Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging


In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization

24–27 October 2013, London

Convenor: Helen Gilbert, Royal Holloway

If indigeneity and globalization are seen to articulate (with) each other in cultural as well as political spheres, what hangs in the balance? With an explicit focus on performance, this international and interdisciplinary conference examined the power and precariousness of indigeneity as a current, politicized and deeply resonant cultural force in our unevenly connected world. Keynote speakers were Michael Greyeyes (Signal Theatre/York University, Canada), Faye Ginsberg (New York University), Tracey Devine Guzman (University of Miami) and Margaret Werry (University of Minnesota). The event attracted more than 130 delegates from various parts of the globe to discuss the phenomenological thickness of performance as a means of communication and the material processes involved in its making. This was a ground-breaking gathering, not only for its unique focus on indigenous performance but also for the significant number of indigenous scholars and artists who attended and presented their work.

Held in conjunction with two international events – Origins Festival of First Nations and a performance-based exhibition, Ecocentrix: Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts, the conference gave participants the opportunity to connect the lines of enquiry shaping current scholarship with a wide range of contemporary, indigenous visual and performance art, including work by Rosanna Raymond, Marie Clements, Fiona Foley, Monique Mojica and Edgar Heap of Birds. Such scheduling fostered the integration of conventional scholarship, artistic presentations and practice-based research. Cree artist and educator Michael Greyeyes neatly modelled this approach with a performative lecture about his own role as an indigenous ‘informant’ who seeks to carve out a cultural space in the western academy.

A total of 93 presentations filled four days as participants discussed indigenous performance practices that negotiated the balance between cultural traditions and contemporary innovation. Topics ranged from the South African opera-film uCarmen e-Khayelitsha (adapted from Bizet’s tale), to Amazonian Beauty Queen pageants in Ecuador, to Karaoke nights organised by the Noongar people of Western Australia, to performances of statehood in ceremonies marking the repatriation of Mãori remains from European museums. Equally diverse were the models of activism addressed, including in protests such as Idle No More in Canada, and through film, music, dance and the visual arts. The vibrancy of these politicized practices demonstrated that indigenous performance-makers are leading the way not just in the sub-categories of ‘Indigenous Arts’, but in contemporary forums globally.

Helen Gilbert, Michelle Raheja and J.D. Phillipson are currently editing a book, also titled In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalization, that brings together research and practitioner dialogues developed from the conference.

Download the conference Programme (155KB PDF).


This conference and the EcoCentrix exhibition are funded by the ERC project, ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging’. Directed by Professor Helen Gilbert, Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research, Royal Holloway, University of London.

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