Antidote Festival 2019
It feels as though the past few years have been a constant rinse-and-repeat of Donald Trump screaming “fake news” on Twitter, Facebook mishandling our information and refugees trying to escape brutal regimes. Antidote aims to be a panacea for all this turmoil. Or, at least, a way to engage with it that doesn’t feel suffocatingly futile.
The line-up of this year’s two-day Sydney Opera House festival, curated by Edwina Throsby, the organisation’s head of talks and ideas, is designed to confront audiences with experiences outside their own. It brings together prominent figures (who it’s unlikely you’d see at a music or literature festival) across fields including journalism, politics, music and big data. Stemming out of what used to be the Festival for Dangerous Ideas, Antidote’s remit is to get people who have different lives and perspectives into one room.
Chris Wylie, former director of research for Cambridge Analytica, was instrumental in revealing how social-media data was exploited by militaries, governments and companies to undermine elections. He’ll be speaking on a panel about “dark data”.
Much of the festival will revolve around the role of journalists, including how they work in hostile environments and who gets a voice when talking about society’s most controversial issues. The festival has partnered with the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas to tackle these questions. Neilson is an Australian philanthropist who is probably best known in Sydney for setting up the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. Late in 2018 she donated $100 million to celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia and the world through education and grants and by hosting events on the big issues of the day.
There will be a number of journalists visiting for the festival from countries whose governments are aggressive towards them, including Maria Ressa (Philippines), Steve Coll (America), and Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (Russia), who will appear on a panel called “My Crime is Journalism” alongside Australian journalist Peter Greste.
Civil liberties and racism will also be a key theme of the festival. Prominent Black Lives Matter figure DeRay Mckesson, professor of modern Jewish history Deborah E Lipstadt and Indigenous Australian author and journalist Stan Grant will all be speaking about xenophobia, the rise of populism and how, amid violence and racism, there’s still hope.
Other speakers include North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho; Rohingyan refugee and author Habiburahman, Mausi Segun, the executive director of Human Right Watch’s African division; and Zing Tsjeng, author and UK editor of Vice’s Broadly channel.
There will also be panels on the problem with polling and the growth of wellness and binge cultures. Throsby says that the festival doesn’t aim to be a binary, black-and-white, Q&A-style event, with people on opposing sides going at it.
It’s not all talk, though. Workshops will be held throughout the festival, teaching participants practical skills to help them more easily navigate the world. There’ll be a session teaching dads (or any parents who lack the skills) how to plait hair, a mass tarot reading with Psychic Sarah and the team from Sew Make Create will teach visitors how to mend their old clothes.
The second round of speakers has been announced, and includes Cantopop singer and LGBTQ rights activist, and key figure in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement Denise Ho, in conversation with Tsjeng. The Washington Post's Beijing bureau chief Anna Fifield will appear in a discussion with Yong-Ho. Kimberley Motley, the first international lawyer to practice in Afghanistan, will examine the concept of justice alongside Aboriginal writer Melissa Lucashenko and restorative justice practitioner and former police officer Peta Blood.
Plus, City of Sydney councillor Jess Scully will moderate a panel about alternative modes of housing, featuring Peter Mares, author of Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration Is Changing the Nation, Louise Crabtree, Western Sydney University social geographer, and Jeremy McLeod, founder of Nightingale Housing. A panel called The Killing Times will look at the work done by Newcastle University's Colonial Frontier Massacres Project team, with Indigenous academic and writer Larissa Behrendt and Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer Nayuka Gorrie.
Jewish-Australian writer Ramona Koval will talk about antisemitism with Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, on the 80th anniversary of Germany invading Poland at the beginning of World War II.
Newly announced workshops include an Australian Sign Language class run by the Deaf Society and a native tea-making workshop.
This article was updated on August 22 to reflect Kim Gordon cancelling her appearance.