Wiradjuri Ngurambanggu

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Quotes from ‘Art as a Political Act’
by Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert
Wiradjuri Elder
Poet, artist and activist

Writing in New Tracks, Old Land, Kevin Gilbert stated: ‘Our art is political.’ I and many others believe it is so. Gilbert further states: ‘Art has always been an extremely
powerful communicator of the human factor in all its inglorious, as well as its glorious manifestations.’ For me, no truer words have ever been spoken. As artists we are political beings; we have to be, because no one else will be. I believe that we have to take every opportunity that is presented to us. We have to showcase to the world who we are as a people, who we are as artists, and show that everything we do has a meaning. We don’t paint a picture because it’s pretty and it will make us rich. We draw forth the story that is within that picture. That story may be a good story or it may not, but it is our story that needs to be told. The works of Wiradjuri artists Jonathan Jones, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Brook Andrew, Karla Dickens and Nicole Foreshew tell those stories – the good, the bad and the ugly.
I believe that we, as First Nations people, are political from the day we are born as we fight daily for justice in our own land. There are only limited opportunities available to us to evoke awareness of who we are as a people and of our continual struggle for self-determination and self-justice in our own land. Just as these artists use their works to speak on culture, belonging and rights, we all share a sacred journey as First Nations people of this land …… “I first became aware of Karla Dickens many years ago. I have always found her work to be exciting and questioning, with many messages for her audiences. Each piece that Karla creates allows you to gain an insight into who she is as an Aboriginal woman, and who she belongs to within Aboriginal Australia. In a review of her work, Jeanine Leane stated: ‘Dickens’ artistic practice is dictated by the deep and prevalent feelings she has about issues that have long preoccupied her thoughts.’3 This is crystal clear when viewing Karla’s work – the observer is impacted by the depth of detail and feelings that enter her work. Karla entices the viewer to think about what lays within the art, such as
her piece Clipped wings I. She has a vast ability as a visual storyteller. As a Wiradjuri artist, her cultural heritage and knowledge radiate through her works. She is true to who she is.” …. ” The works shown here by Jonathan, Lorraine, Brook, Karla and Nicole allow these artists to be who they are: proud cultural warriors of the Wiradjuri Nation. Collectively, they give to Australia and the world an opportunity to glimpse who we are as a people living and surviving in mainstream society in 2015 in the so-called lucky country of Oz. I would like to thank the Murray Art Museum Albury for allowing us a glimpse of these talented artists as they demonstrate life as it is lived on Aboriginal land – a glimpse of belonging to country, Wiradjuri country, my country. ”

Quote From Country on Country
by Bianca Acimovic
“In contemporary society, the increased ease
of moving around, coupled with the demands
and challenges that come with being part
of a wider society, means that many of the
artists in this exhibition (and, more broadly,
Aboriginal people) do not always live on
Country. Never quite at home when off
Country, they are in a position of caretaker,
caring for but respectfully not belonging to
the land they inhabit. Nevertheless, knowing
Country, and being able to travel back to it, is
often a vital part of these artists forming an
understanding of who they are, and forming
a connection to place. We see this idea
translated into a visual story in Karla Dickens’s
work Clipped wing I, 2015. The caravan,
portable and transient, a home away from
home, is at the same time a place of retreat
and safety. It offers shelter and transport all
in one, the ability to move our home with the
changing of the winds. Overlaying this symbol
of autonomy, Dickens has filled the home to
capacity with bird-cages. Trapped inside the
caravan, they are themselves tools of forced
refuge. Transported around with a handle by a
‘master’, these homes are not ones of choice
but of entrapment, of control. Yet, flying above
the caravan filled with cages is a lone eagle,
Dickens’s totem. Free to soar, gliding above the
undulating country below, the eagle gives hope
that a means of escape can be found; that
there is hope of breaking out, breaking free.”

Quote from
Sensation, Memory and Practice
Articulating Country
By Professor Brian Martin

“Ultimately, the criteria for looking at artwork rest on the extent to which a work of art is immersive, and how such work combines the ontic and the ontological, the material and the immaterial, the imaginary and the real. These criteria also relate to how the maker and the viewer have a real immersive re-experiencing of what the work attempts to relay, what is relayed inside the work, and the ‘subjectivity’ of the work itself. These criteria, aligned with the formalist aspects of artworks, create a diffractive way of looking. This way of looking is predicated on the real, insofar as the work becomes part of material existence that opposes the dilemma of amnesia. It brings us into real experience. This type of real experience is found in Karla Dickens’s Clipped wings I. This mixed-media work takes us into a physical space that then transcends time and moves us into a dynamic of historical experience premised on containment. The emptiness of the cages creates an ephemeral narrative for the viewer to step inside.
It is the combination and relatedness of these criteria that informs us of an alternative way of looking at work and practice. Karen Barad helpsto illuminate this:
The world is intra-activity in its differential mattering. It is through specific intra-actions that a differential sense of being is enacted in the ongoing ebb and flow of agency. That is, it is through specific intra-actions that phenomena come to matter – in both senses of the word.
Inter(intra)-relatedness explains the matter of phenomena. This notion can be applied to an understanding of the production of visual practice as a ‘Way of Doing’, as elaborated by Karen Martin. Intra-activity is the whole process in making the work and the continuum of immersive re-experiencing by the viewer. By utilising these criteria, we can reframe not onlyhow we look at art, but how we look at and experience the world.
Fighting wounded I–III by Karla Dickens take us into an experience of two worlds colliding and the intra-relatedness of the material affects of an imagined post-coloniality through the reality of colonial wounding. ”

Using art to making sense of the past at MAMA and Bathurst regional galleries

Date

John McDonald

Jonathan Jones' <i>They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace</i> exhibit references the gold rush period.Jonathan Jones’ They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace exhibit references the gold rush period. Photo: Sharon Hickey/Aperture Club

This weekend is the last opportunity to see Sculpture by the Sea. I can’t justify a full-scale review at this late stage but in its 19th year the event’s popularity shows no sign of waning. When I walked from Bondi to Tamarama one afternoon there was the usual hubbub of foreign languages, the relentless clicking of cameras, the laughter and murmurs of amateur art critics.

It’s best to approach Sculpture by the Sea in the spirit of a festival. There is always grumbling from professional sculptors about the slight, gimmicky pieces that get included every year, but this is an established part of the mix. One could argue there was a strong central core to the 2015 selection, including Jörg Plickat’s Divided Planet, which won the Macquarie Group Sculpture Prize. A dynamic set of interlocking curves that never quite meet, it projects a discreet political metaphor.

Dave Horton has followed in Anthony Caro’s footsteps with In Pace (in Peace), after Verrocchio’s Doubting Thomas, by taking a famous work by an Old Master as inspiration for a complex play of abstract forms. It’s impressive but almost too densely packed. By contrast, one can appreciate the simplicity and elegance of works such as Linda Bowden’s The Bridge, Ayako Saito’s Step X Step II and Koichi Ishino’s Wind Blowing.

Karla Dickens' <i>Clipped Wings</i> at Murray Art Museum Albury.Karla Dickens’ Clipped Wings at Murray Art Museum Albury. Photo: Supplied

My real focus this week is outside of Sydney, in Albury and Bathurst. In the Riverina the cultural event of the season has been the opening of the Murray Art Museum Albury, forever to be known by the comforting acronym of MAMA. The new building, which has literally grown out of the old Albury Regional Gallery, provides an up-to-date exhibition venue that will do much to raise the city’s cultural profile.

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The director is Jacqui Hemsley, who has managed the project since 2009. She was the perfect woman for the job, having already negotiated gallery redevelopments in several different cities, including the expansion of the Broken Hill Regional Gallery in 2004. The new MAMA has space for multiple exhibitions, including a changing display from a permanent collection that puts a special emphasis on photography.

At the moment one can also see a video installation by Andrew Pearce, and Deborah Kelly’s show of full-length nude photo-portraits, No Human Being Is Illegal (In All our Glory), which debuted at the Art Gallery of NSW during the 2014 Sydney Biennale. The central attraction, however, is Wiradjuri Ngurambanggu, which features work by five Indigenous artists of Wiradjuri origins – Brook Andrew, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Karla Dickens, Nicole Foreshew and Jonathan Jones.

Brook Andrew's foyer painting at Murray Art Museum Albury.Brook Andrew’s foyer painting at Murray Art Museum Albury. Photo: Supplied

To open the new gallery with an Indigenous show is an entirely appropriate gesture. Although MAMA has big plans, including a “blockbuster” based on Marilyn Monroe early next year, it’s important to acknowledge that the region had a cultural identity long before the city of Albury was founded. This is not tokenism but a way of settling accounts with the past and building a bridge to the future.

Wiradjuri Ngurambanggu is a show that reveals the dynamism of Aboriginal art, as opposed to the ideas of British artist, Grayson Perry, soon to be showing at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. In a recent interview Perry argued against Aboriginal artists “borrowing from the status of contemporary art”, as if they were living fossils.

While he’s in town Perry might like to discuss his theories with Nicole Foreshew, who acted as curator for this year’s Primavera exhibition at the MCA. Like Perry, Foreshew also works with clay, but not in order to subvert cutting-edge taste. One presumes Foreshew’s photos and abstract clay sculptures are an expression of her affinity with that all-important concept “country”.

Part of Jonathan Jones' installation <i>They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace</i>.Part of Jonathan Jones’ installation They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace. Photo: Sharon Hickey/Aperture Club

Andrew has transformed MAMA’s foyer with a trademark black-and-white wall painting, while Dickens has contributed a series of assemblages and a large-scale installation called Clipped Wings, made from antique bird cages. The piece might be read as a symbol of colonisation, which curtailed the freedoms of the Wiradjuri. As the cages are empty does this mean freedom has been restored, or did the birds perish in captivity?

Connelly-Northey stands out because of the sheer, ragged energy of her sculptures. For this show she has made bags from fencing wire, and a group of carrying dishes from pressed metal taken from the ceilings of the old Albury Regional Gallery. She has also worked with local artists who have transformed the same metal sheets into wall sculptures.

By using discarded materials, including the rusty iron and wire used by farmers, to create recognisable Indigenous artefacts, Connelly-Northey suggests that the age-old power of Aboriginal culture has survived the onslaught of western technologies. Her oversized bags crafted from rusty metal seem to challenge our ideas of obsolescence. Nothing is so old, worn or damaged that it can’t be turned into an imposing object that transcends any utilitarian purpose.

I’ve left Jones until last because aspects of his work at MAMA have echoes in the exhibition he has produced for the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, notably a group of mussels cast in bronze, memorialising a food source that has been decimated.

Like Andrew, Jones draws on the patterning Indigenous people used as marks of identity, decorating both bodies and implements. Jones is known for reproducing these patterns in rows of white fluorescent tubes. Yet this relates so strongly to western minimalism one can imagine viewers engaging with the formal aspects of such pieces with never a thought as to their origins.

I always felt the light tubes represented a game of diminishing returns, so it’s been pleasing to see the increasing diversification of Jones’ work, perhaps since his “oysters and teacups” installation in the Sydney Biennale of 2012. In the Albury show he has made a piece from household sponges used to wash dishes. Covered in stripes and propped up on shelves they have the same formal neatness as the light installations, but the material sends a very different message. Compared to the severity of a fluorescent tube, a sponge is infinitely malleable.

In Bathurst Jones has produced his most elaborate exhibition to date. They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace – or “guwiinyguliya yirgabiyi ngay yuwin gulbalangidyal ngunhi” – borrows a famous line from the classical historian, Tacitus, who was quoting a Caledonian chieftan on the degradations inflicted by the Roman army in the name of empire.

To commemorate the bicentennial of the city of Bathurst, the local gallery has gone down a similar path to Albury – examining the Indigenous history of the region in an exhibition that draws connections between past and present.

Bathurst is also part of the vast Wiradjuri lands. In 1822-24, it was the site of a fierce confrontation between natives and settlers after which Governor Brisbane declared martial law. It was a bloody affair on both sides, but the settlers were especially brutal, with many arguing that the only solution was to exterminate the blacks. The war ended when the Wiradjuri leader, Windradyne, marched to Parramatta to sue for peace, after seeing women and children indiscriminately slaughtered.

In this show, Jones mingles bronze mussels with lead musket balls. In another room he alternates early colonial maps with Aboriginal parrying shields, in a way that dramatises the settlers’ hunger for land and the local resistance. There are fallen tree trunks painted gold, in reference to the devastation of the countryside that occurred during the gold rushes.

There is a circle of flint stones and honeysuckle branches, a table draped with possum skin cloaks and a wall covered in simple potato print patterns – referring to the incident that started the “war”, when a group of natives were fired upon as they dug for potatoes. The centrepiece is a panoramic video that sweeps slowly through a deserted forest. Another multi-channel video shows six local elders standing at important historical sites.

In its close involvement with the local community, painstaking historical research, and recognition that Indigenous issues are inseparable from environmental concerns, Jones’ exhibition is tremendously cohesive. It uses the language of contemporary art to create an historical portrait of a region where the horrors of the past have been quietly laid to rest. His message echoes those sentiments we voice every year in relation to World War I: lest we forget.John McDonald flew to Albury courtesy of the Murray Art Museum Albury.

Wiradjuri Ngurambanggu, Murray Art Museum Albury, until November 29; Jonathan Jones: They Made a Solitude and Called It Peace, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, until November 22.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/using-art-to-making-sense-of-the-past-at-mama-and-bathurst-regional-galleries-20151103-