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From The Vault - CLUB SAVAGE

Sam COOKs KISSmyBLAKartsCOLUMN – June 2005


By the time you read this I will be out bush, embedded into Kimberley Country, immersed in the sight, smell, taste and spirit of a 220km journey, between Broome and Derby in Western Australia’s North. I’m out there in creative development mode, generating an inter-disciplinary production and etching a new chapter on the Aboriginal Arts landscape – the CLUB SAVAGE MOVEMENT.

I’m not here to study my past and tell you all about how hard life was back in the day, because that story has been told by my forebearers – HAD to be told by my forebearers, to carve a place for our recent history and lay the foundation for this new expression. Nor am I out here to develop a work that will educate and match up against a curricula framework. Folks, I am out here as an artist creating art.

In doing so, I am demanding that we collectively look at the definitions, stereotypes and limitations placed on Indigenous arts, because if we don’t we will continue to support the artifice known as history and omit an important expression of living Indigenous Culture - CLUB SAVAGE.

CLUB SAVAGE was born in the mind of a young artist many moons ago – it just never had a name. This young artist was studying at University and happened to have an opportunity to have in her possession 2 paintings from a Yamatji artist. So proud was she of this artists work that she trudged across campus and brought them to a lecture of a non-Indigenous academic who was “expert” on Aboriginal art. At the conclusion of the lecture, wide-eyed young artist proudly walked to the front of the class and right up to the lectern, something that took A LOT of shame-breaking to do. When she got there she said, “Here’s two paintings from a Yamaji artist who has just published her first book illustration for an Aboriginal publishing house. Look at her work, it’s deadly”.

What happened next was like slow motion. Said expert, said academic looked at young artist and grimaced, screwing up face his face in the international expression of YUCK. Said expert, said academic then pushed the paintings away and in a split second opened expert mouth to say in a qualified tone, “get this rubbish away from me, this is NOT Aboriginal art!” IF a blakfulla knew who Cathy Freeman was back in 1989, she would’ve undoubtedly “done a Cathy” and run her @zz off to get the hell outta there! – Proper shame that was!

The young artist had abruptly been confronted in the most harrowing way with the definitive question – What is Aboriginal art? Apparently what she had in her possession was NOT according to said expert said academic. It is at this point where the activist blood pumping through the veins of the young artist, began to surface and the age of artistic rebellion kicked in. Get fucked thought the young artist, how is a whitefulla gonna tell a blakfulla what Aboriginal art is???!!!!

So the young artist went off and continued to paint, draw, sculpt, animate and create prints from the tasks handed down by the Academics, which baffled them immensely, because…gasp…they were NOT “Aboriginal Art”. This continued branding of the work not being Aboriginal was equally as baffling to the young artist, because HEELLLOOOO the artist was Aboriginal – A Nyikina sista from the Kimberley – The young artist was me.

Fast forward a decade to find the young artist is [somewhat] older, [somewhat] wiser and the Executive Producer of Australia’s leading Aboriginal theatre experience - Yirra Yaakin. In my journey I’ve found that I’ve not been alone in my thinking and that there is a movement of Indigenous artistic creators who wish to define themselves within the realm of Indigenous art for Indigenous arts sake.

These artists have often been existing on the fringe of accepted notions of Indigenous art, constantly challenged about their creations and forced to forever justify their blakness and EXPLAIN their Indig-identity. Artists the likes of Tracey Moffatt, who inspire the CLUB SAVAGE movement can now be heralded a great Australian artist, however read any interview and she STILL gets asked to explain herself and validate her Aboriginal identity. Think about it. We don’t sit here and ask Non-Indigenous Australia to please explain??? Never do you hear from a Blakademic to a wide eyed young student “This is NOT White art!”, so do understand the lunacy of such actions.

CLUB SAVAGE is important because it enables the present to be given an Indigenous determined historical credo. Without it, we may forever be in the position of having to re-tell our recent past, without the opportunity to dream our creative future. Its also a point to acknowledge that CLUB SAVAGE is NOT attempting to pass off any work as not being Indigenous, it is looking to extend the definition of what is Indigenous art beyond the accepted definitions and stereotypes. It is providing an opportunity for Indigenous artists to create art without having to constantly educate, reconcile or depict our historical hardships. This is important to note as I was recently asked for an interview from a media outlet who caught wind of a recent presentation on CLUB SAVAGE and thought that by “Aborigine artists creating white art”, that I would obviously support a Non-Indigenous artist creating work that looked “black”!!!!! How they could’ve interpreted my position as such is absolutely insane and needless to say I let them know this in no uncertain terms.

CLUB SAVAGE is open to ALL Indigenous artists and this term is free to use widely. It is art history in the making, so that in the future the story will read - Once upon a time, there was a movement of Indigenous artists tired of being told their work was not black enough, subject matter not cultural enough and sick of constantly having to justify their Indig-identity. So with their campfire burning strong, they decided to legitimise their styles and loudly proclaim themselves as CLUB SAVAGE artists. Where your membership is your indig-identity, artistic creation always cultural-enough and your art always blak-enough.


  • You must be Indigenous Australian [Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander] to be a CLUB SAVAGE creator.

  • CLUB SAVAGE is Indigenous art because it is produced by Indigenous artistic creators.

  • CLUB SAVAGE is representative of living culture.

  • CLUB SAVAGE challenges the idea of what Aboriginal art is through contemporary expressions.

  • CLUB SAVAGE is cross all artforms and can include experimental collaborations with other artforms or non-arts industry.

  • Contemporary dreaming to create ideas and concepts is valid.

  • Idea or concept is not social historical re-telling.

  • Idea or concept does not have to educate or reconcile.

  • Any Indigenous artist can be a CLUB SAVAGE artist.

  • CLUB SAVAGE is an art for art sake movement.

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