Natasha Cica pro­motes the im­por­tance of art

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Upfront - WORDS HE­LEN HAY­WARD PIC­TURE JEREMY WEIHRAUCH

Natasha Cica wasn’t look­ing for a new job. The Tas­ma­nian-born lawyer, change strate­gist, busi­ness­woman, au­thor of Ped­der Dream­ing and co-edi­tor of Grif­fith Re­view’s The Tipping Point? was busy try­ing to make the world a better place through her con­sul­tancy Ka­pac­, work­ing with or­gan­i­sa­tions to hold fo­rums for shar­ing ideas and dia­logue, and con­duct­ing work­shops that en­able women to be­come more con­fi­dent and ef­fec­tive speak­ers.

Last year, I took part in a Per­fect Pitch work­shop for women in Ho­bart. I was among a cir­cle of women in­vited by Cica and reign­ing Tas­ma­nian of the Year Ros­alie Martin, of Speech Pathol­ogy Tas­ma­nia, into the space that ex­ists be­tween the public and the pri­vate, be­tween speak­ing out and dwelling within, be­tween tak­ing cen­tre stage and stay­ing in the shad­ows. Dur­ing these ses­sions, a few po­ems were read aloud. There was no men­tion of glass ceil­ings. The em­pha­sis was on the ways in which we, the women gath­ered, col­luded in the forces that pre­vented us pris­ing apart our shells. Hav­ing ar­rived ex­pect­ing a brief course in public speak­ing, dare I say a quick fix, we left with a re­newed ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the rich­ness of life, and an un­der­ly­ing aware­ness it was a pearl, not a magic bul­let, that we were seek­ing.

Late last year, the day af­ter a Per­fect Pitch work­shop in Mel­bourne, Cica did what she reg­u­larly did when she vis­ited that city. She went to Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art – which be­gan in the 1930s as the home of John and Sun­day Reed and has evolved into one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions. Sur­rounded by gar­dens, around a clutch of con­crete Mod­ernist build­ings, Heide did what it had al­ways done for Cica, brush­ing her with the awe that beauty and art to­gether can give.

The next morn­ing, as Cica flicked through The Age news­pa­per, her eye was caught by an ad for the direc­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Heide. In­trigued, she thought, ‘This would be a great job for some­one’. The next day she men­tioned the role to a friend in Ho­bart. “But Natasha,” ex­claimed her friend, “that’s your job.”

In­sist­ing she wasn’t look­ing for a job, Cica laughed off the idea. “But then I re­alised my friend was right,” she says. “This was Heide we were talk­ing about. And I thought about all that Heide rep­re­sents, both in it­self and also for Aus­tralia and in­ter­na­tion­ally. At that mo­ment I felt a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­crease a gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of beauty. I’ve al­ways felt a strong ded­i­ca­tion to beauty, to hold­ing the space open for it and pro­tect­ing it. And I re­alised that, if I could make this hap­pen at Heide, it would be my next pro­fes­sional step.”

A few months later, Cica took that step. She left the Ser­bian cap­i­tal of Bel­grade, where she has lived in re­cent years – “a city I adore, where the best half of my fam­ily lives” – and moved to Mel­bourne.

“Even though I’m now based here, I haven’t com­pletely left Bel­grade,” she says. “For me, Heide is part of a larger in­ter­na­tional con­ver­sa­tion. Given my strong pull to Europe – I have two pass­ports – it’s re­ally im­por­tant to me that I main­tain a dia­logue and var­i­ous projects out­side Aus­tralia. As a result, I now have two nodes of home, and feel no need to choose one over the other.

“Of course, I also love Mel­bourne, which to an un­usual de­gree in­vests in cul­tural achieve­ment, is au­then­ti­cally mul­ti­cul­tural, and is an el­e­gant city. And so even though leav­ing Bel­grade was a wrench, I’m very happy to be here.”

While on the sur­face Cica is still set­tling in to her role at Heide, stretching her wings and rev­el­ling in her dy­namic team and stylish sur­round­ings, at a deep level it’s hard not to feel that she has ar­rived, im­mers­ing her­self in the aes­thetic prom­ise that makes the mu­seum at Heide glow.

On be­ing shown into her new of­fice by her funkily dressed ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant, Cica looks at me darkly. She has just hung up the phone on the re­moval company that, for a third time, has changed the time when her pos­ses­sions from Bel­grade are sched­uled to be de­liv­ered – so ev­ery­thing is three months late.

“Can you be­lieve it?” she says. “Hon­estly!” In the next mo­ment she moves be­yond her ex­as­per­a­tion, join­ing me at the long ta­ble and benches made from floor tiles, set into metal frames (“they’re part of a larger set, spe­cially made for [the mod­ernist building] Heide II – we’d need about $40,000 to re­store them”). Then, af­ter of­fer­ing me tea or cof­fee, she asks where I’d like to be­gin.

In fact, Cica has three homes, not two: Bel­grade, her flat at Parkville, and her of­fice at Heide – full of art books, light and open to gar­dens on two sides. Noth­ing re­flects the syn­chronic­ity of her move to Heide better than the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion Call of the Avant­Garde: Con­struc­tivism and Aus­tralian Art – her first as direc­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Now that she’s in the driver’s seat at Heide, I ask Cica how she feels about the road ahead. “The more ma­ture I get, the more I re­alise that the world can only be changed piece by piece,” she says. “Ev­ery­one has their sphere of in­flu­ence, whether it’s in the public or do­mes­tic realm, and the dance be­tween them. We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to leave the world a better place, even if only a lit­tle better. I feel this par­tic­u­larly now that I’m in a lead­er­ship role in a world-renowned cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion that was founded by two un­usu­ally brave, in­spir­ing and quirky peo­ple.

“John and Sun­day Reed prac­tised the art of gen­eros­ity in their home, invit­ing artists and thinkers, serv­ing food and wine, de­liv­er­ing pa­tron­age in the mak­ing of art, re­mind­ing peo­ple that art is about ideas – rather than, as so of­ten hap­pens, split­ting off the cul­tural into a dif­fer­ent sphere. All this was ex­pressed in their ex­quis­ite col­lec­tion of art, from the mid-20th cen­tury, which grew along­side the ex­ten­sive gar­dens and mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture.”

How, I ask Cica, does she feel about be­ing in a po­si­tion of be­ing able to ex­er­cise soft power, a con­cept to which she has long been drawn. “Ever since I was a lit­tle girl I’ve been in­ter­ested in mak­ing pos­i­tive change, and in be­ing in po­si­tions where I was en­abled and em­pow­ered to do that,” she says.

“When I was a cor­po­rate lawyer, a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser and a busi­ness­woman – all con­ven­tional sites of power and in­flu­ence – I never ex­pe­ri­enced any ob­struc­tion to my per­for­mance or po­si­tion as it re­lates to gen­der. I didn’t re­ally meet this un­til I moved back to Tas­ma­nia about a decade ago, at which point I re­alised I had to start play­ing a smarter, more el­e­gant game.

“I still sought power. How­ever, I re­alised it could be pack­aged dif­fer­ently to the prac­tices dom­i­nant in Aus­tralia’s cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal worlds – and that this ap­proach might be more sat­is­fy­ing for me.” She pauses. “I will never apol­o­gise for seek­ing roles that carry sta­tus and in­flu­ence,” she adds. “Ex­er­cis­ing and hold­ing power has helped me to un­der­stand my­self. This very much in­forms the way I am as a leader of peo­ple and fa­cil­i­ta­tor of change.”

All this may be con­nected with Cica’s at­trac­tion to the geo­met­ric styles of Con­struc­tivism, with its ground­ing in the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion and its op­ti­mistic spirit of moder­nity. This bold and at times jar­ring art speaks directly to her per­sonal his­tory.

“This art has a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance for me be­cause my fa­ther is an im­mi­grant from the for­mer Yu­goslavia,” she says. “As a child in the 1970s, my fa­ther took my Tas­ma­nian mother and me to visit that ‘mys­te­ri­ous Other’ place of his first home­land, which back then was still com­mu­nist and still re­flected on the hor­rors of World War II. My Ser­bian aunt fought Nazis as a teenager – and she and the Croa­t­ian Jewish part of my fam­ily had in­ter­est­ing art on their walls. This is when I started a lived prac­tice of pon­der­ing the dis­so­nance and syn­er­gies that make up cul­ture, iden­tity and hu­man­ity, and be­gan a habit of re­lat­ing that to my very dif­fer­ent life in Aus­tralia.”

In some ways, Cica can be seen to have spent the past three decades of her pro­fes­sional life nav­i­gat­ing the split be­tween how we as Aus­tralians un­der­stand our­selves, and the per­spec­tive of the “mys­te­ri­ous Other”. This, then, is her chal­lenge at Heide. To hold up to the light the points at which di­verse cul­tures con­verge, and at which we ex­pe­ri­ence oth­er­ness within our­selves.

Clearly, Cica is thrilled to oc­cupy her new po­si­tion. “My role at Heide has started to gen­er­ate new and ex­cit­ing ini­tia­tives,” she says. “This sea­son we be­gin a se­ries of pri­vate, themed con­ver­sa­tions called The Beauty Sa­lons. The first is about the value of beauty. For these events 15 par­tic­i­pants are in­vited into an in­ti­mate, safe and care­fully cu­rated home-like space – with me fa­cil­i­tat­ing dis­cus­sion. The Chatham House Rule will ap­ply, and af­ter­wards I’ll write about the con­ver­sa­tion.”

Does all this, I ask, mean Cica has left Ho­bart be­hind? What

about Ped­der Dream­ing: Ole­gas Truchanas and a Lost Tas­ma­nian

Wilder­ness – her soul­ful quest to un­der­stand the flood­ing of Lake Ped­der to cre­ate hy­dro-elec­tric power 45 years ago? And what about the so­cial and eco­nomic ques­tions aris­ing from her coedit­ing of Grif­fith Re­view’s best­selling Tas­ma­nia: The Tipping Point?

“When I think about Tas­ma­nia now”, says Cica, “at its best I see it as a spe­cial in­cu­ba­tor of tal­ent. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for peo­ple to leave Tas­ma­nia af­ter be­ing raised there. Given its small pop­u­la­tion, I re­ally don’t think the state of­fers enough op­por­tu­nity, space or tol­er­ance for most tal­ented peo­ple to re­main for­ever.

“The ar­rival of Mona and all that it has in­spired, given per­mis­sion to ex­ist, has changed Ho­bart ir­re­versibly. It’s un­recog­nis­able from the city I grew up in. This is great for to­day’s young peo­ple.

“The one thing that’s still miss­ing is the ques­tion of a big­ger con­ver­sa­tion. Hav­ing said that, I keep some projects go­ing in Tas­ma­nia. My fa­ther and many of my friends live there, and I’d be bereft with­out it. So I say all this with­out judg­ment.

“What I value most these days is cul­tural com­mu­nity. In Bel­grade my favourite cousin would cook me to death ev­ery week­end, then we’d stay up un­til 3am talk­ing about life. In Mel­bourne, I live at the doorstep of Syd­ney Rd, sur­rounded by Turk­ish and Mid­dle Eastern shops which are full of the kind of peo­ple and food that are harder to find in Ho­bart. There’s a strong and vis­i­ble Mus­lim pres­ence in my new neigh­bour­hood – ac­tu­ally, all kinds of peo­ple. And so while I’m still ex­plor­ing my new ‘vil­lage’, I can tell that it’s full of peo­ple who take a lot of care of each other and their sur­round­ings.”

We end our con­ver­sa­tion where we started it, el­bows rest­ing on the long ta­ble in her of­fice – orig­i­nally the stu­dio of Sweeney Tucker, the Reeds’ adopted son. “For me, it’s im­por­tant that Heide is an en­chant­ing place for peo­ple to visit,” she says.

“The word ‘cu­ra­tor’ comes from the Latin, ‘to care’. For me, this process of tak­ing care of ob­jects, peo­ple, hos­pi­tal­ity, diplo­macy and com­mu­nity is re­ally pow­er­ful. I think care is the strong­est virtue upon which real power is built. It’s of­ten seen as a girly thing, but for me it’s core busi­ness. It’s hard work to take care.”

Call of the Avant-Garde: Con­struc­tivism and Aus­tralian Art is show­ing at the Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Mel­bourne, un­til October 8

“I will never apol­o­gise for seek­ing roles that carry sta­tus and in­flu­ence,” says Tas­ma­nian Natasha Cica, pho­tographed at the Call of the Avant-Garde ex­hi­bi­tion now on at Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Mel­bourne.

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