Reviews/Visual Art

Strength and generosity of First Nations artists revealed

28 June 2022

Celebratory and insightful, Fremantle Arts Centre’s 2022 ‘Revealed’ exhibition tells potent stories, writes Timmah Ball.

“Revealed: New and Emerging WA Aboriginal Artists”, various artists ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·

A dynamic gathering of 100 Aboriginal artists reveals the breadth and depth of Western Australia’s cultural legacy and ongoing traditions, across the multiple language groups and clans that exist within its borders. This is the 2022 iteration of “Revealed”, Fremantle Arts Centre’s annual exhibition of works by emerging First Nations artists.

The vision of curators Jane Chambers and Glen Iseger-Pilkington (Nhanda and Nyoongar) unfolds as “a celebration of First peoples – of Country, culture and community, but importantly, an invitation to learn more about the recent, ancient and enduring stories of the places we call home.” The concept is powerfully delivered by a vivid selection of work that elevates the gallery’s colonial building to a space of deep contemplation and respect for continuing Aboriginal knowledge and wisdom.

A painting from Revealed, depicting a man with a bears, wearing a hat. His facial features are suggested rather than drawn explicitly.
One of the generational portraits from Juluwarlu Art Group: Banyji (Pansy) Cheedy, ‘Ricky Smith’, 2022, 51 x 39 cm, Gouache on watercolour paper, Juluwarlu Art Group  

The range is diverse; from generational portraits by members of the Juluwarlu Art Group to a series of hand painted cars made from found metal and scrap materials by members of the Minyma Kutjara Arts Project.

While the works differ in technique and scope, many share overlapping narratives which illuminate complex stories of place and embody the vast geographies of the makers’ homes. The artists offer audiences who may be less familiar with Aboriginal culture and arts practices an important insight into their world view and the enduring culture which has survived and continues to thrive beyond the impact of invasion and colonisation.

The diversity of practices featured in “Revealed” – including video, installation, craft, paintings, sculpture, print, jewellery and fashion – also speaks to the varied skills and interests which Aboriginal artists hold.

In particular video is used by multiple artists who fuse complex time frames and communication in ways that push and play with the differences between video art and documentary.

Tjapu-Tjapu (2021), by Tjuntjuntjarra artists Sophia Brown and Michelle Anderson (Spinifex Arts Project: Milpa Space), depicts the pair’s use of Mara Wangkapai, a creative sign-language project created by the artists of Spinifex Arts Project.

With sepia tones the video gestures towards the liveliness and joy that Brown and Anderson share through sign language, and represents their world in ways that are experimental and playful. While educational for viewers unfamiliar with both the language and ways that non-verbal sign has been incorporated into everyday life in Tjuntjuntjarra communities, the work also moves beyond techniques commonly used to document Aboriginal people and their lifestyles.

Psychedelic imagery slips from the canvas and onto domestic objects introduced by the coloniser: Beverley Rogers, ‘Untitled’, 2022, 110 x 25 x 10 cm, Acrylic on shovel. Courtesy of Martumili Artists

Yawuru artist Jason Haji-Ali also uses video in experimental ways, to document important matrilineal histories that run through his culture and have shaped his practice and identity.

Haji-Ali’s Through her Eyes (2022) presents complex autobiographical concepts that mark the deep changes that have happened to his people over time. By interviewing his grandma and interspersing this footage with self-portraiture and voice over monologues he shows that, despite major intergenerational change, their cultural connection remains strong.

Many other works speak directly to the rapid changes caused by invasion and colonisation, such as the electrifying photography by Jesse Pickett, a Noongar/Wadjarri man living in Jambinu/Geraldton.

In Nightsky Manmade (2021), pictured top, Pickett combines the discordant cultures operating after colonisation. The presence of a bridge dominates the foreground of the image, reflecting the Westernisation of Country by white men. But the manmade object cannot obscure the night sky which continues to carry stories that emanate deeply, evident in the array of stars.

Similarly, Beverly Rogers, a Karimarra woman, uses psychedelic imagery to represent Punmu community and Country. That imagery slips from the canvas and onto the domestic objects introduced by the coloniser. In a series of untitled works from 2022 she cleverly inscribes her cultural markings onto introduced Western tools such as brooms, shovels, rakes, chairs and crowbars as a strategy to tame the impact of invasion that these objects represent. In doing this she also highlights how her cultural practice has remained strong despite these incursions, successfully adapting to living in two worlds.

There are many other potent stories contained within the exhibition which represent the mammoth landscape and diverse Aboriginal communities which form Western Australia. “Revealed” successfully demonstrates the strength of First People while offering the non-Aboriginal viewer an awe-inspiring and generous insight into their worlds.

“Revealed” continues at Fremantle Arts Centre until 31 July 2022.

Pictured top: Jesse Pickett, ‘Nightsky Man made’, 2021, digital print (unframed), 61 x 105cm. Image courtesy the artist

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Timmah Ball

Author —
Timmah Ball

Timmah Ball is a writer, zine maker and cultural producer of Ballardong Noongar heritage. Her most recent publication is the zine Do Planners Dream of Electric Trees? She has been published wildly most recently in the UQP anthology "This All Come Back Now". She can't Say No to a swing!

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