National Museum acquires over 400 indigenous artworks

By Our Reporter
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Goiga Pudhai, 2019, Flora Warria, Moa Arts. Supplied NMA

A selection of vibrant and diverse artworks created by First Nations artists from Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait, part of a major new acquisition by the National Museum of Australia, is on display for the first time.

More than 100 emerging and established artists from Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait took part in the Belonging project run by art centres from across the region and the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA). They experimented with new materials and techniques, creating a collection of artworks that represents the vibrant and innovative creativity of First Nations artists and explores what it means to belong.

The National Museum acquired the collection of 415 artworks created by 103 artists working in 11 art centres across the region: Bana Yirriji Art, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, Hopevale Arts & Cultural Centre, Mornington Island Art, Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre, Wik & Kugu Art Centre, Yalanji Arts, Yarrabah Arts Centre, Wei’Num Arts, Badu Art Centre and Moa Arts.

The first iteration of the Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland exhibition features 120 works by 29 artists working in Hope Vale, Yarrabah, Moa Island and Mornington Island and will be on display in the Museum’s Focus Gallery until 12 February 2023.

Works from the other seven art centres will feature in exhibitions opening at the National Museum in 2023 and 2024.

National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said “When IACA first presented the Belonging collection in 2019, we were immediately struck by the power of these artworks. They glow with creativity, reflecting the freshness and vitality of the artists’ diverse styles.

“Rather than picking out individual pieces, we saw the richness in the entire collection and the potential to bring these stories to all of Australia and the world,” Dr Trinca said.

Hope Vale Church 2018, Wanda Gibson, Hope Vale Arts and Culture Centre. Supplied: NMA

National Museum curator Shona Coyne said “The Belonging collection is so much more than beautiful art; it describes a way of life. Each painting, image and sculpture takes you to Country and shows you what it feels like to belong in Far North Queensland.

“The collection highlights the importance of Indigenous art centres, which are often the heartbeat in the life of remote and regional communities.

“The Belonging project encouraged artists to experiment, creating exciting new works using new media such as earth and dry pigments, fluorescent paints, digital film and photography. The results were immediate; art centres were re-invigorated and new styles emerged,” Ms Coyne said.

IACA’s Pam Bigelow worked closely with the art centres in setting up the Belonging project. “Art centres in central, western and the top end of Australia have been known for so long. We are trying to even that up and have our artists seen. Our art centres had to advocate hard to get a peak body to represent them, so this project is a major milestone.

“The Belonging exhibition is an outstanding opportunity for IACA member artists to gain a national profile and boost their careers,” Ms Bigelow said.

Works from seven other art centres; Badu, Bana Yirriji, Girringun, Pormpuraaw, Wei’Num, Wik and Kugu, and Yalanji will be on display in two more exhibitions at the National Museum of Australia in 2023 and 2024.

Our Mother’s and Grandmother’s Country, Amanda Jane Gabori and Dorothy Gabori, MIArt. Supplied NMA

Background

Since 2012 the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA) has supported, trained, promoted and advocated for First Nations art centres in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait.

IACA has partnered with the National Museum of Australia to present the exhibition Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland in Canberra.

To accompany this exhibition and coinciding with its 10th anniversary, IACA has produced a companion publication Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland chronicling the works of art, artists and art centres of the Far North Queensland region.

Slated to become the seminal text of contemporary Indigenous artmaking in Far North Queensland, the publication is an important companion to the exhibition as well as a significant standalone legacy document and vital record of the recent history of Queensland art centres.

Hope Vale

Hope Vale is located nearly 50 kms northwest of Cooktown, on the traditional Country of the Guugu Yimidhirr peoples and is home to about 1,500 people. The Hope Vale Art and Culture Centre is at the heart of Guugu-Yimidhirr culture. It supports the acquisition and transmission of language, cultural traditions and knowledge. Art produced here ranges from printmaking to botanical dyeing, painting, jewellery, weaving and traditional dance. The Hope Vale artists who engaged in the workshop included a group of senior women artists who work at the centre. Known as the Gamba Gamba, they draw from traditional Guugu-Yimidhirr culture and contemporary and mission era histories to inform their artwork. They collectively hold deep cultural knowledge of family kinship systems, sacred sites, esoteric beings and totems. They are passionate about recording language and traditional stories to preserve them for younger generations.

‘Hairy Men’ sculpture with headband and necklace, Yarrabah Art Centre. Supplied NMA

Yarrabah

Yarrabah community is located on the coast 55 km east of Cairns. Home to the Gunggandji people, the community was originally established as a mission in 1893, with self-government achieved nearly 100 years later. Operating since 2002, the Yarrabah Arts and Cultural Precinct consists of an art centre, museum and retail gallery exhibiting locally made arts and crafts. The art centre is a vibrant space supporting cultural activities and the production of ceramics, paintings, jewellery, textiles and woven baskets. Artists at Yarrabah collected driftwood and debris washed up on the beaches to use in their Hairy Men figures in the Belonging collection.

Moa

Moa Arts is owned and operated by the Mualgal people of Moa/Mua Island in the western Torres Strait. It is a place where ancestral stories, totems and family connections remain strong. The brilliant colours and forms of the land and seas of the Torres Strait are a constant source of inspiration for the works produced there, whether prints, works on paper, weaving or jewellery. The artists are now experimenting with film and photography to document island life.

Mornington Island

The Mornington Island Art Centre is located on Mornington Island, the largest of the Wellesley Islands group located in the south of the Gulf of Carpentaria. While the Lardil people are recognised as the Traditional Owners, the island is also home to numerous groups from neighbouring islands and the mainland, following the forcible removals enacted by missionaries and government last century. There is a strong history of performance and visual art and craft on the island. Bark paintings were produced for sale from around the 1960s; their popularity opened opportunities for exhibition and performance further afield. The growing profile of Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey, his brothers and their peers served to raise awareness of Lardil culture and art nationally. Their achievements still resonate strongly with Mornington Island people today. The art centre is a bustling community hub. It is a place of rich culture, art-making and riotous fun. The studio is noisy, filled with artists telling tales of unrequited love, screeches of laughter and the voices of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers blaring from the stereo.

Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland is in the Focus Gallery at the National Museum of Australia until 12 February 2023.


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