In this blog I want to explore the ways in which the artists in My Country are groundbreaking and, in particular, how their innovation is endorsed by the awards and acknowledgements they have received.
|Alick Tipoti, Kukyu Garpathamai Mabaig 2007|
Genevieve Grieves is a young artist from New South Wales. She is representative of younger generations of Indigenous artists who have grown up in urban areas, gone to art school and who use contemporary media in their art making. Grieves five-channel video Picturing the Old People, 2006–7 is based on archival studio photographs of Indigenous people. Picturing the Old People won the Xstrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award 2007. Making these videos at the age of 30, Grieves worked collaboratively to include relatives of the people depicted in the original images in her animation and disruption of the historical photos.
|Warwick Thornton, Stranded 2011|
Youth, however is not a perquisite for Indigenous Australian achievement in contemporary art, as works by numerous artists in My Country demonstrate. The painting Euro tracks, 2011 by Dickie Minyintiri won the 28th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award in 2011, out of over 300 entries. This subtle painting of multiple layers and colours represents Minyintiri’s personal memory of travel in his country and expresses his ancestral relationship to the land in the stories of a sacred men’s ceremonial site. Amongst the network of lines are traces of the tracks of ancestral spirits (kangaroos, dogs, emu) to important waterholes.
This decorated artist reinforces the ageless nature of success. At almost 100 years old (born 1915) Minyintiri is the oldest artist in Ernabella, SA, and his paintings are found in all the Australian state galleries. The formal painting career of this senior man, responsible for many traditional laws, only began in 2005 when Dickie was almost 90.
Eighty-eight-year-old Sally Gabori won the inaugural $50,000 Gold Award presented by Rockhampton Art Gallery in 2012 with a painting similar to but smaller than her work Dibirdibi Country, 2008, in My Country. More remarkable is that Gabori commenced painting only five years earlier. She rapidly followed this success by winning the Togart Contemporary Art Award 2012 and seeing her work enter many public gallery art collections including, the Musée de Quay Branley in Paris. Gabori paints the shoreline where she grew up on Bentnick Island, northern Queensland, a home from which missionaries removed her and her family in 1948.
My Country includes art by the key figures who established a creative and economic pathway for others, especially women.
One such entrepreneurial artist is Emily Kngwarreye, whose work Wild Potato Dreaming, 1990 appears in My Country. Born in 1910, Kngwarreye ignored the impediments of distance and social and economic disadvantage to succeed in taking up painting as a career, commencing her art practice just prior to reaching the age of 80. Kngwarreye was living in the community of Utopia, 350 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. The medium of acrylic on canvas was only introduced to Utopia in 1988. Kngwarreye’s paintings of her yam dreaming, which she said include ‘everything’ (meaning her ancestral links, the aspects of culture she has custodianship over and the country where she lives) have set new records for the price and national and international recognition of Aboriginal art in general.
Australian Indigenous people had not adopted the European materials of paint and canvas until 1971 when school teacher Geoffrey Bardon introduced these art tools to men in the Papunya community, located 250 kilometres west of Alice Springs. When Kngwarreye began painting in 1989 she forged her own style which was distinct from that of the men painting in Papunya. By 1990, she had five solo exhibitions and 12 group exhibitions in Australia – a trailblazing feat by a woman who had not left the central desert area of the continent before beginning her art career. Prime Minister Paul Keating acknowledged Kngwarreye’s achievements when he presented her with the Australian Artists Creative Fellowship in 1992, making her the first Indigenous artist to receive this prestigious award.
In remote parts of Australia painting is a way in which Indigenous people stay connected to culture, and provides an occasion for singing ancestral and past stories, and a time to pass down knowledge and carry on custodial duties in regard to land. Australia was, as you will know, presumed to be terra nullius or land belonging to no one by the colonial settlers who arrived in the 18th century. The paintings of Kngwarreye, like other artists, have broken new ground in demonstrating evidence of a prior connection to country, and have been accepted as evidence in Land Trials. In this way, painting has assisted communities, including Utopia, to gain freehold title to their territory.
My Country is indicative of the fact that there is no single characteristic of professional and economic achievement. The photos Black Gum, 2008, which reflect on colonial perceptions of Indigenous Australians, are by Christian Thompson, the first Aboriginal Australian to be admitted to Oxford University in its 900-year history.
|Vernon Ah Kee speaking in front of his work, neither pride nor courage 2006, at Auckland Art Gallery, Saturday 29 March 2014|
The artists in My Country indicate the many ways in which art can be a means to not only survive but also flourish. Through their art these artists acknowledge the importance of past and current communities in contemporary life, and engage others with culture in new and inventive ways. I leave you with an image of the installation I Forgive You, 2012 by Bindi Cole, an artist who had won the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards in 2007 and 2009 when she was in her early thirties. Made from thousands of emu feathers, I Forgive You is literally – and figuratively – multi-layered. One meaning that we can take from this work, and from other art in My Country, is that the success and integrity of any person is interconnected with those who form our worlds and countries.
– Zara Stanhope, Principal Curator and Head of Public Programmes
A painting very similar to Richard Bell’s Theorum (Tricky Dicky and Friends) on view in My Country won Bell the National Telstra Indigenous Art Award (2003).
Artist of the Civilised series, photographer Michael Cook, is a two-time winner of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards in recent years.
Kala Lagaw Ya people
Australia QLD b.1975
Kuyku Garpathamai Mabaig 2007
Purchased 2008. The Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Australia NT b.1970
Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation
Vernon Ah Kee
Kuku Yalanji/Waanyi/Yidinyji/Guugu Yimithirr people
Australia QLD b.1967
neither pride nor courage 2006
The James C Sourris, AM, Collection.
Gift of James C Sourris through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2007. Donated through the
Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program