Works by Australian indigenous artists on show now at QAGOMA in Brisbane, highlight a love of country and of our nation by Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples. My Country – I Still Call Australia Home is all about ‘The Coming of the Light.
The show, comprising of over 300 works on display from every state of Australia and Territory, was officially opened by the Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker at Brisbane on June 1. It will be on exhibition until October 7.
Artists contributing are drawing on their collective community memory, exploring stories passed down orally through their families, as well as acquired knowledge. Curated by Bruce McLean, Gallery’s Curator of Indigenous Australian Art, himself a Wirri Birri-Gubba man whose living heritage is part of the landscape of the central coast of Queensland, this show gives voice to artists investigating their society and history: contemporary political and social issues and physical country.
Aesthetically the works in this exhibition are indeed powerful, thought provoking, confronting, deeply spiritual, an extraordinary expression from a culture whose roots go way back to the dawn of life on our planet.
Renowned artist (printmaker, painter, sculptor and photographer) Fiona Foley is well-known for the tough stance she can take when producing her images. From the Hervey Bay region of Queensland, Fiona Foley is also admired for her ‘less is more’ approach to get her message across.
Her work The Oyster Fisherman draws you in close, curious to examine the incredibly beautiful spirally constructed chamber of nature she is holding, which normally protects a tiny creature living inside it during its life cycle.
In the history of art the nautilus is an enduring symbol of life and spiritual growth. This is only one image from a 2011 series, which explored what happened to the young women of her community when they were displaced from their lands in Queensland. The reality and memory is one painful to bear. However without the tale being told there can be no healing.
Originally shown without a narrative the series was open to each viewer’s interpretation. This probably sent many people into a spin, which spiraled far more than a nautilus shell. However, Fiona wants to inspire people to think, to explore and to find at its most finite point, the place where we can talk about the connection we have to each other as well as the natural world around us and just how important embracing that is if we are to have a future together.
Many of the amazing images in this exhibition speak loudly to us about hurt, pride and confusion, although I would hasten to say with a defining clarity of vision that speaks gently and wisely to us all about the frailties of our human nature. They will go a long way in helping us all to open up a dialogue that will help us as we seek to communicate with each other, and everyone else.
We need to grow the social and cultural capital of Australia and in this regard Queensland, through this splendid show is showing us how. It is a confronting reminder that people without culture can lose their identity, and so very often their way.
Today in our world we need to continually cultivate respect for both the individual and community life. For aboriginal people the word Sorry still lingers loud and long and it will continue to do so until we can all reach that point of true forgiveness and a place ‘where peace and harmony reign and where every tear is wiped away’*.
Tony Albert’s Sorry 2008 has been installed backwards, at the request of the artist. His hope is that visitors might be tempted to ask what has improved since that day in Canberra, February 13, 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to Australia’s indigenous peoples for their mistreatment so that the healing process could, and would begin.
Some works will be classified as controversial, which is in itself is a good thing, because it allows us to continually challenge our own attitudes and understanding of right and wrong.
Christian Thompson darkly explores what he believes is a focus on fauna rather than people. They are impossible to see, especially when they are hidden under the hood of disaffected youth, who see their realities as so very different from our own.
All people, regardless of race, ethnicity and creed, who live in Australia from the 21st century onward will need to pull together as one if we are to define and shape the continuing development of our nation and its multi cultural concepts.
We cannot do that without respect for each other’s stories.
Every society and culture demonstrates its concerns by striving to achieve excellence in the arts, letters, manners, scholarly, professional and personal pursuits. And, if it is to celebrate its achievements it must provide opportunities for people to come together to exchange views and opinions, as well as develop ways of recording what is agreed and done.
Art is a wonderful medium of expression wherein this conversation can take place.
A vision of armed militant kangaroos, so different from our idea of ‘Skippy’ as a furry loveable friend, is all about solidarity.
Every culture, every community, every family, every person has stories and secrets to share and tell. Generally what we see or hear is moderated by what is presented to us. We need to be inclusive and show respect and regard for each other so that we can have a positive impact on wider social outcomes.
So the question is what is our own cultural understanding of the history of our nation?
The rich narratives of this exhibition propose that these are all Australian stories: not just Aboriginal stories, but histories, realities and existences that are a crucial part of contemporary Australia as it examines the associations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists have with country in both its significant meanings: ‘land’ and ‘nation’.
It feature works by Indigenous Australian artists from every state and territory including Vernon Ah Kee, Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Michael Riley, Vincent Serico, Brook Andrew, Christopher Pease, Judy Watson, Warwick Thornton, Archie Moore, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarrnda Sally Gabori, Richard Bell, Tony Albert, Dickie Minyintiri, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Destiny Deacon, Bindi Cole, Fiona Foley and Christian Thompson.
An accompanying film program My Life as I Live It: First Peoples and Black Cinema, will explore how Australian Indigenous and First Nations people are presesented on screen and considers film as both a driver of political change, and as a means of empowerment.
Coinciding with ‘My Country’ is a thematic influence with two significant Collection displays, resulting in approximately 70% of gallery spaces at GOMA (plus the cinemas) being dedicated to work by Indigenous Australian artists over this period.
QAGOMA Director Chris Saines said “two major site-specific installations signalled the unexpected, daring and exciting experience of contemporary Indigenous art visitors can expect from this exhibition”.
‘Death and life: Rakuny Ga Walnga’ is the Gallery’s first Collection-based exhibition of contemporary art from Arnhem Land (May 25 – September 1, 2013) ‘Voice and Reason’ is all about considering the evolving dialogue between indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian artists with a display of historical and contemporary art from the Collection (from May 18).
Gordon Hookey was born in Cloncurry, Queensland in 1961 and belongs to the Waanyi people. He has exhibited extensively around Australia and internationally since 1990, and is a member of the Aboriginal artist collective proppaNOW. He lives and works at Brisbane.
‘The exhibition is based on ‘The Sacred Hill’, a story by Gordon Hookey which introduces four kangaroos — Blue, the plains kangaroo; Rocko, the rock wallaby; Potsy, the potoroo; and Treez, the tree kangaroo – who once lived together on the sacred hill,’ Mr Saines said.
‘When their home is threatened by the arrival of the myna birds, the kangaroos are forced to leave, but soon unite and embark on an adventure that leads them back home to the sacred hill’. It’s a cautionary tale, one that informs and teaches while it both enchants and delights, highlighting the importance of unity’.
The original art works created are on display in the exhibition, and published in the story book The Sacred Hill; the sixth publication in the Gallery’s award-winning series of books for children.’
Warwick Thornton’s ‘Stranded’, in which he binds himself to an illuminated cross, his crucified image with its back turned away from us all, is a challenging one for a society that was founded on the principles of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Hidden in the shadows he has run out of places to hide and so must face his destiny alone, just like we all do. He is left suspended over a waterhole in the West MacDonnell Ranges, one he can no longer drink one that no longer offers him life.
If we are to change entrenched attitudes, so that we can all together contribute to this great country of ours its economy and future, then it is only right that we challenge the way in which faith, hope and the message of Christ is now being received in what is so supposed to be an enlightened age.
This telling image dramatically illustrates the contrast between Christianity and the land’s latent culture and religion in a world in which theology and reality often seem poles apart.
Church leader Dr Phillip Apsinall, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia and Archbishop of the church is located in Brisbane. He is in a unique position to take up this image and talk about it in an interactive way both within the boundaries of his church and in the world beyond its precincts.
If it happened on a show like the ABC’s Q & A, or at the Art Gallery on a Sunday afternoon, it would certainly be very different from a congregation of eager people wanting to hear and embrace Christ’s message.
Aspinall is a creative thinker, a man straddling the worlds of faith, hope and commerce, his Doctorate being in Business Administration while he holds degrees in Science and Theology. He is also strong on social justice issues so fulfills the ideal of being the right man in the right place at the right time to talk with those who have felt threatened and abandoned for a very long time. Having respect for our past always restores hope for the future.
Ken Thaiday’s Symbol of the Torres Strait 2003, paints an opposite view of the relationship between Torres Strait Islander peoples and the church.
Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher, wrote the English poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) in his poem ‘The Tables Turned’.
The Torres Strait islands is a place where the London Missionary Societies brand of Christianity was introduced in 1871 and widely adopted. Today the ‘Coming of the Light’ is commemorated annually on Zulai Wan (July 1).
Grace and truth came to those people through Jesus and ‘in him was life. He was the light of all mankind and those who understood the message let it shine.
Like his 19th century colleagues Wordsworth was concerned that humankind was abandoning its collective spirituality, turning away from nature to embrace a material world through wealth generated by the industrial revolution.
The sentiment could be applied to our own time, although substituting the Technological Revolution could be taken for an excuse, not really a good reason.
People are more connected now than ever before by technology. However they still have to learn how to use it as a powerful tool to inspire creative ideas and to admire the talented people who help to shape our society and its progress. Only then will we be able to enliven all our experiences, inspire our endeavours, expand our enterprise, encourage participation and shape our identity as we contribute to everyone’s cultural well being.
Culture reflects who we are, what we value and consider beautiful, how we spend our leisure time, how we think about and treat each other, where we come from and where we are going. We make history by reinventing everything eternal in our past.
This splendid show is giving us all an opportunity to respect new ways of thinking, to acknowledge social and creative innovation, to consider how to practically establish an ethos of collaboration, cooperation and communication so that the theories we espouse and practice can and will become more closely aligned.
Good on you Queensland. Hats off to everyone involved.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013
*Quote from Archibishop Aspinall’s Inauguration Sermon as Primate 2005
My Country, I Still Call Australia Home
Contemporary Art from Black Australia
Open now until 7 October.
For more information go to www.qagoma.qld.gov.au
Artists Featured in the Exhibition
Vernon Ah Kee
Kuku Yalanji/Waanyi/Yidinyji/Guugu Yimithirr peoples?QLD b.1967
Girramay people QLD b.1981
Wiradjuri people NSW b.1970
BANUMBIRR (MORNING STAR) POLES Elcho Island artists
Gupapuyngu people NT 1943–2001
Djambarrpuyngu people NT b.1940
Richard Gandhuwuy Garrawurra
Liyagawumirr people NT b.1940
David Lakarriny Gurruwiwi
Galpu people NT b.1957
Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi
Galpu people NT b.1942 Banumbirr
Henry Dhalnganda Gurruwiwi
Galpu people NT b.1945
Galpu people NT b.1975
Richard Dhaymutha Gurruwiwi
Galpu people NT b.1938
Galpu people NT b.1973
Gunbirrtja Malarra people NT b.1955
Henry Gambika Nupurra
Djambarrpuyngu people NT b.1932
Ganalpuyngu people NT c.1950–2010
Terry Dhurritjini Yumbulul
Warramirri people NT b.1950
Kamilaroi people QLD b.1953
Jan (Djan Nanundie) Billycan
Yulparija/Manyjilyjarra peoples WA b.c.1930
Robert Campbell Jr
Ngaku people NSW 1944–93
Nancy Ngarnjapayi Chapman
May Maywokka Chapman
WA b.c.1950 Manyjilyjarra people
Wathaurung people VIC b.1975
Bidjara people QLD b.1968
Tiwi people NT b.1958
Patrick Freddy Puruntatameri
(Carver) NT b.1973
Brenda L Croft
Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra people WA/NSW/ACT b.1964
Joanne Currie Nalingu
Gunggari people QLD b.1964
Ku’a Ku’a/Erub/Mer peoples QLD/VIC b.1957