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Artist profile

Fences, groups of multiple legs roaming blades of grass, and little high pitched voices of the ancestors are recurring motifs in Karrabing Collective’s films and symbolic for their practice. Karrabing is a group of around 50 people, all of Australian indigenous heritage, except for one: Elisabeth Povinelli, a white American who has appeared as a director in all the film’s credits since 2014, when their first film was produced. I look at their body of work, as they suggest themselves, as a schoolhouse—a pedagogical tool for their own community. In their film Riots, from 2019, the initial credits tell that the “collective emerged from the violence of contemporary settler colonialism”. Riots creates a glossary of a mutual vocabulary around the members’ recent traumatic past. Povinelli is the one asking about the words. Her position is to write, to direct, to interview, to bring together. Povinelli does something that the Spanish philosopher Marina Garces would describe as “getting affected”—she goes to a place where there’s no comforting distance, where one feels the people’s pain that one is in a relationship with and vice versa. She has been with some members of the collective since 1984, not withdrawing her attention for almost 30 years. Settler colonial structural violence can not be mended—but that can’t determine every relationship between white people, indigenous people, and the more-than-human.


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The West’s obsession with archiving should not also determine the fate of our relationships. “Things are neither born nor die, though they can turn away from each other” says Povinelli in “a dirty manifesto to Karrabing analysis.” The first lines of this manifesto state that “things exist through an effort of mutual attention. This effort is not in the mind, but in the activity of endurance.” Taken together, the analysis basically translates to: if you cannot care for it, it is not yours, or, to quote the film Wutharr, Saltwater Dreams (2016): “you have to put your sweat in it, so the place recognizes you.” Karrabing’s filmmaking has already become a part of the settlers’ archive—but it is not a violent integration, because Karrabing did not give up their radical interdependence which is so hard to defend in the patriarchy-capitalism-colonialism nexus. Through mutual endurance, they have upkept relationships with Elisabeth Povinelli, one another, and their surroundings. Settler colonialism has taken away their land, erected fences, cut the grass, and interrupted their paths, attempting to mute the ancestors’ voices. Durational relationships of care, and specifically of facilitation, allow for them to reappear—as well as, for the emergence of white allies. The warmly inviting reader for the exhibition of the collective on view until September 10, 2023 at Haus der Kunst, München, grapples with the contradicting expectations of artistic practice. While there are other collective film-making practices in self-organization, such as the Rojava film commune, contemporary art worlds are yet just finding a vocabulary for what anthropologist Faye Ginsburg calls “aesthetics of accountability”.


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    Cover: Karrabing Collective, The Mermaids, or Aiden in Wonderland (Still), 2018. Credits and courtesy the artists.

    fig. 1: Karrabing Collective, The Family & the Zombie (Behind the Scenes), 2021. Courtesy Lenbachhaus, Munich and credits Karrabing Film Collective.

    fig. 2, 3: Karrabing Collective, Wutharr, Saltwater Dreams, (still), 2016. Credits and courtesy the artists.



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