SafARI was realised because of an adoration, a deep respect for, a fascination with and a desire to nurture experimental thinking and being. Setting out in 2004, the aim was to provide an alternative platform to exhibit artworks by non-represented and emerging artists in artist run initiatives (ARI’s). The participating ARI’s were known for their focus on experimental practice outside the mechanisms of the art market and devoid of commercial imperatives. SafARI responded to a particular situation at a particular point in time. There was an appetite for subversion, a desire for liberty, a willingness to embrace the unknown, strength in the unquantifiable and pleasure in its potential for spontaneity.
SafARI was founded by Lisa Corsi and Margaret Farmer in 2004 but the genesis behind it was Swiss artist, Frederic Post, who asked a simple question while in Sydney for the 2004 Biennale of Sydney: “… but what else is happening in Sydney?” This called for a focus on the alternative. It was a natural progression to make SafARI an event for unrepresented and emerging artist, curators, designers and art workers.
SafARI 2006 took place from 3-25 June, 2006 and was co-curated by the co-founders. A national call to all emerging and unrepresented artists was made. The first SafARI included 25 artists and a truck, six ARIs (one of which was a satellite ‘Project Contemporary Art Space’ in Wollongong), and a walking tour, which included artist talks.
The first public program event paid homage to the history of ARIs in Sydney and invited Mike Parr, one of the founders of Sydney’s first ARI, Inhibodress, to give a public talk at the UNSW College of Fine Arts. Scheduled to only run for an hour, Mike’s talk went on for closer to two. The audience slowly migrated to the front as the talk continued. At the end of the extended talk, people left feeling elated and inspired by Mike’s generosity of spirit as he spoke about the importance of alternative spaces to any artists’ practice.
SafARI was realised with a $25,000 “Skills and Arts Development Individuals” grant received through The Australia Council for the Arts. While not yet an incorporated association, both co-curators committed to three SafARIs and reasoned that it could continue with the input of emerging curators.
SafARI 2008 took place from 13-29 June 2008. 2008 was a watershed moment for SafARI. The inclusion of artworks by Lucas Grogan, prompted the resignation of Margaret Farmer as co-curator. Canadian curator, David Garneau later wrote an open letter to Art Monthly about the turn of events, which did two things: created an (ongoing) storm of controversy around Lucas Grogan’s practice and positioned SafARI as an exciting platform for new talent. 2008 included 11 artists, 3 ARIs, an artist talk, walking tour and talk by Barbara Flynn. Elizabeth Stanton stepped in at a critical moment to become the Exhibition Manager to help deliver the exhibition that almost wasn’t.
Plans were made to find an incoming co-curator to work with Lisa Corsi for 2010. This person was Alex Maciver who had to return back to the UK just as work began and was later replaced by Danielle Hairs (later Robson). This was the beginning of the rotating co-curatorial model whereby an incoming co-curator would take over the reigns from the previous curator for the following SafARI.
SafARI 2010 took place from 5-30 May, included 14 artists and 5 venues, one of which was the façade of FBI radio station in Redfern (by Nils Crompton). The public program consisted of an artist talk, walking tour and a public forum including Techa Noble from the KingPins, Soda Jerk, Peter Fay and moderated by Edwina Marks.
2010 was another watershed moment for SafARI because it was officially recognised as an Artist Run Initiative, with no fixed address and it was the last SafARI co-curated by Corsi.
In late 2010 Nina Stromqvist was appointed as co-curator for SafARI 2012. Danielle Robson (née Hairs) and Nina delivered the first SafARI with two emerging curators, independent of the founders. Their ambition was made clear and they went on to deliver a very specific vision. For the first time SafARI’s ‘off-year’ was activated by holding an artists workshop at Fraser Street studios, which carried over into the works produced for the actual event in 2012.
SafARI 2012 included 16 artists and took place in various locations, including two spaces in the Rocks as part of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority’s Pop-Up initiative, Alaska Projects in Kings Cross, and BUS Melbourne ARI Projects, a roving gallery on wheels.
In late 2012, Christiane Keys Statham was appointed as the incoming curator to work with Nina towards SafARI 2014. However, in early 2013 Nina stepped aside from SafARI as a co-curator following a jet setting promotion. This resulted in the appointment of Liz Nowell as co-curator for 2014.
SafARI 2014 included 24 artists and, in response to the zeitgeist of that time, provided a specific platform for female performance. The public program included an ambitious discussion moderated by Julian Day with local and international speakers about the benefits and challenges of ARIs. Liz nor Christiane were able to commit to another SafARI and so the The rolling curatorial model became a thing of the SafARI past when neither Liz or Christian were able to commit to another SafARI. The call outs for 2016 identified another phenomenon of curators working together, proposing to co-curate SafARI as established teams.
SafARI 2016 was curated by the duo Louise Dibben and Sophie Kitson, two emerging curators with differing experiences and bold approaches that promised to be a powerful reflection on the concept of grassroots.
SafARI 2016 was the first time online and digital art-making was incorporated, acknowledging shifting art practices.
Dibben and Kitson worked collaboratively with Katie Milton (PR/marketing), Del Lumanta (public programs and events) KK+JLD (design), Benjamin Forster (web development) and Megan Hanson (exhibition manager) to put the program together. In December 2015 Sophie Kitson had to step aside yet the project continued as planned.
Spurred on by the changing political and funding landscape, the increasing commercialisation of the visual arts, a number of discussions with the board took place about the genesis, history, relevance and future of SafARI.
On 4 April 2017, SafARI was handed over to history.
While the end of SafARI feels the equivalent of saying goodbye to a dear old friend with whom many difficult and marvellous paths were travelled, it feels right to say goodbye now.
IT WAS – Here’s to a very good beginning.
2016: Eloise Kirk, Phillipe Vranjes, David Atwood, Guillaume Savy, Matthew Linde, Tamara Kohler, Jesse Dyer, Jamie Lewis, Megan Hales, Grace Blake, Peter Nelson, Anna Madeleine, Amalia Mayor, Hana Hoogedeure, Emily O’Connor, Benjamin Lasker, Nathan Lasker, Dominic Kirkwood, Catherine Clayton Smith, Ben Chadbond, Sarah Poulgrain, Llwelyn Millhouse, Claudia Nicholson, Jana Hawkins Anerson, Angela Garrick, Katie Green, Megan Clune and Angela Goe.
2014: Paul Williams and Christopher Dolman, Sam Songailo, Dale Harding, Kate Blackmore, Laura Moore, Alex Clapham and Penelope Benton, James Carey, ACAB Collective, Kelly Doley, Patrick Francis, Beth Dillon, Nikki Lam, Emma Hamilton, Linda Brescia, OK YEAH COOL GREAT, Leyla Stevens, Madison Bycroft, Benjamin Forster, Liam O’Brien, Gemma Messih and Ally Bisshop, Frances Barrett
2012: Chris Bennie, Tega Brain, Julian Day, Dara Gill, Julie Henderson, Julia Holden, Huw Lewis, Daniel McKewen, Rachel Park, Drew Pettifer, Kurt Sorenson, Adele Varcoe, Jodie Whalen, Elizabeth Willing
2010: Linda Wilken, Chris Town, Rolande Souliere, Jason Sims, Tom Polo Caroline Phillips, Vincent and Vaughn O’Connor, Sue-Ching Lascelles, Leahlani Johnson, Marius Jastkowiak, Biljana Jancic, Karla Dickens, Nils Crompton, Will French
2008: Ron Adams, Liam Benson, Mark Brown, David Capra, Justin Cooper, Timothy Kendall Edser, Jessica Geron, Lucas Grogan, Chris Jones, Saskia Pandji Sakti, Luke Thurgate.
2006: Jessie Angwin, Penelope Cain, Daniel Chant, Tracey Clement, Simon Cooper, Shirley Diamond, Damian Dillon, Alex Gereg, Paul Grant, Chayni Henry, Shelley Krycer, Rik Lee, Natalie Masters, Xavier Modoux, Adam Norton, Sean O’Connell, Tiffany Parbs, Mark Rodda, Jasper Streit, Janet’s Truck, Jake Walker, Rully Zakaria.
SafARI Board Members
Jodie Louise Whalen
Dr Nicky McWilliam
Danielle Robson (nee Hairs)
Dr Nicole Graham
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