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KOORI GRAS is a radical celebration of sparkling defiance

28 Feb 2022

First Nations LGBTQI+ people and communities have a long history of contributing to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) festival, particularly as parade participants.

KOORI GRAS is a radical celebration of sparkling defiance. Here is a brief history of its inception, with photographs by Jamie James. The beginning happened quite by accident. One day an invitation arrived from independent producer Harley Stumm (Intimate Spectacle) seeking interest from Moogahlin Performing Arts to curate an event as part of a festival called ‘Near and Now’

Dallas Webster (Dunghutti)-Nova Gina, a member of the former Dreamtime Divas duo Nova is our fiercest and most loved performer.

This program was to take place from February-March 2017, and we were offered a presentation slot from the 24th – 25th of February, dates that were right in the middle of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival season. After extensive consultation with the Moogahlin company leadership team and various Blak LGBTQI+ community members it was decided that a queer black program of events would be the best use of this invitation. 

Bee Cruse (Kamilirio, Wiradjuri and Yuin-Monaro) created her drag persona Beedazzeled Shanks the Prince of Redfern as part of our 2018 queer performance development workshops run by international artist Cherish Blood (Blackfood) Turtle Island Canada.

First Nations LGBTQI+ people and communities have a long history of contributing to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) festival, particularly as parade participants. Archiving that history became a love project of Tim Bishop, a local man who has been part of the First Nations LGBTQI+ communities through partners who were from that community. The First Nations Entries in Sydney Mardi Gras Parade timeline project curated by Tim exists on a community website platform allowing for contributions from First Nations LGBTQI+ sistergirls and brotherboys from across the Nation, including contributions from partners and their families. 

Graham Simms (Gadigal) – Nana Miss Koori was the co-curator of the Black Nulla events and our MC. Nana also performed the Welcome to Country.

I knew of the project and invited Tim to a meeting to discuss the idea of creating an exhibition from his archival project. Tim was excited about the possibility and suggested that we invite Mish Sparks (Bundjalung) from Studio Mod, a media company that specialises in creative storytelling and experiences across various platforms, to the meeting.  As part of this community consultation, I also spoke to my cousin Sue Pinkham who, like me, has family ties to the Biripay people. At the first meeting with Tim and Mish on 10 September 2016 at 107 Projects we spoke about our aspirations for the event and what were the important elements to consider. It was decided that the event would be a program that included the exhibition highlighting key images and artefacts from the First Nations Mardi Gras history site, a club/cabaret night called Blak Nulla (club), and a forum/yarn-up called Blak Point. We named the event Koori Gras.  

Dallas Webster (Dunghutti)-Nova Gina.

Koori Gras as an ideology not only seeks to normalise queerness within our Indigenous cultures, histories, and society, but to also confront the contradictions within our cultures countering heteropatriarchal historical and political narratives inherited by colonisation and Western sex/gender norms.

Graham Simms (Gadigal) – Nana Miss Koori

Koori Gras was presented in partnership with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Other partners over the event’s four-year history include ACON, NSW Health Tatu program, Performance Space, 107 Projects, Intimate Spectacle, Carriageworks, and the Seymour Centre. Co-curators involved include Tim Bishop, Mish Sparks, Graham Simms (Gadigal), Ben Graetz (Iwaidja and Malak Malak), and Jinny Jane Smith (Wiradjuri/ Walbunja). 

Graham Simms (Gadigal) – Nana Miss Koori

The Black Nulla program showed me that the art of Blak Drag is woven together with care and bravery. I have chosen to share photos from Koori Gras that highlight these elements in the creation of Blak drag personas. With thanks to photographer Jamie James.

Graham Simms (Gadigal) – Nana Miss Koori

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