A uniquely moving exhibition of artworks created by First Nations artists from Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait has opened today (July 21)at the National Museum.
The exhibition is the result of an acquisition by the museum of 415 artworks created by 103 artists working in 11 art centres.
More than 100 artists from far-north Queensland and the Torres Strait took part in the “Belonging” project run by the art centres and the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance.
The plan is to stage three such exhibitions, with this first show featuring 120 works by 29 artists working in Hope Vale, Yarrabah, Moa Island and Mornington Island and artworks from the other seven art centres to feature in exhibitions at the National Museum in 2023 and 2024.
Today’s launch was hosted by senior curator Ian Coates, who drew attention to the many artworks that deal with recent and contemporary history.
One such was the extraordinary experience of Daisy Hamlot Thuppi Warra, from Hope Vale, who during World War II was removed south with a group of other children on the pretence of being taken on an excursion. It turned out they were suspected of being spies because Hope Vale was a Lutheran mission. Part of her series, “I didn’t know where I was going” is the joyous work, “Happy To Be Going Home,” chronicling the happy ending to an appalling story.
Coates introduced those present to artist Dorothy Gabori and Mornington Island Art representative Bereline Loogatha, both from Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Loogatha spoke on behalf of her mother Amy Loogatha, and aunts Dolly and Netty Loogatha, all of whom are featured in the exhibition, saying how pleased they were to see their art hanging in Canberra. “We feel we belong here; we are so remote and each arts centre is quite different but there are spiritual elements here and we feel proud to have our art in our capital city,” she said.
Gabori indicated the large painting, “Our Mother’s and Grandmother’s Country”, painted with Amanda Jane Gabori and based on traditional fish traps in the country of her mother, the late celebrated artist, Sally Gabori.
A striking installation in the show comes from artists at Yarrabah, located on the coast 55 kilometres east of Cairns, who collected driftwood and debris washed up on the beaches to use in their “Hairy Men” figures in “Belonging”.
National Museum curator Shona Coyne said: “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.”
Indigenous Art Centre Alliance’s Pam Bigelow said: “Art centres in central, western and the top end of Australia have been known for so long… Our art centres had to advocate hard to get a peak body to represent them, so this project is a major milestone.”
“Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland”, National Museum until February 12.
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