Towards the end of the exhibition there is a piece by Neil Butler, which shows three stupidly grinning white men in ill-fitting grey suits and the hands of four Aboriginal artists commandeered from above via puppet strings. Beneath them (and remaining unseen) a white man stands amidst wads of cash and a pile of art supplies. The critique of white male power structures in the art market is obvious: cultural production is mediated from afar, with artists exercising little agency in the commercial aspect of their work.
For the past decade, the Revealed initiative has sought to challenge these structures. The event brings together artists and art centres from regional and remote areas of Western Australia for a series of workshops, public talks and to participate in the Art Market where the public can buy works directly from the artists themselves. This year over 120 artists were featured from over 30 different art centres; making it the largest exhibition yet.
Filling Fremantle Art Centre’s South Wing galleries, to walk into Revealed on its opening night is a slightly overwhelming affair. Going past the people gathering in the courtyard and quadrangle, artists and the audience stand shoulder to shoulder. Curiosity and conversation fills the atmosphere. Artist’s statements and background information are supplied with the work, but on opening night, everyone is swapping stories of childhood, fishing and road trips as they pass each other. This is the best way of comprehending the breadth of experience in an exhibition of this size.
(Views of the Main Gallery)
Visually, the works exhibited are extremely diverse, but together they exude a combined warmth. All of this is down to the very tactful placement of a turquoise wall which draws out the energy from the abundance of orange and yellow tones. A bit of basic exhibition design, but the effect is so striking that it must be mentioned.
(Views of the Main Gallery)
In the centre of the floor are two mats, created by Lorraine Coppin and Joylene Warrie of the Juluwarlu Artist’s group. These visualisations of Country extend beyond topographical mapping. They are learning aids which demonstrate the practices and values—both modern and traditional—and their relationship and responsibility to Country. The use of traditional techniques to record and convey cultural knowledge alongside inspiration from daily life is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition.
Other works call attention to specific realities of post-colonialism. The Maruku Arts & Crafts exhibit brings together the work of three young male artists in their punu (‘living wood’) display, which features tools traditionally used by men in law enforcement and self defence. Originally conceived simply as a display of skill, the creative process naturally gives rise to consideration of issues affecting men as they negotiate their role within two different social and legal systems.
(Traditional tools carved by Maxwell Cooke (2019))
To Be Continued is a survey of emerging Indigenous photographers held alongside Revealed, curated by Glenn Isegar-Pilkington. At the public talk held earlier in the day, Isegar-Pilkington and featured artist Lavene McKenzie spoke about the importance of placing Indigenous artists behind the camera. They said it is a way of reclaiming narrative as in the past, the camera had been a form of colonialism in itself. Together with collaborative partner David Laslett, Indigenous and non-Indigenous perceptions of land and belonging are examined through recreation and interrogation of memory. In Grandfather (2017), McKenzie depicts her grandfather gesturing towards her home, the Flinders Ranges, beyond the barbed wire of the mission fence. The artist recalls this as her first sense of knowing where she came from.
Elsewhere, identity is disassembled and reconstructed by means of digital collage. Michael Cook’s Invasion series (2017) is a hilarious play on B-Grade sci-fi invasion films. The colonial narrative is relocated to 1960s London, where citizens flee giant possums with laser-shooting eyes. Hayley Millar-Baker, a Gunditjmara woman from Victoria, uses individually photographed elements to meticulously assemble landscapes from her home. The fragmented effect is unsettling and ominous, a contrast to Cook’s use of humor but with a similar dramatic effect.
(Even if the race is fated to disappear 7 (Peeneeyt Meerreng/Before, Now, Tomorrow) (2018) and Untitled (The theft of the White men’s sheep) (2018) by Hayley Millar-Baker)
When I revisited the exhibition on Sunday, a crew of men were dismantling marquees set up for the market the day before. The path through the courtyard was covered in colourful chalk drawings, some of which were faded with the morning rainfall. The atmosphere in the gallery is hushed and contemplative, two other couples whispering to each other as they drifted quietly between paintings. With artworks placed side by side, pattern, colour and imagery merged while stories and memories echoed off the white walls.
Revealed Exhibition: new and emerging WA Aboriginal artists is showing at Fremantle Art Centre until Sunday June 1st.