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Mapping Melbourne celebrates contemporary Asian art in Australia

What kind of a festival is Mapping Melbourne? There will be music, but it’s not a music festival. There will be dance events, but it’s not a dance festival.

This is an event that deliberately casts a wide net, presenting a variety of contemporary independent Asian art, music and dance in order to connect with the broadest possible audience, says producer Freyja Macfarlane.

“Boxing things into one kind of art form just doesn’t work, from our perspective,” says Macfarlane.

“This is for a very broad audience. That’s why our criteria for the art aren’t strict: we want it to speak to as many different people as possible. The fusion of the different art forms means that it has quite a far reach in terms of audience appeal … Essentially, it’s about strengthening connections, particularly across the Australian-Asian region, recognising that social and cultural connection is a really valuable thing.”

Macfarlane curated the program with input from a panel of Melburnian contemporary Asian artists. With support from Multicultural Arts Victoria, Macfarlane hopes that Mapping Melbourne will help create meaningful intercultural dialogues.

“We need to make sure that we’re engaging socially with the Asian region, as well as just from the trade perspective,” says Macfarlane. “We need to build connections and establish ongoing collaborative relationships, as well as presenting challenging material to the public and making sure that material reaches an audience … It’s so important to link different communities and different regions on a social and cultural level. We learn a lot from each other through arts, and it’s a great way to ensure discussions happen cross-culturally.”

The festival’s opening night will feature MURTI, a participatory art event in which participants will pour vividly coloured paints onto a large sculpture, playing on the Hindu tradition of bathing religious statues in milk or water. As the paint dries, the appearance of the sculpture will gradually alter.

“It’s very communal and it’s highly participatory,” says Macfarlane. “Opening night is all about audience interaction with the installation and questioning modes of worship and ritual and what that means in a contemporary society. It starts a discussion, talking about these different rituals and the ways the audience themselves talk about and question ideas of divinity and how they connect with each other.”

In Mapping Melbourne’s Street Connection event, Bangkok-based artist Mue Bon will perform a live stenciling on the bricks of Hosier Lane. With guidance from Mue Bon, audience members will also be able to create their own small pieces of street art and take home their own stencils. Similar to the MURTI event, Street Connection will provide audience members an opportunity to chat informally with an influential figure in contemporary Asian art.

Accessibility was Macfarlane’s prime concern when producing the festival, she says – throughout its six-year history, Mapping Melbourne has strived to bring in a wide audience rather than only appealing to those with an already-developed appreciation for contemporary Asian art. Support from the City of Melbourne has been instrumental in keeping the festivals events either affordably ticketed or free.

“I hope that people take away from Mapping Melbourne all the awesome art forms that they can find in their own backyards,” says Macfarlane. “It’s not just about the big ticket events that happen at the main venues – there are things happening on multiple levels across the city that can be accessed.

“That’s one of the great things about Mapping; the majority of the program’s free, and the things that are ticketed are priced accessibly, because we want anyone and everyone to attend these events and discover the amazing artists that work out of Melbourne … The cultural background is certainly very important, but, at the end of the day, it’s all just fantastic art that can speak to a broad demographic of people.”

Mapping Melbourne takes over the city from Saturday December 1 to Saturday December 15. Head to the festival website for tickets and event information.