Australia’s Indigenous women artists certainly have no fear when it comes to representing all the colours of nature and our wide brown land in their artworks, and those more readily available today because of modern technology.
An unprecedented survey of their work, Who’s Afraid of Colour? is a new exhibition at the NGV Australia, Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square at Melbourne, showcasing some 200 contemporary artworks from the National Gallery of Victoria – NGV Collection.
Many have never been shown before together and include a video installation by provocative photographer and video artist Bindi Cole Chocka, who together with Jenny Crompton, Maree Clarke, Lorraine Connelly-Northey and Claudia Moodoonuthi Chocka were on hand to talk to as the exhibition opened.
All the works have been produced by women at the ‘vanguard of contemporary practice.’ Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV said “Since coming into prominence in the late 1980’s, Indigenous women have transformed Australian contemporary art, experimenting boldly across artistic mediums and challenging popular notions about how Indigenous art should be created and interpreted. Who’s Afraid of Colour? celebrates the diversity and daring of their work,” he said.
Indigenous artists work across many different artistic disciplines and use colour in various ways. Jenny Crompton’s Sea Country Spirits, which won the Sculpture Trail Award and People’s Choice at the 2016 Lorne Sculpture Biennale is an ethereal installation of some thirty-two spirits suspended stylishly overhead.
A word about black, which absorbs light while on the other hand white reflects light back to the eye. Technically black and white are not colours at all, rather an absence of colour, but do make a statement about our fashions and passions.
The eight-metre-long painting in black and white called Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) 1995 by Emily Kam Kngwarray is considered to be one of the most significant works by a contemporary Indigenous painter.
It was certainly hard to isolate a favourite, for everywhere you looked not only did the colour catch your eye, but also their originality – vibrant bark paintings, acrylic canvases, digital and photographic works, woven objects that highlight the skill employed.
In fact looking up is an important thing to do if you are to take in every aspect of this stunning show. From my perspective it is quite literally gob smacking. I loved the way the curator had arranged the works to occupy the six spaces allocated to their display.
Innovative, interesting, intelligent, the show encompasses many different aspects of the visual arts with stunning works representing the mediums of sculpture, textiles, basket work, jewellery, glass, ceramics, drawing, photography and paintings.
Celebrating the diversity and daring of the work, there is a collection of six skateboards painted with bright designs by 21-year-old painter Claudia Moodoonuthi from the Cape York Peninsula, expressing her connection to country
I was indeed fortunate to have a little time to talk to a Wiradjuri artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey, whose work I stopped to admire including this delightful snail bag.
Out on the farmland where she lives, she explained, she collects all sorts of materials including corrugated iron, barbed wire and sheets of metal meshing, which she then transforms in wonderful art works.
They are materials discarded because they are often regarded as ‘rubbish’, which she then turns into objects of beauty related to her Aboriginal culture. Her objective is to allow the viewer to reflect upon the history of dispossession experienced by many indigenous peoples in south-eastern Australia.
I was pleased she shared with me her belief that within us all is a creative spirit just waiting to be released. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Creativity is about contributing to the society in which we live to assist those in need, to offer inspiration, or hope in the future. It can help us to raise the gaze of those in pain and those in trouble, so that they can be inspired to be well, to achieve and to lead useful and satisfying lives.
Creativity is really nothing to do with skin colour, origin, gender, how rich or poor you are, the kind of family you grew up in. It is about the life you create for yourself.
It is an intrinsic quality, one we have to learn how to release, because it helps us communicate to those around us the most important issues affecting how we work and live.
The example Lorraine Connelly-Northey drew for me were art works, mainly paintings, which she has viewed in prisons created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system of Australia.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of their work just like their fellow indigenous artists is colour, which alters our perception, provokes positive and negative feelings and can also create an emotional response.
Over thousands of years colours have come to symbolize many things both collectively and individually for all cultures on earth.
Coloured stones helped create images associated with many traditions, myths, legends and magic and when pulverised into a powder and mixed with gum or sap colours prepared the body for war, festivals and funerary rites.
Exhibition highlights include a series of paintings by Warlpiri artist Lorna Napurrurla Fencer, mixed media and video works by the interdisciplinary Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Julie Gough, and paintings by Gija artist Queenie McKenzie of Warmun, Western Australia.
E. Phillips Fox 1902 painting of the Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 offered a distinct contrast between the forms of Aboriginal art and European art.
Both are influenced by the attitudes and philosophies, fashions and passions of our continually evolving cultures, which today happens side by side, helping us to learn from each other.
This is a stunning show not to be missed, a very engaging exhibition and it’s FREE.
As a bonus, if you take the kids they will also love Bruce Armstrong’s fabulous captivating creatures.
When you view shows like Who’s Afraid of Colour you quickly realise Australia is certainly a wonderful place to be.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Melbourne
On Show until April, 2017