Reviews/Visual Art

An ongoing conversation

10 July 2018

Review: “Djookian (Sisters)” ·
Gallery Central, North Metropolitan TAFE ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Curated by Thelma John, “Djookian (Sisters)” is an exhibition celebrating this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, “Because of her, we can!” It features the work of numerous Aboriginal women with diverse arts practices, including textiles, weaving, painting and digital art. The artists featured also come from a range of different personal and professional backgrounds. Some are professional artists, others are arts students from Central TAFE. Others work with DADAA, collaborate with residents from Boronia Prison in printmaking workshops or are involved with women’s community groups from around the state. This range of experiences makes for an engaging exhibition, enriched by the didactic panels that provide more information than usual about the artists’ lives, statements about the works and other personal touches. Providing a rich insight into the varying practices of the artists, these panels made me feel as though I was part of an ongoing conversation as I walked around the gallery.

Mandy White, ‘Busy bird dancing with woodarchies’, Ink and acrylic on paper, 2018, 76cm-x-56cm.

Illness and trauma characterise many of the stories behind the works; poignantly, such events frequently set the women on the path to beginning an arts practice. Lena Mandijarra and Purtungana (Nancy Bangu), for example, both made their works for “Djookian” whilst receiving treatment at Autumn House, a residential facility run by Derbal Yerrigan Health Services. Reading such stories provides the viewer with insight into these deeply personal works. Purtungana paints her grandfather’s country in the Great Sandy Desert, particularly the spinifex she remembers from the single time she visited. Story and painting together reveal her connection to family and the positive impact they have had upon her recuperation.

Throughout the show, a range of different styles and techniques are displayed, with the work of more senior artists – including Julie Dowling, Sharyn Egan, and Janine McAuley Bott – shown alongside work from emerging artists. There’s a strong theme of social enterprise and community groups, including Yawuru Jarndu Aboriginal Corporation, a not-for-profit art and textile organisation, highlighting the importance of collaboration, skill-sharing and sociality through art-marking.

Janine McAullay Bot            Mother Yganka in the Chair 2015 Queen palm tree fronds, seed pods
Janine McAullay, ‘Bot Mother Yganka in the Chair’, 2015, Queen palm tree fronds, seed pods.

A highlight is Dianne Jones’s wonderful photographs from her Hollywood Series, in which she dresses up as Hollywood heroes to draw attention to the lack of Aboriginal role models in popular culture. Her series of images shows the artist dressed variously as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and James Dean, the overly stylised and performative images revelling in the humour of not taking oneself too seriously, whilst also engaging in the more serious work of decolonising and, in some cases, queering the dominant culture’s grasp on representation and role models. These images sit alongside the more tactile fabric and textile works, such as Simone Penny’s painted and stitched handkerchiefs. In this case, the artist has redesigned the hankies with her own artworks, covering the white fabric with painstakingly stitched and embroidered dot-painting style depictions of country, as well as transfers of family photographs and painted flowers, re-making the everyday object of traditional white femininity with her own memories.

The works shown in “Djookian” are diverse and wide-ranging, but united by the insight each artwork provides into the artist’s practice, life and memories. A strong thread of collaboration and community runs through the show, fitting given the NAIDOC Week theme. “Djookian” beautifully showcases the work of Aboriginal women throughout WA.

“Djookian (Sisters)” plays Gallery Central until July 21.

Pictured top: Jade Richards, ‘us in them’ acrylic, gouache, ink on paper.

‘Djookian’ features the work of numerous Aboriginal women with diverse arts practices, including textiles, weaving, painting and digital art.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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