Reviews/Visual Art

Photographers’ hearts held by Country

30 March 2023

If you’re craving a taste of the Kimberley, New Voices in Australian Photography will transport you there, with works from four emerging First Nations artists, writes Savannah Travia-Dann.

New Voices in Australian Photography, various artists
Perth Centre for Photography

Perth Centre for Photography’s (PCP) New Voices in Australian Photography exhibition feels like home to me, as a young Nyul Nyul woman from Winawaal Country. Walking through the busy streets of Perth and arriving at the gallery felt like I was stepping into a portal back to Country.

New Voices in Australian Photography is the culmination of Exposure 3.0, the third iteration of PCP’s mentoring program for emerging First Nations photographic artists. The works by the four mentored artists capture the characteristics of Country, the staples of Kimberley attire and reflections on how our Country and communities are the things that keep us strong in our spirit. Each artist has used a different technique behind the lens to depict how their hearts have been held by the land.

You can feel the essence of Country emanating from the images of Maria Fredericks, a Warnambol Gambera woman and Traditional Owner for Kingana Country hailing from Kalumburu Community. The untitled images present un-named landscapes – staunch images of bush and beach – against which we see figures so blurred they’re almost ghostly. Those wispy bodies remind me of what my old people have always told me, that we are only here for a blip of time in comparison to the land, and that we are here to care for that Country and honour her with the utmost respect.

Mary-Lou Orliyarli Divilli, a Nyikina and Ngarinyin woman living on Kupungarri Community on the Gibb-River Road, makes works that speak to the Kimberley “dress code” and of nostalgic memories in these outfits. The prominent coloured backgrounds contrast the ordinariness of these clothes – a baby dress in soft, crumpled grey; a polka-dotted pjyama top, it’s arms extended almost ecstatically, perhaps in preparation for a hug; the bottle green mesh basketball shorts that are ubiquitous throughout the Kimberley region regardless of gender or age.

Divilli’s Nyangki Jinda shows a boy painted up and kicking up dirt as he dances, his pride and connection to Country oozing out of the image. In contrast, Nyangki Nyinda shows a child resting wearily on a large rock, being comforted by Country. Both are beautiful depictions of how Country holds us when we feel like we cannot hold ourselves, how our culture is the very life force that keeps our spirit strong.

Originally from Kalumburu Community, Karratha-based Kwini woman Maria Maraltadj’s body of work speaks to the healing, nurturing quality of Country. Her work Hurt. Rejected. Depressed has those words etched into the lower half of three photographs of a sunset lit bay of water, as though the artist has turned to this place for comfort in the face of adversity.

Accompanying Maraltadj’s images, the words “Calm reflections” are plastered on the gallery wall. To me this demonstrates the Country’s soft yet resilient nature, her ability to tend to us when we connect to her.

A photography of a rock face with a space cut out from the centre.
Amidst layers of rock, the artist has etched an organic space, into which she has inserted a mirror, so that the viewer sees themselves framed by rockface. Maria Maraltadj, ‘Let me be your mirror’, 2022

Maraltadj’s Let me be your mirror encourages viewers to interact, to look within themselves. Amidst layers of rock, the artist has etched an organic space, into which she has inserted a mirror, so that the viewer sees themselves framed by rockface. In doing so she invites us to be still and connect and face any shadow work we need to do in order to heal.

The series of works I am Mother Earth by Nuriah Jadai – a Martu and Mangala woman currently living between Boorloo and Bidyadanga Community – depicts the faces of four women of various ages, perhaps her family members. Their images are not just superimposed but integrated into their rockfaced backdrops, and Jadai uses acrylic gold and bronze paint to deepen the image and the feeling of the photographs.

These works speak of the inextricable link between person and Country, of the way in which our energy and our Country’s energy are one, of the fact that in fulfilling our cultural responsibility of caring for country we are caring for ourselves, and of the strength of our matriarchs in our families and our communities.

New Voices in Australian Photography is an exhibition that perfectly captures the essence of connecting to Country. I encourage you to step into that portal to the Kimberley and allow your liyarn (spirit) to recharge.

New Voices in Australian Photography continues at Perth Centre for Photography until 13 May.

Pictured top: Nuriah Jadai, ‘Don’t Mess With Me’, 2022

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Photo: Fremantle City Council/ Fre-Oh Magazine

Author —
Savannah Travia-Dann

Emerging critic Savannah Travia Dann is a young Saltwater woman. A Nyul Nyul visual artist and poet from Winawaal Country she has ties to Kija, Bunuba, Nyikina, Mangala, Bardi, Jaru and Walmatjarri language groups. Savannah paints from a spiritual perspective, weaving stories with intricacies that may be missed when observing the world through society’s lens. Savannah enjoys the versatility of the monkey bars, which hold great memories of her childhood. Photo: Fremantle City Council/ Fre-Oh Magazine

Past Articles

  • An exhibition that will ignite your liyarn

    You’ll want more than one visit to absorb the invigorating array of art works by Aboriginal artists, on display in this year’s iteration of Revealed at Fremantle Arts Centre, says Savannah Travia-Dann.

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