Words by Adam Semple photography by Michelle Karas
I couldn’t imagine a more visceral window into modern indigenous life, than Eva Johnson’s performance What Do They Call Me. So often in our assuming world, can the ‘big powers’ conveniently ignore the facts behind family based circumstance, and Eva Johnson’s artwork illustrates to us how easily assumptions are made and how oppressive the consequences can be. The piece calls into attention the vicious pulling of identity of Indigenous peoples, from both the sides of white conformity, and traditional heritage.
The concept of ‘what we are,’ of being asked to confirm exactly the heritage that influences our appearance, is a fantastic metaphor for the potential superficiality of judging a person by what they look like. What Do They Call Me balances this issue so delicately, with three amazing actors all taking their turn – literally one at a time – in showing the audience their microcosm in the macro-environment of the confusion and cultural dismemberment that is racism.
The occurence of whether Indigenous culture is being torn away, or completely restricted from birth, varies vastly through the three family members tales as their stories of development have all been so drastically different. Underlying this, are the many themes of cultural confusion and racial oppression that the women experience on a daily basis. To be shown such a world of disrespect and dishonour so vividly, so up close and personal, was truly special. It was riddled with goose-bumps and left me in a state of shock that will hopefully remain for a long time.
Eva Johnson has crafted a performance that brings the audience into the very reality of how potentially unfair the judicial system is, based on prejudices and race; she has shown us how unbelievably non-judgmental an idealist society can appear on the outside, whilst subtly imbuing it’s consumerist desires below the surface; and she has shown us that whether we are black, white, gay, or straight, society wants to know exactly what we are, have us labelled and ready to slot into a preordained space for ease of judgement and understanding, and that this system horrendously, and unrelentingly, oppresses those who wish to remain uncatagorisable.