Colourful dot works suspended from the ceiling. An intricate 19th-century wooden mask carving adorned with shells, earth pigments and human hair. A politically charged array of ashtrays.
Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia – on now at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – is impressive in its variety. Featuring works by more than 160 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists drawn from the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, it’s the largest collection of Australian First Nations art to ever show in Aotearoa.
“It is a great honour to exhibit Ever Present at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki,” said the gallery’s senior curator of Māori art, Nathan Pōhio. “This exhibition is a special opportunity for meaningful cultural exchanges between the presenting artists and all artists and people of Aotearoa through art, performance, and conversation.”
NGA curator Tina Baum, a Gulumirrgin (Larrakia), Wardaman and Karajarri woman, has brought together works by pre-eminent First Nations artists – from towering 20th century figures like Albert Namatjira and Emily Kam Kngwarray to contemporary practitioners such as Brisbane’s Tony Albert, whose multidisciplinary works interrogate Indigenous stereotyping, and Kokatha and Nukunu glassblower and installation artist Yhonnie Scarce.
Spanning painting, sculpture, video, textiles and traditionally crafted artefacts, the show aims to highlight and celebrate the diversity of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their artistic practices, to dispel outdated representations, and to encourage critical conversations.
Works are arranged throughout the level-one exhibition space according to seven interconnected themes: ancestors and creators, Country and constellations, community and family, culture and ceremony, trade and influence, resistance and colonisation, and innovation and identity, providing a vast field of social commentary.
“The artists contest populist views of Australian history, using art as a tool of resistance and replacing physical weaponry with wit, satire and juxtaposition to confront viewers and encouraging conversations that are essential to dispute outdated myths and ideologies,” Baum says.
“Together the artists and their works powerfully reinforce that First Peoples have always been, and will always be, ever present.”
Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia is showing until October 28.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki asks for mindfulness and respect when viewing the exhibition, as it displays sacred objects and cultural values, and advises that this exhibition contains names and images of deceased people.