Something unusual and coincidental is happening in the Melbourne art world right now. There are currently five major shows by – or in one case, about – Indigenous people.
Paola Balla, Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman, artist and co-curator of ACCA’s Sovereignty, says that while the timing is a coincidence, the huge surge of talent isn’t.
“From my perspective, we’re working like this all the time,” she says. “We’re just not usually in these spaces.”
Museums and art galleries, Balla says, are colonial sites of power. “Now there’s this fantastic emergence of people saying not only can we make our own art, but we can curate it ourselves,” she says. “These young Aboriginal artists are bold and speaking back to institutions.”
ACCA’s current show makes a clear statement: sovereignty was never ceded. From the opening piece by Reko Rennie, a five-metre-long hanging banner declaring “ALWAYS HERE”, to the protest signs from the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), Sovereignty doesn’t pull its punches. It’s also proudly contemporary – subverting misconceptions that Indigenous art has a single style and voice. Look out for Kent Morris’s Cultural Reflections – up above #2, a photographic series of colonial structures, such as power lines and rooftops, digitally reshaped into Indigenous symbols.
Sovereignty is at ACCA until March 26.
Who’s Afraid of Colour?
This show at NGV Australia is the result of 25 years of collecting work by Indigenous women. It is diverse and far-reaching, covering everything from traditional woven bags and paintings on bark and jewellery, to photography, sculpture and video. It covers a range of Indigenous women’s experiences and perspectives, from the political to the traditional, angry to forgiving. Photographer Destiny Deacon stages images of black dolls in squalor and gives the pieces names such as Blak lik mi and Dance little lady. Just a few rooms away, Bindi Cole Chocka’s video installation All We Need is Forgiveness is a heartfelt attempt to move on from the pain inflicted upon Indigenous people.
Who’s Afraid of Colour? is at NGV Australia, Federation Square, until April 17.
Land of All – Sally Gabori
The work of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori isn’t like traditional Indigenous landscape painting you’ve seen. Gabori was in her eighties when she picked up a paintbrush, and her paintings of her country are colourful, impressionistic and straight from the heart; seemingly free of any artistic influence at all. She doesn’t paint literal landscapes, she communicates her passion for her home. It’s a completely different way of seeing the land on which we live. Look out for her My country paintings, in which she renders her home in vivid white and bright red: lively, lithe and suggestive of something natural, but somehow peaceful.
Land of All is at NGV Australia in Federation Square until January 29.
Koorie Art Show 2016
This annual show displays the art of Victorian Indigenous people. It’s open entry, so it attracts professionals and amateurs alike, and draws a diverse range of work. The big winner of the show’s Creative Victoria Award for Excellence is Greg Muir’s pop-infused painting Travelling on our ancestors’ land; Marlene Gilson’s work (which also appears in Sovereignty) is another highlight, particularly her painting of the Melbourne Cup, which looks simple and naive until you take into account the control and detail.
The Koorie Art Show is at the Koorie Heritage Trust until February 26.
Collisions – Lynette Wallworth
This immersive VR film, created by non-Indigenous artist Lynette Wallworth, tells a harrowing story of first contact in the Pilbara desert in Western Australia. You’re put in the place of Martu elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan and asked to relive his first indirect encounter with white settlers when he witnessed a nuclear test. Rather than sitting in the cinema and being told something, Wallworth makes audiences participants in the events. It’s a much more emotive way of taking people into Nyarri’s world, and something conventional cinema can’t do. It closes this weekend.
Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions is at ACMI until January 15. Tickets are free, but book ahead. The film goes for 18 minutes.