I distinctly recall writing a story about the incoming Labor Government in 2007 making virtually its first decision in the arts area to cancel all funding for overseas exposure of our artists and the promotion of a cultural country. So it seemed as though events like ‘Celebrate Australia’ in Japan, others in Indonesia and Korea, and big exchanges with the British Council in the UK were things of the past.

Actually, it’s only the promotion of such events at home that’s past.

To my surprise, it seems the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has been messaging away in Germany, Japan and ASEAN between 2017 and 19, and this year has not one but two promotions going in France and Malaysia.

Briefly, the Malaysians are getting some science and some food plus a digital version of the National Museum’s ‘Songlines‘ exhibition : “Immerse yourself in Australia’s Indigenous Dreaming when you experience the digital dome exhibition Walking Through a Songline at the High Commission. The exhibition incorporates digital interpretations of the original artworks and explains the cultural importance and deeper meanings they hold”.

And the Indigenous seems to fight above its weight generally – playing a much greater role than it did in pre-Rudd days. In France – the big effort in 2021 -10 of an amazing 25 events show off our First Nations.

Here’s the official line for ‘Osez l’Australie’ : ‘Australia now’ is an initiative of the Australian Government celebrating Australia’s creative excellence, diversity and innovation. Each year, the program is delivered in a country or region of strategic significance. The program strengthens and deepens bilateral ties, and raises Australia’s profile as an innovative, creative nation – while building understanding beyond our landscape and lifestyle. ‘Australia now’ demonstrates how contemporary Australia draws on our strong Indigenous culture and multicultural heritage, while promoting Australia as a key destination for tourism, study, research, innovation and investment. Most of all ‘Australia now’ is about building relationships for the future”.

“From June 2021, we are daring the French to discover Australia. (‘Osez’ – means ‘do you dare’)”.

The only dare I was aware of before my current investigations was ‘Tarnanthi on Tour: Kulata Tjuta (Many Spears)‘, which the Art Gallery of SA promoted heavily last year. The exhibition opened at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes as the first swallow of the Aussie invasion.

And that regionalism seems to be the flavour of the flight – with Le Havre in Normandy finding especial favour. Four exhibitions there are making Le Havre the prime destination for contemporary Australian Aboriginal art: In ‘Australia – Le Havre. The Intimacy of a Link (1801-2021)’, 220 drawings by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit from Bonaparte’s expedition to Australia (1800-1804) will be presented alongside 46 contemporary Indigenous and non-Indigenous creations stretching from Tasmania to the Torres Strait.

In ‘Australia, beyond the Dream’, ‘Kulata Tjuta‘ continues its elucidation of the APY Lands and is joined by early boards from Papunya and barks from Arnhemland.

Thirdly, ‘Painting now – Peindre aujourd’hui en terres aborigènes’ is organised by IDAIA the Franco/First Nations promotional group working with artists, their art centres and Aboriginal curators. The exhibition explores the cultural, political and economic issues for artists, and encourages viewers to acquire artworks supporting the ethical and sustainable Aboriginal art sector.

And finally, the installation ‘Land drawing. Drawing of land’ presents the collaborative work of Le Havre artist Patrice Balvay and a collective of Aboriginal women artists. Women also get involved in the art of cricket, and there’s a coffee festival as well; “and many other surprises”!

Meanwhile, in the heart of things in Paris, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, an exhibition called ‘Gularri‘ is organised around a selection of bark paintings and sculptures collected across the North in the 60’s by the French artist of Czech origin, Karel Kupka, who went on to write the predictive, ‘Dawn of Art’. The exhibition will shed light on the ways in which Yolngu from Milingimbi relate to the waterscapes around them. While Australia is often perceived from France as a vast arid continent, the exhibition will show the significance Yolngu place on the watery connections from open sea to coastal wetlands, intertidal mangrove areas and inland freshwater ecosystems.

Conceived by the descendants of Kupka’s artists as part of a complex consultation process, the selection brings to the fore the ecological interrelationship of these fragile environments where human and non-human activities have coexisted for thousands of years. Poetic texts have been composed collectively for the exhibition, revealing the sacred cartography which links places and ancestors, mythical events and property rights, connections and kinship relations. An experimental film made by the Milingimbi art centre team brings the Yolngu voice to the exhibition, guided by Joe Dhamanydji, artist and ceremonial leader of the Gupapuyngu clan and Ruth Nalmakarra, artist and ceremonial leader of the Liyagawumirr clan.

The Palais de Tokyo, which is home to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, has commissioned a major work by Indigenous multi-media artist Jonathan Jones. Jones’ project, ‘untitled (transcriptions of country)’ looks into colonial transport, trade and the use and abuse of Indigenous plants, animals and objects. Its source is the French expedition to Terre Napoleon (as they optimistically called it) led by Nicolas Baudin in the early 19th Century. Commissioned by Bonaparte, this was one of the most extensive scientific expeditions ever undertaken, and it brought back to France many artefacts, 300 plants and living creatures – much admired by Empress Josephine.

A soundscape, inspired by a corroboree transcribed during that expedition, fills the space. Each body of work thus highlights how mutable the interpretation and understanding of other cultures can be in such an exchange.

Meanwhile, at the Australian Embassy in Paris, ‘Destiny‘ the NGV’s retrospective exhibition covers 30 years of Destiny Deacon’s career as a contemporary artist for her debut in France. Collaborating often with her late and long-time partner, Virginia Fraser, Destiny offers a nuanced, thoughtful, and at times intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life.

In a setting steeped in history, the Abbaye du Vœu in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, the exhibition ‘Jarracharra: dry season wind‘ presents a vibrant collection of textile works by Aboriginal artists from the Babbarra Women’s Centre at Maningrida. This exhibition highlights the artists’ use of contemporary silkscreen and linocut techniques to represent their ancestral stories and rituals, fusing them into fashion.

Fusion gastronomy, a retrospective of films by the Australian director. Phillip Noyce (including, of course, ‘Les Chemins de la Liberte‘, better know as ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’), two dance companies, art by Hossein Valamanesh in an Islamic cultural centre, a timely and positive portrait of the Barrier Reef, and an “exciting curation of Australia’s leading brands and emerging designers” complete the cultural picture DFAT.

Daring indeed. Will they dare as hard next year in the UK?