Exhibition review: Kayannie Denigan, Belconnen Arts Centre

‘Reflections of Country’ creates a space for Aboriginal women to connect with audiences and share their perspectives.

On show at the Belconnen Arts Centre is Reflections of Country, an exhibition comprising paintings, photographs and sculptures by Aboriginal artist Kayannie Denigan. 

Like many creatives who have moved to Canberra, there is always that pull back home, to reconnect and reflect. Denigan has dual connections to Central Australia and Cape York, and her work explores the diverse landscapes that she is connected to, including the rainforest, beaches, rivers and the desert. 

A number of the pieces on show are from Denigan’s collection My Country, which is a result of a recent trip to Central Australia. Through these works, she combines the landscapes of both the desert and the coast of Far North Queensland to honour her Luritja Nanna and Kuku Yalanji Nanny.

Denigan focuses on themes of Country, family, distance and connection using landscapes. What makes the artworks unique is how she has physically incorporated Country into her artworks. Denigan has collected sand from a site known as Coloured Sands near Hope Vale, Far North Queensland and, when added, it creates a texture that brings her work to life. This is most evident in the artwork titled Bimay Ka where the artist bares her vulnerable side to create a heartfelt piece about loss and grief. In the artworks, Denigan takes the subject matter past the edges of the canvas and down the sides, setting the impression of a landscape that is endless and unconstrained.

The breadth of the landscape is also achieved through the layering of colour and motifs to show the complexities of Country from a bird‘s-eye perspective. This is where the drone photographs work so well in this exhibition. There are several in the show that assist the gallery visitor to see Country as Denigan does, from above. The photographs showcase both the tannin-rich waters flowing into the ocean and the greenery around Isabella Falls, Hope Vale and what Denigan refers to as the ‘other side beach’ in Far North Queensland.

Kayannie Denigan, ‘Driftwood 4’, 2023. Image: Supplied, courtesy the artist.

In addition to the artworks and photographs, the artist has collected found driftwood and painted it to reflect the serenity and power of the ocean. As a result of time in the elements these pieces of driftwood have developed into smooth pieces that to this reviewer resemble animals or totems. The curatorial decision to hang the pieces in the gallery space gives the illusion that they are still on a journey, floating across the gallery walls. All these different mediums allow the artist to fully express the themes of the exhibition successfully.

Read: Exhibition review: Between Waves, ACCA

Exhibitions such as Reflections of Country create a space for Aboriginal women to show us their connection to Country, allowing us to understand places that are important to Aboriginal women, and how they see Country differently. 

Reflections of Country is on show until 20 August at the Belconnen Art Centre, Canberra.

This article is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Barrina is a Barkindji writer, artist, critic and curator living on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal & Ngambri. In addition to her role with the Amplify Collective, she is the Arts Reviewer for the Canberra City News. Alongside her creative endeavors, Barrina has a long-standing career in the museum and heritage sector both at a state and federal level.