The Arts and Australian Soft Diplomacy in Asia, India and Indigenous Foreign Policy

2023 Currency House Authors Convention

Harriet Parsons, Lisa Reihana, Peter Cooke and Alison Carroll

followed by a panel discussion with Carrillo Gantner

9.45am-1pm, Friday July 7, 2023.

Free online.

The need for soft diplomacy in our region has never been greater. With Australia caught in the balance between China and the US, do we need an Australian international cultural agency—an Australian Goethe Institut—to create enduring cultural relationships with Asia and the Indo-Pacific through the arts, or is this just colonialism by another name? And what about the leading principle of our new National Cultural Policy—‘First Nations first’? How should we be presenting Australian culture to the world?


About the Speakers

Harriet Parsons, Introduction

Dr Harriet Parsons is the Director of Currency House, an artist and independent researcher. 

Lisa Reihana, ‘Picturing History: Rewind, Fast Forward, Revise…’

Lisa Reihana CNZM works in film, sculpture, costume and body adornment, text and photography. Since the 1990s she has earned an outstanding reputation as an artist, producer and cultural interlocutor who explores the intersection between representations of identity and history with concepts of place and community. Her large-scale video installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-17) reinterprets a 19th century French wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique to explore Captain Cook’s encounters with the diplomatic envoy Tupaia in Tahiti and other First Nations peoples. The critically acclaimed work represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and has since been shown around the world. She received the Arts Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2014, the Te Tohu Toi Ke Te Waka Toi Maori Arts Innovation Award from Creative New Zealand in 2015, and was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2022.

Peter Cooke, ‘Drawing the Line: Two Decades of Theatre Design Teaching in India’

Dr Peter Cooke AM is a theatre designer, consultant and teacher in Australia, India and South East Asia. He was the Deputy Director and Head of Design at NIDA for 22 years and Head of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama in from 2009 to 2020. He has taught and lectured extensively throughout Southeast Asia, leading master classes in design and designing productions for the National School of Drama in New Delhi, India, where he has been a visiting professor for 16 years. His Australian, Indian and American students have gone on to win accolades including Helpmann and Green Room Awards in Australia and Tony Award, Emmy and Academy Awards in the USA. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, OAM, in 2008 for ‘Service to the performing arts through theatrical design education, research and administration’ and was made a Member of the Order of Australia, AM, in 2017 for ‘Substantial service to the performing arts as an administrator and academic, particularly to theatre and dance’.

Alison Carroll, ‘Looking outwards: The Need for an Australian International Cultural Agency’

Dr Alison Carroll AM is an academic, critic, writer, curator and administrator and senior. She was the founding Director of the Arts Program at Asialink, Australia’s most influential NGO in regional engagement, from 1990 to 2010. The exchange program she created between Asia and Australia encompasses the visual arts, performing arts, literature and arts management practice. In 1989 she curated the landmark exhibition, Out of Asia, which presented Australian representations of Asia by contemporary artists including Tony Clark, Susan Norrie and Fiona MacDonald, and in 1994 she was responsible for the first major inclusion of contemporary Asian art at the Adelaide Festival.  She was awarded the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council’s Emeritus Medal in 2006 and was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her work with Asialink in 2010. That same year she published a major book on 20th century Asian art, The Revolutionary Century: Art in Asia 1900-2000. She is currently a senior research fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University.

Carrillo Gantner, panel discussion

Carrillo Gantner AC has had a lifetime of involvement in the arts in Australia and Asia and held many positions in public life, both as a creative practitioner and advocate. In 2019 he was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for Service to the Community through professional involvement in, and philanthropic support for, the performing and visual arts, and to Australia-Asia cultural exchange. He co-authored Platform Paper no. 31, ‘Finding a Place on the Asian Stage’ with Alison Carroll in 2012.