"I never wanted to be an activist."
Jaguar Jonze has set the standard for artist keynotes at BIGSOUND 2022 with an inspirational art installation/spoken word performance that received a standing ovation and only convinced us more of her creative genius.
Centred around the idea of Jonze finally being able to tell her story outside of her activism, the installation piece spoke to the artist and the activist in her and blended the two, creating a mind-bending piece of art and story.
As the lights went dark and the crowd went quiet, Jonze was led onto the stage, clad in a skin-tight black leotard and ski mask with long bunny ears dropping beside her face. Her arms were bound behind her back and she was led onto the platform by another person sporting the ski bunny mask. Centring herself on the box, a voiceover spoken by Jonze started to play overhead, telling stories about her youth.
As the voiceover continued to play, two people in bunny ski masks started stringing up ropes behind her, and the crowd realised that this would not be a regular keynote.
As the voiceover carried across the room, the crowd was taken on a journey of stories that Jonze believed made her into the person she is today. She described her childhood of growing up in Australia without her Taiwanese mother due to the Australian court system’s prejudice, her homelessness in her youth because the streets felt safer than home, losing her first love tragically and suddenly without being able to fully express her feelings, her experience first creating art and being used by people to reach a diversity quota.
The recording artfully articulated these stories loudly, while strings of rope were continuously strung up behind her slowly creating a web. As the stories continued, Jonze was slowly tied into the web until she was hanging by her legs and arm, still tied behind her back. The symbolism was frank and honest depicting what she went through.
Just as the tension was at breaking point the voice-over changed, and Jonze was slowly helped out of her tangled web as she described the story of her art, saying that she can "create moments of joy” that take her away from the hardships of her life. Her life finally made sense of the pain that had slowly eaten away from her. “I have power, I have a voice, I’ve found purpose.”
“I came to art and music to break the cycle that had followed me my entire life. To be free. I never wanted to be an activist but my art unburied my voice.
“When you’ve lost so much, there is little to lose. If I didn’t stand up, then what about those that couldn’t."
Explaining that she “can’t and won't be complicit in the system that broke me and hurt me”, Jonze launched into the dreams that she has for herself and the industry, rounding out the piece and confessing her want to be an artist rather than an activist.
“I see a system that supports the artist’s visions. I am standing on stage sound-checking in ten years time, and I’m free. I feel safe because there are so many other people who for so long have been marginalised buzzing around and pursuing their passions and having their voices amplified. I don’t have to worry about how I’m dressed, what I say, where I’ve come from, or what emotion I need to swallow.
"I don’t have to worry about what vulnerable people have to do to get to where I am. I see myself on a diverse festival bill, headlining with other diverse artists, where once we used to have to fight each other for that one spot, if there even was one. And now we smile at each other as we soundcheck.”