My Country, I still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia

A massive and provocative exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait art.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Pride, sorrow, anger and a celebration of identity and whimsical humour are all embodied in this brilliant, multi-faceted, event. Thankfully, My Country is not yet another exhibition of handsome  Indigenous art paraded for the amusement of a casual museum audience. It’s a massive and provocative exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait art from the last few decades, with a particular focus on three central themes –  Indigenous perspective of Australian history, connection to land, and today’s political context.

Brilliant art confronts the viewer on all walls and floors. The exhibition draws on QAG/GOMA’s collection. And while not exhaustive in coverage and drawing upon key local artists including Richard Bell, Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert and Judy Watson, it is nevertheless wide ranging.

Led by Bruce McLean, the curatorial team has pulled out all stops in creating this ambitious venture. Australians walking through this show are invited to rethink preconceptions about  Indigenous art and life and to take on board their own place in the unfolding dialogue around these things. The catalogue contains accounts that relay informative background and unpack relevant debate.

One of the central concerns with this kind of broad vision is to position ‘traditional’ Indigenous art alongside contemporary urban-based practice. And, yes a tactful effort to show significant art from both sides of this difficult divide is evident. Through juxtaposition, explanation and breadth of illustration – involving sculpture, fibre art, Hermannsburg pottery, prints, photography, installation and video art – it reveals what artists have been trying to achieve.

Pinpointing stand-out pieces is not difficult as there’s such a wealth of intriguing, multi-media pieces among the 300 works by 115 artists including Christian Thompson, Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Michael Riley, Brook Andrew, Christopher Pease, Warwick Thornton, Archie Moore, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarrnda Sally Gabori and Destiny Deacon.

Douglas Winton’s animated video projection, The Queen & I (2011) has a low-tech, strategic charm. Bindi Cole’s photographs, feather works and video persuasively draw connection between pain and beauty. Fiona Foley’s Black Velvet (1996), on the surface a modest arrangement of cotton dilly bags, jangles discordantly with the racism inherent in the title; a term adopted by white settlers for Aboriginal women.

The older paintings of Ron Hurley, Vincent Serico and Gordon Bennett pack a punch and it’s easy to understand the current preoccupation with Michael Cook’s photographic works interrogating Australian history from an Aboriginal perspective, using advertising pictorial devices.

Amongst the more traditional work, the collection of morning star poles and camp dogs by various artists and peoples is wonderfully powerful and signals a hunger to observe, to be entertained by the things around us. Arthur Koo-ekka Pambegan Jr’s Flying Fox Story Place, a collection of carved milkwood sculptures in traditional ochre pigments is striking and tells a story about two brothers who hunted more than their fair share of these creatures.  

If there is a need to identify one work, small or large, which profoundly embodies this exhibition’s themes, for this reviewer, it would be Trevor Nickolls’ From Dreamtime 2 Machinetime (1979). Nickolls’ works tackle the hardships facing first nation peoples. Rewardingly, decades later, one of these powerful paintings hangs proudly in this impressive show.

My Country, I still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia

Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

1 June – 7 October


Gillian Wills
About the Author
Gillian Wills writes for ArtsHub and has published with Griffith Review, The Australian Book Review, The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin, The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other (Finch Publishing) which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.