AT the media preview of “Defying Empire”, Tina Baum, the NGA curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, said it took more than two years to put this exhibition together.
The third National Indigenous Art Triennial features a range of diverse artists from across Australia – painters, glass artists, weavers, artists who work with fabric, multimedia artists and a variety of visual storytellers.
Baum said the experience had taught her a lot about the way the artists practice their art.
While having worked on other Triennials, Baum said this one was a particular honour because it was the first time she’d led the project as the curator. Getting the balance between the artists and the art right, and finding emerging and established artists, then blending their artworks together to form an exhibition like this one takes a great drive and commitment.
Baum also said that this show was important for indigenous artists as it placed the artists and their works in the international sphere.
This Triennial highlights just how much indigenous art is at the heart of art in Australia. It also challenges stereotypes and helps put the agenda of Aboriginal issues and their art back into the national landscape.
NGA director Gerard Vaughan told the preview audience that this art was about accessing indigenous stories not with a whisper, but with a powerful voice.
That clearly shows in many of the exhibition’s artworks. There are some strong political and social statements along with many bright and dynamic works.
“Thunder Raining Poison” by Yhonnie Scarce, is one of those dynamic artworks that have a strong social and cultural voice. The work relates to the nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s at Maralinga in SA. It’s a large-scale glass artwork that speaks about the clouds formed from the testing of the weapons.
There is a connection between the bomb testing and the artist; those bomb clouds travelled over Kokatha Country, which is her grandfather’s country. Scarce, who loves creating glass art, said it’s the perfect way to represent her people because she used her breath to blow the glass and that connected her to the history of her people.
There is no doubt that within this exhibition, coinciding as it does with the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, that the current voice of Aboriginal artists is clear about how it feels about the past injustices and today’s treatment of Australia’s first people.
Any person will feel the defiance and the battle against tyranny in this exhibition and, as equally important, the artworks speak with an original and booming voice of creativity, community and a strong sense of position in a contemporary world.
This exhibition bears witness to history, to culture, to political and social issues, and it shows us just how important and how good contemporary indigenous art is in Australia.
“Defying Empire”, 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia. Until September 10.