Nani Creative’s Kevin Wilson On Bringing First Nations Culture Into The Commercial Creativity Space

Nani Creative’s Kevin Wilson On Bringing First Nations Culture Into The Commercial Creativity Space
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

During his “Walking Between Two Worlds” presentation at Emergence Creative last week, Kevin Wilson, a Wongutha man and co-owner of Nani Creative, appeared alongside Clare Reid, CEO of communications and content agency Lush, to discuss the push toward boldness when bringing First Nations culture into the commercial creativity space.

Lead image: L-R – Kevin Wilson & Clare Reid

During the presentation, the duo spoke about their work together as an Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal creative team, bringing First Nations’ stories and creativity into commercial communications and branding.

“As a creative, or as any person within society, it’s your job to keep using your voice to push for what’s right,” said Wilson. “If you have the ability to say or do something, then I think it’s your job to step up and have that conversation”.

Walking between the worlds of commercial creativity and Aboriginal art

According to Wilson, when he speaks about walking between two worlds, the first world is commercial creativity.

“In this industry, the work is often fast-paced and we’re making creative to fit a brief, but the other world I always exist in is the world of Aboriginal culture and art,” he said.

In this world, Wilson describes art as expressive, creative, and limitless. While the challenges of bringing these two worlds together are obvious—even to those who are not in the industry—the value is undeniable. As Reid said, “If we agree that our society needs more work exploring the rich meaning of First Nations’ culture and Country, we need to make space for these discussions at festivals like Emergence”.

There is no checklist for working with culture

Wilson was clear that ‘Walking between two worlds’ did not give attendees a solidified answer to working with Aboriginal culture, with Reid echoing this sentiment, explaining that the talk didn’t provide a checklist or a ‘one-pager’ for people to follow, no matter how comfortable that would make non-Aboriginal creatives and suits alike.

“It doesn’t work like that. If you’re going to work in this space, you need to understand that each project will function differently from the one before and the one after,” said Reid. “There will be different cultural protocols depending on the Country you’re working on and the story you’re helping to tell, different reference groups or consulting processes, and of course different artists and cultural knowledge holders who have their preferences and processes”.

So, while attendees sat in the discomfort of life without a copy-and-paste process, Wilson and Reid encouraged people to reflect on how they can make space for more First Nations creatives and storytellers in this industry, even if that means being a temporary placeholder.

When you choose to take space, how can you lift invisible obligations

Taking space can sometimes be really valuable—helping to bring a project to fruition. But once you’ve decided to take that space, your intentions need to be in alignment, and you absolutely need to be aware of cultural loading.

“Cultural load is the invisible obligations placed on First Nations employees when they are expected to check work, give advice, and provide sign off—all usually outside their job description—just because they happen to be First Nations and are ‘within arm’s reach’,” said Wilson.

For Reid and many other non-Aboriginal people, she was largely unaware of the cultural load. “I was constantly asking for approval for every little piece of work which absolutely contributes to the problem … really I was looking for a way to alleviate my fear of doing something wrong but in fact I needed to come to the table with solutions”.

From Wilson’s perspective, it’s been a lesson in pushing back, “I think you need to build a bit more education about this space before working with the community. You really need to do the work”.

Cultural safety as a shared responsibility

The concepts Wilson and Reid explored in their talk—and in the following Q&A session with Perun Bonsar from Screenwest—continue a long-standing conversation. Wilson said that he hopes attendees take at least one thing away from the experience, whether it’s a new insight or a perspective they haven’t thought of before. But it’s meant to be the first step in a journey of self-education, to share the responsibility of improving the relationship between First Nations culture and commercial creativity.

“At Nani, our purpose is to make sure First Nations artists have the space to speak up and feel comfortable enough to do so,” said Wilson. “And when bridging the gap between artists and brands, we try to echo what society expects from organisations, which is for them to be authentic and genuine and actually do everything they can with the privilege that they have”.

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