you are the robber, come and shake hands is an evocative three screen projection by established WA artist Michele Theunissen. A band of brightly-clad travellers journey along the edge of rugged and brittle mountains in South Africa, impelled forward by music that carries their stories. The film’s title is taken from one of the songs, a throat song that growls from deep within the body of the female singer: a force almost primeval. There is a disquiet between the raw power of the song and the generosity implicit in the words of the title.
Referencing the dispossession of land caused by struggles between indigenous people and colonisers past and present, the work is both stark and joyous, highlighting the paradox of maintaining generosity in the face of displacement. Theunissen worked with WA artist Elizabeth Delfs to design a set of costumes for the band of travellers which absorbed the influence of the military, Victorian propriety with its long dresses and ruffled collars, as well as symbols of commerce such as ties. The costumes were intended to unsettle power relations. They reflect the adaptive ingenuity of indigenous people involved in the barter and exchange of colonisation and the energy generated in cultural exchange.
Michele Theunissen: you are the robber, come and shake hands is a Perth International Arts Festival event, supported by Perth International Arts Festival Visual Arts program partner Wesfarmers Arts. This project has been also been assisted by the Australia Council through the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments and a DCA Visual Arts and Crafts Mid-Career Fellowship.