Exhibition of creativity, emotion, truth and connection

“Jilda (Yuwaalaraay)”, 2022, by Brenda L Croft.

Photography / “While you were sleeping: 2”. Along the avenue of the exhibition, district of Kambri, ANU, until July 31. Reviewed by CON BOEKEL.

The exhibition consists of works by 12 Aboriginal artists. Based on a variety of mediums, the works are presented as very large scale prints. These are mounted on large boxes which, in turn, are lined up along the avenue of the exhibition at the ANU.

Some of the artists are instantly recognizable: Blak Douglas is this year’s Archibald Prize winner; Brenda L Croft is a well known artist from Canberra.

All images are intended to convey messages. Among these, the most coherent deal with questions of identity and the feeling of belonging to the country. Fans of Jane Austen would recognize her use of “country.” There is a certain overlap in the intimate sense of belonging to a place.

There is deep anger at the misrepresentation of history and the contemporary treatment of Indigenous peoples, particularly the deaths of Indigenous people in custody – around 500 men, women and children since 1991.

There is also a serene sense of place, as in Nadurna’s story about the journey through the country and how the country nurtures the traveler.

There is overt and implicit pride. Manifest pride is displayed in the beautiful and evocative contemporary portraits of Aboriginal women honoring Barangaroo by Croft. The implicit pride shines through in the effortless use of indigenous symbolism – the concentric circles for the waterholes/campgrounds and the dotted lines for the trails that connect them. What is most striking is the creativity with which this millennial symbolism is used and redeployed until today.

Art is both personal and political. As its name suggests, the exhibition is meant to be a wake-up call. It gives artistic expression to the engines of the declaration of the heart.

When it comes to photographic images specifically, the quality is excellent. This ranges from street photography of protest scenes, through digitally altered photographs using post-processing algorithms, to classic photographic portraiture, to clever games on photographic images” realistic” which turn out to be carefully staged scenes.

The large scale of the draws generates power. Well worth the effort to travel near and far when viewing this exhibit. Up close, the prints dwarf the viewer. Seen from afar, they tend to blend into the UNA landscape. Capturing the full range of meanings depends in part on distance and therefore on the changing landscape context of the imagery.

Looking west along the exhibit, Black Mountain fills the frame and reflects some of the stories embedded in the exhibit. In 1823 Joshua John Moore landed where Black Mountain later met the Molongolo River. It is normal that the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, traditional owners, are actively involved in the management and maintenance of the mountain.

This exhibition is well worth a visit. It offers creativity, deep emotion, truth and connection on so many levels.

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Ian Meikle, editor

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