By Mario Pinti

    Enduring and Iwara exhibitions Wyndham Art Gallery

    At first glance it comes as a surprise. It’s not what you might be expecting to see in either of the two new exhibitions now showing at the Wyndham Art Gallery featuring contemporary First Nations artists.

    Yet there it is, the sudden appearance of a Eugene Von Guerard painting. What is this exemplar of 19th century Australian colonial landscape painting doing here, peopled as it is with Europeans, and no sign of the area’s original inhabitants?

    A few metres away there is an enigmatic set of artworks titled Nature morte. These pieces unambiguously reference the vanitas and still-life genres in European art that seek to remind the viewer of life’s short, transient nature. One of the pieces features a large set of scales with dark plumed birds surrounded by objects both of this land and from elsewhere. It is beautiful in its detail and yet unsettling.

    Go deeper into the gallery and more awaits to challenge the visitor. Such as the video installation that begins with red soil cascading into the hands of a person whose face we do not see. The soil soon turns to streams of sugar, tea leaves and flour. Then back to soil. What a thing it is to see played out in front of you.

    Surprises and the unexpected are plentiful in both the Enduring and Iwara exhibitions. Running through to the end of July and incorporating NAIDOC Week, these exhibitions in Werribee bring together the voices of five artists exploring the multi-faceted story of Australia’s Indigenous, colonial and post-colonial story. 

    The exhibitions are also a curatorial success because as unique and as individual as each artist’s voice is, together they ring clear as a bell.

    The colonial landscape painting in Peter Waples-Crowe video installation, Ngaya (Enduring), is rapidly overlayed with images of what has happened to the high country in the decades since dispossession: unsustainable logging, rivers damned and dying, unsympathetic development. It’s a powerful, at times humorous, five minutes of truth telling.

    The Nature morte piece by Michael Cook, Blackbird (Enduring), puts the focus on the years of ‘blackbirding’ that saw the forced deportation of South Sea Islander people from their homes and the corralling of Indigenous people to work on plantations and outback stations. The scales of justice were heavily weighted against all of those imprisoned by this form of slavery.

    Finally, the video installation In our hands (Iwara) by Robert Fielding is history delivered in granular detail. The falling dirt recalls some of the successes of the land rights movement. Think of the well-known photo of former prime minister Gough Whitlam handing soil to Indigenous activist and hero Vincent Lingiari. Yet the sugar, tea and flour are reminders of the rations received by many Indigenous people instead of wages. Their hard labour for an unhealthy diet.

    Go to these two free exhibitions and enjoy the great art on display, but go to also hear Indigenous voices advancing the dialogue with all Australians on the important, ongoing work of reconciliation. 

    Wyndham Art Gallery
    177 Watton Street, Werribee

    Opening hours – Mon-Fri: 9am-4.30pm, Sat-Sun 11am-4pm


    Be Bold Blakout Exhibition

    A new First Nations art exhibition, Be Bold Blakout, is currently showing in and around the Brimbank Community and Civic Centre on Hampshire Road, Sunshine, as well as the nearby + Dai Phat Supermarket Projection. 

    The exhibition’s curator, Auntie Jean Mason, has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and youth living in Brimbank to explore this year’s NAIDOC Week theme: For our Elders. 

    A long-time resident of the west herself, Auntie Jeanie’s own artwork features also in this colourful and lively exhibition that draws inspiration from the deep wells of Indigenous stories and culture.

    Be Bold Blakout continues until Wednesday 6 September.
    For more information visit:
    Creative Brimbank

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