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Care is ...

by Jacina Leong

Co- Unfolded is an online iteration of Co-, curated and created by members of the Co- community.

Written and presented by Jacina Leong, and informed by her doctoral research on creative practice and care ethics, this video essay offers a reflection on the complexities and nuances of care. What does it mean to give care, to care for, and to care with, in and through our practices, and at times of crisis?

Audio and video recorded across the unceded sovereign lands of the Wurundjeri and Kabi Kabi Peoples. 

A friend once told me that care is a ‘place of soft boundaries, with a sticky centre that keeps you somewhere because you want to be there.’[i]


When I think of this description, I think of the nai wong bao that I would eat as a child, always arriving too hot to handle, while eagerly waiting for the doughy white flesh to cool.[ii]


Care is anticipation.


But knowing how to care cannot be known in advance.


This is because care is a situated and practical labour—an ethical and speculative commitment to ‘staying with the trouble of our own complicities and implications.’[iii]


For this reason, care necessitates understanding and articulating not only who and what we care for. But also, the motivations for undertaking care work, including an attention to how care and its ‘violent histories’[iv] continue to ‘inform the inequalities entangled with care today.’[v]


Care is in crisis.[vi]


Care then cannot be practiced as part of a nostalgic longing for an idealised past, present, or future.


To think with care also means thinking with its messiness and commodification, its hierarchies and exclusions, its priorities and marginalisations. 


While a growing focus on care has surfaced across all sectors of society, in a pandemic-impacted world that ‘renders some lives more precarious than others’[vii], the need to pay attention to neglected and displaced voices has become heightened. And in the process, exposing how the systemic and structural inequalities already entrenched in our institutions, including the arts, are interconnected to the dominant market logics of neoliberal capitalism.


Care is ‘everywhere’ in the arts. Or rather, care is ‘talked about everywhere.’[viii]


Care is curare, for example. We often read this etymological link between the Latin for care (curare, meaning to take care of) and the curatorial. I have used it to speak to the tensions of doing practice, and specifically, the challenges of thinking conceptually, practically, and methodologically with care.


For whom do we care, what for, why, and how, in and through our practices?


Lately, I can’t help but wonder what we overlook by perpetuating this etymological link, to a language deeply connected to the colonial project. Especially given that arts organisations also find their lineage as tools of colonial expansion.[ix]


Care is learning to decentre the epistemic hierarchies of human exceptionalism that white and anthropocentric knowledge politics has long perpetuated[x]. This includes an attention towards our relationality with more-than-human worlds, and our ‘intrinsic interdependencies with larger ecosystems’[xi], which First Nations People have known for millennia.


Care is climate justice.[xii]


Care is attuning to our capacities, our limitations, and our accountabilities.


Care is capaciousness.


Care is listening to and holding space for different tempos and rhythms.[xiii]


Care is.

This issue of Co- Unfolded was possible due to generous support from Yarra City Arts through City of Yarra



[i] Thanks to Lana Nguyen for sharing this description with me.

[ii] Steamed custard buns.

[iii] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Soil times: the pace of ecological care,” in More-than-human, ed. Andres Jacque, Marina Otero Verzier, and Lucia Pietroiusti (Netherlands: Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2020), 396–431.

[iv] This includes the use of care as a paternalistic mechanism of state-enforced genocide, incarceration, marginalisation, and oppression. (See Sibyl Annice Fisher, “Curare: to care, to curate. A relational ethic of care in curatorial practice.” PhD diss., University of Leeds, 2013).

[v] Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese, “Radical care: survival strategies for uncertain times,” Social Text 38, no.1 (2020): 1–16.

[vi] See for example The Care Collective, The care manifesto: the politics of interdependence (London: Verso, 2020).

[vii] Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese, “Radical care: survival strategies for uncertain times,” Social Text 38, no.1 (2020): 1–16.

[viii] Tian Zhang, “A manifesto for radical care or how to be human in the arts,” Sydney Review of Books (2022),

[ix] See for example: Gary Foley, Goori Reader No. 1: History, Memory, and the Role of Cultural Organisations in Entrenching Colonisation in Australia and Beyond (Narrm/Melbourne: Common Room, 2020).

[x] See for example: Zoe Todd, “An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism,” Journal of Historical Sociology 29, no.1 (2016), 4–22.

[xi] Andres Jacque, Marina Otero Verzier, and Lucia Pietroiusti, More-than-human (Netherlands: Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2020).

[xii] See for example: Mykaela Saunders, “The Land is the Law: On Climate Fictions and Relational Thinking,” Art + Australia (2021), 20–31.

[xiii] See for example: Cass Lynch, “Marinate (v.),” Preppers (2020),; Lisa Baraitser, “Who Do We Care For”, in ECHO, ed. Nick Houde, Katrin Klingan, and Johanna Schindler (Germany: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2021), 39–47.

Jacina Leong 梁玉明 is an artist-curator, educator, and researcher, living and working in Narrm/Melbourne. Working in the cultural sector for fifteen years, Jacina is committed to the role that cultural organisations can play in bringing people together to explore and respond to complex and converging crises: through situated, responsive, and purposeful forms of engagement. She is a former Co-Director of Bus Projects, Public Programs Curator for The Cube and Ipswich Art Gallery, Producer for the Creative Industries Precinct, an ACMI CEO Digital mentor, and founding member of the Guerrilla Knowledge Unit. Jacina has writing published in the Journal of Public Pedagogies, Routledge Companion to Mobile Media Art, and Dystopian and Utopian Impulses in Art Making: The World We Want. She is currently a Sessional Academic at RMIT and La Trobe universities, where she teaches art theory, and is completing her PhD on the complexities of caring in and through practice in a pandemic-impacted world. 

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