(Nick Miller’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 5/14; Photo: Pope Alice will appear at the 2021 Dark Mofo festival.)

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Hobart’s Dark Mofo will put First Nations artists at the heart of its festival next month, as it tries to make amends for commissioning an artwork that offended some Indigenous people and triggered a significant backlash and threats of a boycott.

But the festival still plans to push the boundaries, with a spectacular public ritual where the ashes of deceased Tasmanians will be launched in fireworks to explode over the Derwent.

Pope Alice will appear at the 2021 Dark Mofo festival.

In April creative director Leigh Carmichael had promised to listen and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, after the festival was accused of stepping over the line with Union Flag, a proposed work by Spanish artists Santiago Sierra that would have soaked a British flag in the donated blood of First Nations people.

In Friday’s delayed program announcement for the festival, which begins June 16, the opening night includes a Home State Reclamation Walk featuring local Indigenous artists and leaders.

Participants will “follow fire and smoke [on] a street through our town retaken by vegetation” and the program says the “list of artists grows as individuals come forward to own the project”.

Dark Mofo cancels blood-soaked flag artwork

As part of an apology for the Union Flag debacle, Carmichael had vowed a “more culturally significant program” for future festivals.

Dark Mofo’s after-hours “art path” through central Hobart will feature Home State nipaluna, an installation described as “the first traditional hut of this kind built since the colonial invasion”, which will represent “the story of Country: a place of mourning and community… filled with stories and voices, objects and visitors” from a growing list of artists.

Carmichael said the cancellation of the festival in 2020 had left his team and artists “disoriented, confused and with a sense of loss”.

The “dark night of the soul” journey that many went on, he said, had given a context for this year’s festival, and “we pray it brings a glimmer of light in these uncertain times”. 

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