“It’s that conversation you’re continually having inside your head, that story on the tip of your tongue,” says AGWA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Carly Lane.

AGWA’s new annual series Everyone Has a History tells these kinds of powerful stories. Plain Speak is the first of three exhibitions, and is a part of this year’s Perth International Art Festival.

A collection of 50 artworks by Indigenous artists will share experiences of trauma, belonging and acceptance expressed through videos, paintings, photography, sculptures and textiles.

A common thread throughout the works is speaking out, and Lane chose the exhibiting artists for their direct honesty. Among the artists featured in the exhibition are Tony Albert, Bindi Cole Chocka, Vernon Ah Kee, Michael Cook, Brenda L Croft, Sandra Hill, Lesley Murray and Christopher Pease.

Confronting the many guises Indigenous people are made to wear in Australia, Bindi Cole Chocka and Tony Albert use masks in their photography to express ideas around identity. Vernon Ah Kee brings attention to Aboriginal deaths in custody through his powerful use of the written word.

“It’s a people-oriented show,” says Lane. “It’s about the ways we connect to each other by revealing something personal.”

Plain Speak is part of AGWA’s new Six Seasons project. Referring to the six seasons of the Noongar people’s calendar, the project provides a wider context for audiences to engage with Indigenous art. It also aims to share more of AGWA's collextion of Indigenous art with the public. Of the gallery's collection of close-to 3000 pieces, less than five per cent are on display.

“We’ve experimented with the interaction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art, but we’ve also realised we want to maintain a permanent Indigenous art gallery,” says Lane.

The new art gallery will open in July with a Nano digital station later in the year. AGWA’s considerable Indigenous art collection will also be digitised and available online. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art will continue to be represented in the main galleries – AGWA believes the conversation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists is integral.

“There’s been a boxing of conversations in the past, like Aboriginal artists can only talk to other Aboriginal artists in terms of content and experiences,” says Lane.

“Aboriginal artists are among a wider artist community in Australia. There are shared concerns amongst Western Australian artists and those who live internationally.”

Everyone Has a History Part one: Plain Speak is a free exhibition. It opens February 25 and runs until August 13 at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. There will be a free artist talk with Brenda L. Croft at 2pm Saturday February 25.

Plain Speak

Six Seasons