The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne presents the inaugural Yalingwa exhibition, “A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness”.
The exhibition features 10 new commissions from artists from Southeast Australia and beyond and continues until 16 September 2018. Art Radar looks at the artists and their new works on show.
“A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness” at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art is curated by Hannah Presley and brings together leading contemporary Indigenous artists: Alec Baker, Benita Clements, Vicki Couzens, Robert Fielding, Jonathan Jones, Peter Mungkuri, Vincent Namatjira, Mr Kunmanara Pompey, Yhonnie Scarce, Peter Waples-Crowe, Lisa Waup, Kaylene Whiskey and Tiger Yaltangki.
The exhibition features 10 new commissions from these artists, who come from Southeast Australia and beyond, in an exploration of everyday life and experiences of Aboriginal people today, celebrating the significance of family, community and humour in contemporary Aboriginal life.
Country music icons, queer identity, pop-culture and community leadership are referenced, as well as the legacy of ancestors and the importance of coming together to strengthen identity and connection in this new major exhibition, the first in the Yalingwa visual arts initiative.
A Victorian Government initiative, Yalingwa is a partnership between Creative Victoria, ACCA and TarraWarra Museum of Art, designed to support the development of outstanding contemporary Indigenous art and curatorial practice. It includes three new curatorial positions (one of which has been filled by Hannah Presley) and three major exhibitions alternating between ACCA and TarraWarra, focused on new commissions by contemporary Indigenous artists.
On the significance of this inaugural Yalingwa exhibition, and the meaning behind the initiative’s title, Australia’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley, commented:
Strengthening and promoting contemporary Aboriginal art and creative expression in Victoria is the number one action of our Creative State strategy, and the Yalingwa initiative is an important part of our commitment. Yalingwa is a Woiwurrung word meaning ‘day’ and ‘light’, and this exhibition signifies a new dawn for First Nations art in Victoria, and beyond.
It celebrates the exemplary creative talent and collaborative power of local First Nations artists through ten new projects that together reflect the rich, vibrant and diverse nature of contemporary Aboriginal culture. Yalingwa is more than just an exhibition, it’s an investment in the talent, ideas and careers of the participating artists and the future of First Nations art, culture and creativity in Australia.
Of Hannah Presely’s appointment as curator, Max Delany, ACCA’s Artistic Director and CEO, said:
Building on ACCA’s commitment to supporting the practice of First Nations artists and curators, we are delighted to have welcomed Hannah Presley as the inaugural Yalingwa Curator at ACCA. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of contemporary Indigenous practice nationally, Hannah has brought together a wonderful group of artists, and we are especially excited to see the unfolding of their new work as a result of the Yalingwa Commissions.
Below, Art Radar highlights several of the artists and projects included in “A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness”.
Benita Clements is a Western Arrernte artist from Hermannsburg, based in Alice Springs, Northern Territories. Clements is the daughter of artist Gwenda Namatjira and great-granddaughter of Albert Namatjira. Clements continues the family tradition of Ntaria/Hermannsburg watercolour, presenting a new suite of paintings – My life with Albert – my family (2018) – that depict her Country in the vibrant colours reflected in the landscape.
Clements’ work is foremost a celebration of her family and everyday life, and takes the form of an autobiographical tableau, documenting her daily life, family, trips out to the bush for hunting and fishing, and sharing scenes of the younger Namatjira generations learning the watercolour tradition.
As the artist notes,
I like to look at photos of Albert and old-time photos of Ntaria/Hermannsburg to inspire my paintings. I like to think about how they lived in the old times, in the mission, and on our Country – and what my family did. I paint stories of the old-times that my family have told me about painting with Albert in Palm Valley and around the West MacDonnell Ranges, and Alice Springs. I also like to make up stories about what my family might have been doing, and how my family and our Country inspires me. I like to paint fun paintings!
Vicki Couzens is a member of the Keerray Woorrong and Gunditjmara clans of the Western Districts of Victoria. Couzens is a multidisciplinary artist focused on strengthening her language and culture. Her diverse practice is centred around Country, language and identity and the reclamation of cultural practices, placing importance on reciprocal knowledge. Djawannacuppatea (2018) is designed to promote Vicki’s self-determined, key focus in creating ‘living legacy’ through the transference of cultural knowledge and practice to and within her family across generations.
The new commission incorporates a soundscape sharing a nostalgia for home, family and a nice cup of tea. Curator Hannah Presley describes the culture and meaning behind the work:
Having a ‘cuppa’ tea is a common Aboriginal way of catching up and sharing among family and community. When we meet up with mob, whether it’s visiting each other’s home or out in community, we greet each other, we check in, we ask how is the family?, and so on, then its cuppa tea time. ‘Hey Sis/Bruz, Aunt/Unc/Mum/Dad/Nan/Pop/Cuz … how ya goin?’ djwanna cuppa tea? I’ll put the kettle on…’
From the post-colonial times on reserves and missions through to present days, we are still having a cuppa tea. We sit down at the kitchen table, in the lounge, or round the campfire with the billy tea and we yarn. We share stories: of happy times, hard times, celebrations, family, funny stories, sad times and sorry business.
For the installation Djawannacuppatea, Couzens has invited her family to contribute to the work by creating their own “cuppa tea stories”. Over the course of the exhibition, the table installation will be developed in collaboration with Aunty Fay Muir, Lisa Couzens and Gina Bundle, to explore memories of Country, family, genealogy, gathering around the table, and the continuation of cultural traditions. Other contributors include Bronwyn Razem, Jarrah Bundle, Yaraan Bundle, Marlee Bundle, Niyoka Bundle, Kirrae Bundle and nieces Kelsey Love and Tarryn Love.
Yhonnie Scarce belongs to the Kothaka and Nunuku peoples of South Australia. Her practice explores the political nature and aesthetic qualities of glass, referencing the history of nuclear testing on her family’s homelands, and illuminating the ongoing effects of colonisation on Aboriginal people. Family history is central to Scarce’s work, drawing on the strength of her ancestors, she offers herself as a conduit, sharing their significant stories from the past.
The new commission, Remember Royalty (2018), honours generations of Scarce’s ancestors in a work reminiscent of a shrine or monument. Large-scale banners are suspended in space like religious pennants, adorned with historical photographs that have been meticulously transferred onto fabrics relating to each family member. Alongside each portrait, which are drawn from family archives, are intricate hand-crafted gifts created in glass by Scarce to honour her ancestors. The artist says of her new work:
As far as I am concerned my grandparents, great grandparents and those people who walked my Country before me, are Australia’s royalty.
Peter Waples-Crowe is a Ngarigo visual and performance-based artist living in Melbourne. His intersecting experiences as an Aboriginal queer man and his work with community health and arts organisations give him a unique perspective as an artist and community cultural development worker. Waples-Crowe creates bold colourful work that explores the representation of Aboriginal people in popular culture, often referencing the dingo as a totemic figure and an analogy for Indigenous peoples.
Waples-Crowes’ new commission explores his emerging role as a queer Elder in the Aboriginal community. Ngarigo Queen – Cloak of queer visibility (2018) is a culturally-specific statement about identity and standing up for yourself in the face of cultural erasure. Bringing queer activism to the forefront, Waples-Crowe has created a lasting cultural artefact in the form of a possum skin cloak. The fur side of the cloak is adorned with a crucifix, speaking to the erasure of queer histories in Aboriginal culture due to the strict religious heterosexual gaze of colonisation. Creating his own cloak, Waples-Crowe honours the artists of the South East who bought this practice back into our everyday lives. As the artist explains:
The underside of the cloak is kept close to my body; it is the symbol of the Queer Community, the rainbow flag. The flag is etched with shield designs from the South-East and speaks of Aboriginal inclusion in the broader rainbow community; it speaks to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ Mob to stay strong and deadly. Our past might have been erased but our future is here and now and very visible, and we belong in the culture.
Peter Mungkuri, Alec Baker and Mr Kunmanara Pompey are senior artists and respected leaders from the APY Lands community of Indulkana. In the 1940s through to the 1960s, these young men were renowned stockmen working on the land and living the stockman’s life. This significant time in their lives was spent working with horses and mustering cattle. Though this was a hard time, they look back on it fondly and with much pride.
In 2017, the group led a men’s camp at nearby cattle station Welbourn Hill, funded by the Australia Council. At the camp, the men came together to talk about everyday life and to tell stories around the fire. Influenced by their ongoing love for cowboy and western films and country music, the group of Mungkuri, Baker and Pompey, along with young men from Indulkana, created their own spaghetti western, titled Never Stop Riding.
The film is an Indulkana Spaghetti Western shot at Welbourn Hill station, at Indulkana and the surrounding homelands. It is a celebration of affinity with country music and the cowboy lifestyle. As curator Hannah Presley notes,
The artists have created the film as a reminder to Indigenous men and boys across Australia, that whatever their passion in life is, whatever struggles they may be facing, that above all else, they should never stop riding!
“A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness” is on view from 7 July to 16 September 2018 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, 111 Sturt St, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia.
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