I knew I’d love this work as soon as I saw the invitation to the opening of Colour Theory at the Manningham Gallery. It’s raw, edgy, with an energy that made me think of the street art of Jean Paul Basquiat. The little dolls with the button eyes fascinated me. They form a central motif throughout the work. Peter explains them best,
A few years ago while in South East Asia, I began collecting strange hand-sewn and button eyed dolls. I found them for sale in the street markets that the local people worked in. Tourists buy them and take them to new countries, new environments and give them a new life and name. Like these toys, without a voice or a choice, I’m also dislocated from my heritage through adoption. It is these reworked dolls that appear in my work that reference my modern existence and speak to my ceaseless and restless wandering.
His artist’s statement for the exhibition elaborates on his arts practice and his need to express his own sense of dislocation within his work,
One of the most important aspects of Aboriginal life is belonging or the connection to your Country or tribal land. With a history of dislocation through colonisation and the Stolen Generations, many Aboriginal people find themselves never living, or ever having lived on their traditional lands.
My art in “Colour Theory” investigates this dislocation. My works are ‘finds’ in archaeological digs, they speak of different times, places and histories.
My bloggers intuition tells me he’s one to watch!
Three other indigenous artists were asked to exhibit alongside Peter at the Manningham Gallery for Colour Theory in late May, to celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2012. They were Anna Liebzeit, Steven Rhall and Robyne Latham.
I caught up with Robyne at the opening and shared a coffee and lunch with her in Smith Street Collingwood a week later, where she told me the story of her arts practice…I was mesmerised. I will attempt to share her story of the Empty Coolamon as she told it to me… as, in its purity, it moved me to tears.
For my Masters in Fine Arts at Monash University, my research was centred around creating sacred spaces. I travelled the world to learn more about how Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism created the sacred through the use of space. I also visited specific Aboriginal sacred sites. I began to identify things common to all these spaces that engendered a sense of the sacred. Over time I realised that, in a sacred space I wanted to create a ritual lasting from dawn to dusk that I would dedicate to the Stolen Generations. So for my final piece (an installation) I started at dawn with a smoking, then made designated spaces with coloured ochres and earth pigments and lit two candles at the entrance of the space. I work with the elements of earth, water, air, fire and space. For the earth element, I made baby coolamon from clay and decorated them. I chose the empty coolamon because in addition to being vessels for carrying food they would often be used to cradle newborn babies. They became my symbol of the Stolen Generations of Australia. Every time I placed the completed coolamon in the space I would silently acknowledge the Stolen Generations, thinking about the mothers and the fathers, the sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and grand parents.
I didn’t want it to be about shame or blame. I wanted it to be a memoriam to the Stolen Generations.
That body of work led to a bigger installation- 8 meters by 13 meters by 3 meters in height. (Because the proportions of the Fibonacci sequence, are consistent throughout nature, including of cause the skeletal structure of human beings, I surmised an unconscious familiarity of space and proportions would encourage a sense of comfortability in the viewer.) This installation incorporated a sound and lighting design by Anna Liebzeit and Jenifer Hector respectively. On the floor there were bark chips. I hung seven copper wire coolamons, suspended just above a plinthe. Two of them moved ever so slightly. When the lighting was dim it was a bit spooky.
There was no speaking in the space, though others were allowed to enter and were encouraged to write down their experiences of it. People were often very moved.
The coolamon at the Manningham Gallery exhibition is a standalone sculptural work.
As a mother myself, just at the beginnings of feeling the bite of the ’empty nest’, the thought of the ’empty coolamon’ that resulted from the Stolen Generations is almost more than my heart can bear. In the end I think the heart is the best teacher and I hope this little piece on Isiiad adds to the many voices eager to contribute a healing hand to our Stolen Generations. My thanks to Robyne Latham for so poignantly leading the way through her art.
Later this year, Robyne will have a solo exhibition at Blak Dot Gallery in Lygon Street. Keep an eye on their website for details.
All work in this post is ©Peter Waples-Crowe and ©Robyne Latham.
All photographs in the this post are ©Steven Rhall and are published with the permission of the photographer and the artists.