VISIT TO SARAI: One small sentence

Over a masala dosa lunch, I talked with a Sarai-based editor named Smriti. She was asking me about Indigenous Australia, and whether I knew much about the dynamics of community cultural development practice in Aboriginal communities when the project is initiated and run by someone outside of that community. I told her that it would definitely vary from project to project and from community to community but that I had worked with one Indigenous community on an art project, so I could speak from my own limited experience. I explained all the conflicting questions I had had before and during the project. What is my real motivation for doing this project? How will this project be received by the community? How will I be received by the community? Will this experience actually empower the people who participate? Do I have a right to be here? And a hundred others. I then went on to tell her that at the end of the project, I realised that there was no one answer to any of these questions.

Her response was, "Imagine that I am an Indigenous person in your country and you were working with my community. I would ask you this question: what work would you be making with us, if you were never allowed to leave? I didn't reply. She then remarked, "You don't know how to answer this question do you?" I replied, "No, I don't, but thank you".