Reviews/Visual Art

‘Monumental’ – powerful work dismantles more than statues

29 March 2022

Amrita Hepi’s compelling video montage leaves Ilona McGuire feeling empowered, hopeful and comforted.

Monumental, Amrita Hepi ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·

Ascending the stairs to the first floor of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) I see a doorway radiating a sunset-like glow.

I gravitate towards it but suddenly my attention is caught by a tall, white, lumpy figure to my right. Posed like a colonial statue – commanding and larger than life – the figure looks above and beyond me. I’m bewildered and feel a familiar prickly reaction to this figure.

I continue through the doorway and into a gallery space flooded with rich, luminous, burnt-orange light. It is here that I encounter Bundjalung/Ngāpuhi artist and choreographer Amrita Hepi’s powerful video installation, Monumental (2020).

The work is presented in a generous gallery space, on a large screen. I sit on the bench provided to witness the video montage of Hepi’s contemporary dance work, featuring seven performers including the artist. In a distant corner, a tall narrow window coated with orange laminate allows natural light to beam through, flooding the whole space with sun-drenched hues.

The dancers on-screen perform in a similarly vast room. It too is filled with vibrant orange light, seamlessly connecting screen and viewing space. In the centre of their dance floor is the statue I encountered on my way in.

On screen, the figure is elevated on a plinth, high above the performers. They move through the space, around the statue, sometimes fragmented, sometimes connecting with each other. Their bodies form dark silhouettes and curious shapes as they leap and bound.

Pictured is the exhibition titled 'monumental' a person stands in a room drenched in orange light, they are watching a screen, on which we can see another orange light filled room, and dancers moving around a lumpy statue of a person.
The dancers’ bodies form dark silhouettes and curious shapes as they leap and bound around the statue. Photo: Bo Wong

Sporadic snippets of archival footage interrupt the orange-filled space. Extracts from the Rockettes performing The Parade of The Wooden Soldiers, towering human pyramids, Black Lives Matter protestors around the world tearing down colonial monuments – these all form part of the integral motif.

Now Hepi and her dancers abruptly turn their attention to the central figure, the statue. They begin pulling at it, bringing it down and ripping it apart, limb from limb. The montage finishes with the group climbing the plinth to collectively form a monument of their own, replacing the newly-toppled figure which now lies in pieces on the floor. At this moment, I realise why Hepi has named this work “Monumental”. Upon their proud assemblage, posing on the plinth, radiating youth, cultural diversity and hope, the dancers capture the greatness, the significance that the title implies.

There is a unique relationship between Hepi’s Bunjalung and Ngāpuhi heritage, in sunrise country, and Monumental exhibiting here, in sunset country. It feels like this association lends more power to the work, connecting landscapes both culturally and politically.

I walked away from this experience feeling the same way I feel when I leave a protest or rally; empowered and hopeful. An immense release of tension has taken place here, one that has the potential to create a positive ripple effect.

I found comfort in this work, in knowing that we are a part of a collective effort, demanding political change and not only decolonising but Indigenising our shared spaces.

Monumental continues at PICA, as part of Perth Festival, until 24 April 2022.

Disclosure: Ilona McGuire will be exhibiting work at PICA’s 2022 “Hatched” exhibition, which opens in May.

Pictured top: The dancers capture the significance of the work’s title in ‘Monumental’. Photo: Bo Wong

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Author —
Ilona McGuire

Ilona McGuire is a proud Noongar (Whadjuk, Ballardong, Yuat) and Kungarakan woman. Her ancestry extends from Whadjuk Boodja to the Fitzmaurice region of the Northern Territory. A mixed-media contemporary artist, Ilona's drone light show, Moombaki, headlined the 2021 Fremantle Biennale. Ilona’s favourite playground equipment is the flying fox.

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