer from SLWA’s First Edition Café, before you wind down with the Disrupted music program in the First Edition courtyard.

Claire Trolio

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