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Redefining stagecraft: Australia’s first Indigenous-led exhibition takes centre stage at the Prague Quadrennial

Australia marks a historic first, sending an Indigenous-led exhibition to the esteemed Prague Quadrennial. It’s orchestrated by Jacob Nash, former head designer at Bangarra Dance Theatre, and students from the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).

Redefining stagecraft: Australia’s first Indigenous-led exhibition takes centre stage at the Prague Quadrennial

The world’s largest stage for scenography, performance and theatre design, the Prague Quadrennial, is witnessing an extraordinary showcase of Australian talent in 2023. For the first time in the festival’s history, an Indigenous-led exhibition represents Australia, presenting a fusion of First Nations creativity and cutting-edge stage design.

Creative luminary, Jacob Nash, formerly of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, leads this artistic expedition. Nash, one of Australia’s most sought-after stage designers, was recently appointed as the inaugural creative artist-in-residence at the Sydney Festival. Known for his ability to weave potent narratives from his connection to Country and First Nations identity, Nash brings his distinctive design sensibility to the Exhibition of Countries and Regions.

Jo Briscoe, senior lecturer in design at the VCA and curator of the Australian exhibitions at the Prague Quadrennial, likens the festival to “the Olympics of stage design”. In a year of historic firsts, Australia’s Indigenous-led representation signifies a milestone in the country’s cultural and artistic journey.

Prague Quadrennial

Nash’s immersive installation, borrowing a design element from Bangarra’s work Bennelong, invites spectators into a sacred space. This design provides a dynamic interplay of ancient and contemporary cultures, urging viewers to consider their connection to land, place and time. In Nash’s words, the exhibition “asks people from around the world to think about their home, their connection to it and its First Peoples, and to consider what the land felt, looked and sounded like before people arrived.”

In parallel, a troupe of design students from VCA takes on the challenge of interpreting Nash’s artistic vision. Led by four VCA Master of Production Design students and supported by their undergraduate peers, this collective presents a large-scale installation at the festival’s Student Exhibition.

Related: Indigenous artist Lisa Waup works with Tilt

Prague Quadrennial

Reflecting on the collaboration, Ishan Vivekanantham, a VCA Master of Production Design student, calls the opportunity to work with Nash a “career-shaping experience”. Vivekanantham shares that their installation seeks to capture the unique quality of the Australian sky, its blueness, expansiveness and how it connects us to the world.

The Prague Quadrennial runs from 8 to 18 June, spanning multiple venues including the Holešovice Market, National Gallery and Academy of Performing Arts. This year marks the festival’s fifteenth iteration, boasting over 250 new works from more than  80 countries. The programme features a knowledge-sharing conference and judged exhibitions alongside installations and performances.

The Australian delegation includes students and staff from the Queensland University of Technology, acclaimed director and playwright Wesley Enoch AM and Bangarra choreographer and former artistic director Stephen Page AO. These cultural figureheads will contribute to a panel discussion on First Nations production design, highlighting the invaluable influence of First Nations creativity in contemporary stage design.

With the Victorian College of the Arts and Bureau of Works co-producing Nash’s entry, this year’s Prague Quadrennial promises a mesmerising showcase of Australian creativity, illuminating our unique cultural identity on the world stage.

The University of Melbourne

Prague Quadrennial

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