A LOVE LETTER TO BRISBANE ARTS AND CULTURE
Words By Tess Bakharia
Brisbane’s art and culture scene is a vibrant undercurrent, pulsing through the veins of suburbs and city. When you look, it’s there, but it’s not as visible as you’d think. Read on to learn more from my conversations with three Brisbane Creatives.
On the day of a Lil J’s Brisbane’s Biggest Clothing Garage Sale (BBCGS), Latrobe Terrace transforms into a marketplace for thrifted finds. It radiates from Bizzell’s Garage where countless creatives sprawl behind vintage garment stalls, chatting with locals lurking for a bargain, rare gem or just the buzzing atmosphere.
On these scarce occasions, where so many Brisbane creatives are in one place, commonalities between each person’s style are noticeable. I thought this resulted from an overarching ‘fashion identity’ that stems from the rising popularity of op shops and secondhand clothes. However, after speaking to three local creatives, Jacqueline Cowan, Rei Bingham and Kinly Grey, clothing seems to be less connected to their identities than I originally thought.
Commonalities are most noticeable in the music scene, with gigs being a hotbed for style. Bingham, the drummer for Sweater Curse, a Brisbane-based band, uses the term “indie boy dress code” to describe the phenomena of tucked-in tees, jeans and Docs infiltrating Brisbane venues. “People’s fashion really made it… obvious… how many different types of people were at that show,” he says. And it’s not just a throwaway observation. According to sociologist Dr Joanne Entwistle, “subcultures employ dress to mark out distinctive identities both between themselves and mainstream culture, as well as between themselves and other… subcultures”.
Echoing this, I assumed that the style of creative people would give away the subcultures they subscribe to. However, neither Cowan, Bingham or Grey view clothing as directly reflecting their identity, or creative practice. Dr Llewellyn Negrin, lecturer at the University of Tasmania, supports this view by explaining “while the fashioning of one’s appearance is an integral part of who one is…it[‘s] not the only source of identity formation”.
Cowan, Bingham and Grey share this outlook. They’re all confident enough in their creative practices to not depend on their clothing as the only indicator of their personal identities as artists or performers. This lesser emphasis on clothing could be why the style of Brisbane creatives can’t be reduced to a single, unified identity. As conceptual Brisbane artist, Grey, pointed out, creatives divide their clothes into “double wardrobe[s]”, separating creative practice from other aspects of life. This in turn hides their practice from those outside of their community. Similarly, the Brisbane scene isn’t necessarily visible until you become a part of it.
It seems that the visible signs of Brisbane’s creative scene go mostly unnoticed. As with BBCGS, many other culture spots like local skate shop Dropouts, independent record store Jet Black Cat Music and artist-run-initiative Outer Space, are easily missed if you’re not looking. This might contribute to Brisbane’s historically bad rap with arts and culture, often compared to its older, more established siblings: Sydney and Melbourne. However, self-professed “Brisbane fiend” Cowan is the first to defend her hometown.
“People often pare off Brisbane,” she explains. Her response is simple: “Take a look around…Tattooing, fashion, skating, events, musicians, rapping, punk…you name it.”JACQUELINE COWAN
But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way forever. “We’re the adults now… Why can’t we be the dominant culture, if we choose to be?” Grey muses as we discuss whether what’s happening in Brisbane is the start of a subcultural shift. “You’re the boss, if you’re producing the culture.”
Even if not apparent on the surface, Brisbane’s art and culture is thriving. Maybe events like Cowan’s are the start of the buzzing culture moving into broader focus. “I’ve never seen a culture like I’ve seen in Brisbane,” Cowan affirms, “I think we all have a bit of Brissy in us.”