The inaugural QAGOMA Reconciliation Action Plan

 

QAGOMA invited artist Tony Albert, whose connection to the Gallery spans more than two decades, to speak at the recent launch of Gallery’s first Reconciliation Action Plan. The following is the edited transcript of his speech, which both moved and entertained those in attendance.

On the occasion of the inaugural QAGOMA Reconciliation Action Plan

My name is Tony Albert. I am Girramay, Kuku Yalandji and Yidinji.

I would like to pay my respects to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we gather, the Turrbal and Yuggera peoples.

Firstly, congratulations to QAGOMA on the launch of its first Reconciliation Action Plan!

This is such a spectacular and significant document, and not just because my work Moving the line is on the cover (although that is a very important factor!). I write this as an artist, but more importantly, as a person who believes philosophically in the power of art. Art has the ability to heal, to transcend culture, age and language. It educates us and changes the way we see the world.

View the 2022–24 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

Tony Albert, Girramay/Yidinyji/Kuku Yalanji peoples b.1981 / Moving the line 2018 / Vintage playing cards, coasters and matchboxes mounted on board / 163.5 x 134cm (comp., irreg.) / Commissioned 2018 with funds from the Future Collection through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tony Albert

When I was thinking about what this document meant for me, my response was layered. I had multiple feelings. I have a professional relationship with the Gallery, but underneath that lies a personal journey that takes me back 20 years.

I had finished high school and enrolled in the Bachelor of Visual Art at Griffith University, majoring in Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art — one of this country’s most important university degrees for First Nations peoples. It was during those foundational years of my education that the Gallery advertised a traineeship as part of the 2003 exhibition ‘Story Place: Indigenous Art of Cape York and the Rainforest’. As a north-Queensland boy, I jumped at the chance to work on an exhibition that, for the first time, significantly shone a light on the most unique artworks from far north Queensland.

The year-long traineeship ended, but that was not the end of my journey; I continued to work at the Gallery for another eight years, including, among other duties, as Indigenous Trainee Coordinator. It seemed symbolic to continue the tradition of engaging and introducing our community to opportunities within the arts across all its facets.

As an artist, I really value the time I spent within this institution and it was so interesting reading through its Reconciliation Action Plan. Daily, we (as Indigenous staff) have been working through all the issues it outlines. Like many of you, we were active participants in what is now written here. At that time, there was no book or document — it was living, breathing moments. There were no phrases like ‘cultural safety’, although it was articulated in multiple experiences.

Throughout this professional development and employment, I was also continuing my own artistic practice and journey, and came to a crossroads: I needed to decide whether to stay within the institution and art academia, or leave to pursue my own artistic endeavours. The decision to leave came with a heavy heart.

Installation view ‘Tony Albert: Visible’, 2 June – 7 Oct 2018 / Photograph: N Harth © QAGOMA
Installation view ‘Tony Albert: Visible’ featuring Tony Albert’s Headhunter 2007 / Purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors’ Group 2007 / Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney / © Tony Albert / Photograph: N Harth © QAGOMA

While my connection to the Gallery was unbroken, I never imagined that, ten years later, in 2018, I would be standing inside the Queensland Art Gallery at the opening of my first institutional solo exhibition, ‘Visible’. Bruce Johnson McLean (Wierdi people), who started at the Gallery in the same traineeship program just one year after me, was the curator.

While my brother is no longer here at the Gallery, many will know he is now Assistant Director, Indigenous Engagement, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. I believe this is the highest engagement of Indigenous employment at any state art institution in the country — another example of how incredible pathway programs, such as traineeships, are for First Nations peoples, and the successes that can come from such initiatives. For Bruce, as for me, life-changing.

So, on this notable occasion, I’d like to say the following:

Equality is the acceptance of difference;
for the end of inequality in society, we need to embrace what makes us different.

We are each unique and amazing;
the collective human experience is richer for the differences we bring.

We must choose our words carefully;
these are big ideas, and unfortunately, for a long time, institutions have got them wrong.

This is not surprising, given the complex nature of our colonial history and the position of Indigenous Australians within it.

What QAGOMA is recognising with this document is not what Indigenous peoples need to do to engage with an institution, but instead, what an institution needs to do to engage with the Indigenous community.

Through this ‘Innovate’ Reconciliation Action Plan, our new journey together begins. It is one of respect. The care and cultivation of this vast continent, enacted over many millennia, is based on Indigenous philosophy. With this philosophy embedded in the Gallery, we can dream of a greater future. Together.

Tony Albert is a contemporary Australian artist working in a wide range of mediums, his work engages with political, historical and cultural Aboriginal and Australian history.


‘Sorry’ 2008

13 February 2008 referenced in Sorry 2008 refers to then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who offered a formal Apology to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly separated from their families and communities. In the artwork, Tony Albert introduces us to a forest of faces, each represents a false identity made to fit a white society.

DELVE DEEPER: Sorry is just a word if it’s not backed up by real outcomes

Tony Albert, Girramay people, Australia b.1981 / Sorry 2008 / Found kitsch objects applied to vinyl letters / 99 objects: 200 x 510 x 10cm (installed) / The James C Sourris, AM, Collection. Purchased 2008 with funds from James C Sourris through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tony Albert

Read more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ArtKnow Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories or Australian Art highlights / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube

Reconciliation Action Plan
Reconciliation Australia defines an Innovate RAP as developing and strengthening relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, engaging staff and stakeholders in reconciliation, and developing and piloting innovative strategies to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

Tony Albert: Visible
‘Visible’ surveyed all aspects of Tony Albert’s practice — from object-based assemblages, to painting, photography, video and installation — providing a powerful response to the misrepresentation of Australia’s First Peoples in popular and collectible imagery. The title of the exhibition ‘Visible’, speaks to one of Albert’s often used quotes ‘Invisible is my favourite colour’, a response which framed the exhibition questioning representations of Aboriginal people through a mix of humour and poignancy, while tackling issues of race and representation head-on, and included Albert’s epic appropriations and re-appropriations of kitsch ‘Aboriginalia’.

Featured image detail: Tony Albert Moving the line 2018
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Mother, child & fashionable beach culture

 

It is easy to see why Emanuel Phillips Fox’s Bathing hour (L’heure du bain) c.1909 is one of the most popular paintings in the Gallery’s Australian Art Collection: sun sparkling on a golden beach; a pretty woman in a lovely dress tenderly drying a little girl; a tranquil blue sea; children bathing and making sandcastles; elegant ladies and one — rather diminished — gentleman in conversation by the shore; figures dangling their feet over the edge of a rowing boat. It’s like a dream of an endless golden childhood; a dream that is vividly real in our memories, so real that it can evoke the excited cries of the children, the soft whisper of the tiny waves on the shore.

It is tempting immediately to associate this work with one of the aspects of Australian culture that is assumed to be essential to life: the culture of the beach; the pleasures of the body bathed by the sun, absorbed by the water… It is, however, a painting of a French beach, and of a culture very different from our own.

E. Phillips Fox, Australia/France 1865-1915 / Bathing hour (L’heure du bain) c.1909 / Oil on canvas / 183.5 x 113.3cm / Purchased 1946 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Fox had been trained in the academic mode of representing the human figure, learned in an arduous process of drawing from plaster casts and then from the model; students had to master learning to draw before being allowed to paint, compose compositions and use colour.

Fox had, however, also been bitten early by pleinairism, the movement that insisted that pictures be painted outdoors before the ‘motif’. Pleinairism made painters infinitely conscious of the brilliance and changeability of light, and thus led many of them to Impressionism. In an interview in 1913, Fox expressed his sense both of the difference and of the necessary interrelationship between working in nature and in the studio:

In art everything must start from the springboard of nature … Not that I condemn painting in the studio. One must go to nature to learn, as before nature one is objective, a servant. But in the studio one paints to express oneself, and must be a master.1

Bathing hour (L’heure du bain) is one of two versions of the same painting made by Fox, the other version entitled The bathing hour 1909 (illustrated). Both versions are close to the same size and are equally finished, thus, it cannot be assumed that one was a study for the other.

However it has been noted that in the earlier version, Fox has been more spontaneous in his handling, and a dark shadow falls across the face of the woman in the foreground. This effect is eliminated in the Queensland Art Gallery version, allowing Fox to add the pleasing detail of the woman’s face which was probably painted entirely within his studio.

Bathing hour (L’heure du bain) (detail) c.1909
Left: The bathing hour (detail) 1909 / Oil on canvas / 180 x 112 cm / Collection: Castlemaine Art Museum / Right: Bathing hour (L’heure du bain) (detail) c.1909 / Oil on canvas / 183.5 x 113.3cm / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

It is possible that Fox felt the need to create a more formal work, and that to do so he needed to allow time for meditation in the studio where, as he said, one ‘must be a master’. He had hinted at such processes in a letter written in late summer of 1909:

I am still very much interested in plein air problems and have been working all this summer on studies for a couple of things I wish to paint in the winter… We have had  a wretched summer, no sunlight, most dissapointing [sic], especially when one has sunny motives [sic] on hand.2

Beach culture was, at this time, highly artificial, and particularly so in the fashionable resorts on the Channel coast where the work was conceived. Bathing was not yet a popular pastime and, as Fox’s paintings show, it was very much the sphere of the upper middle classes — those who could afford holidays, the elegant summer fashions, and the nannies to look after the children. Bathing hour is unusual in showing a fashionable mother tending to her child. At most, they might promenade with their elaborately dressed daughters, as one can see in the background. The beach was a place of display, more relaxed certainly than a city promenade, but nevertheless governed by the rituals of polite society — to which this woman and child evidently belonged.

One can only speculate on why Fox should have painted such a scene. The year before he began painting Bathing hour, he had spent six months in Australia, visiting his family, and delighting in the company of his young nieces and nephews. A photograph of a family picnic on Chelsea beach near Melbourne (illustrated) suggests that the memory of the ‘sunny south’ may have been an inspiration for visiting the resorts on the Channel coast. The photograph indicates forms of recreation more relaxed than the social rituals of the fashionable French resorts, but for all their informality his nieces are still dressed in long skirts.3

Artists Ethel Carrick Fox (far left) and Emanuel Phillips Fox (third from the left)

Paintings of the intimate relationship between mother and child had long been a favourite subject of the impressionists and in the Belle Epoque. Impressionist colour and loose brushwork were appropriated by more formal styles to depict the well-dressed, well-behaved children of the upper classes.

Fox’s Bathing hour suggests a tension between the child’s naked body and the elaborate gowns and parasols of the ladies on the beach. The clothed children represent an intermediate stage of socialisation. Even the loose dress worn by the mother — and perhaps influenced by the ‘natural dress’ campaign of late nineteenth-century Aestheticism — depended on corsets for its long fluid line. One could then interpret Bathing hour as a discourse on the relationship between the natural and the artificial.

Fox obviously presents the beach as a place of pure enjoyment in which one can experience the delights of water and sunlight, of lovely clothes, of the joys of childhood. However, the demise of this elegant, leisured world was imminent with the horrors of the First World War which broke out within five years.

Edited extract from ‘Nature and Artifice: Emanuel Phillips Fox Bathing hour‘ from Lynne Seear and Julie Ewington (eds). Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850-1965, Queensland Art Gallery, 1998.
Virginia Spate was Power Professor and Director of the Power Institute of Fine Art at the University of Sydney

Endnotes
1 ‘Victorian painter returns. Impressionism and “Post”‘, Argus, Melbourne, 21 May 1913, reproduced in Ruth Zubans, E. Phillips Fox: His Life and Art, Miegunyah Press, Carlton (Vic.), 1995, p 183. Most of my factual material on Fox derives from this comprehensive study.
2 E. Phillips Fox, letter to Norman Carter, 10 September 1909, reproduced In Zubans, p.181.
3 This photograph is reproduced in Zubans, p.135.

Delve deeper into the Collection

Newlyweds Ethel Carrick (1872–1952) and E. Phillips Fox (1865-1915) began their married life together in 1905 during the Parisian Belle Epoque. Fox an expatriate from Melbourne, Australia and Carrick from Middlesex, England. Both Carrick and Fox however established their artistic careers before they met.

As with On the beach c.1909, painted the same year as Fox’s Bathing hour (L’heure du bain), Carrick’s figures are almost never static — the fleeting effects of individuals in motion are the focus even when promenading on the beach with swift brushstrokes suggesting precisely the flowing lines of fabric. Rapidity of execution did not preclude Carrick from capturing important details such a dress styles and hat trimmings.

Ethel Carrick Fox, England/France/Australia 1872–1952 / On the beach c.1909 / Oil on canvas / 36 x 42cm / Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2011 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

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On display in the Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Galleries, Australian Art Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery.
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The ACE Project: Returning home

 

Edith Amituanai’s captivating ‘L’a’u Pele Moana (My darling Moana)’ 2021 was one of the first artworks to be installed as part of ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10). Its imprint on me was immediate. Waves of sentimentality washed over me as I indulged in the slices of life captured by Edith on the gallery walls. Care-free brown skinned kids. Palm trees swaying in the breeze. Rich reverberating harmonies. The city that birthed me. The familiar blue of our ocean. My darling ocean. I didn’t have to read the didactic to feel the sense of longing for what was left behind. Long after leaving Edith’s poignant oeuvre, these familial elements left a lasting impression on me as a South Auckland born, Brisbane raised, Sāmoan woman.

I had the honour of recounting this experience to Edith herself who confirmed that I was exactly the target audience she had in mind when creating the work. ‘I thought about you and all of the people that have crossed the ocean in pursuit of new opportunities. It was like sending you a postcard. We can’t see you but we’re thinking of you,’ she said to me over Zoom from her home in Aotearoa. Edith’s obsession with the way people are shaped by their environment invites us to ponder, ‘how does the land you grew up on, the kind of grass or dirt that carried you — how does it shape your values, your culture, or even the very essence of what makes you, you?

Installation view of Edith Amituanai’s La’u Pele Moana (My Darling Moana) series during ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10)

Edith Amituanai, New Zealand b.1980 / View from Matavai resort, Niue (from ‘L’a’u Pele Moana (My darling Moana)’ series) 2020 / Eco inks on 100% natural silk / 80 x 110cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art / © Edith Amituanai

Edith Amituanai, New Zealand b.1980 / The Quarry (from ‘L’a’u Pele Moana (My darling Moana)’ series) 2020 / Archival pigment print on giclée paper / 100 x 120cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from the Bequest of Jennifer Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art / © Edith Amituanai

After moving from Aotearoa to Australia, I pivoted between being too brown for the white people and being too white for the brown people. Long before discovering the word ‘diaspora’, I spent many a day wrestling with the tension of finding home away from home and searching for a sense of belonging in a foreign place. I sought out any and every opportunity to validate my cultural ties to Sāmoa through dance, song, dress, food, art and community. While these cultural expressions no longer define me in and of themselves, their influence was significant in my geographical transition and served as conduits connecting me back home.

Learning that these sentiments were shared by many others, as highlighted during the Pasifika Young Peoples Wellbeing Network activation for the ACE Project, was reassuring to me for many reasons. Edith’s work became a catalyst for rich conversations as fellow members of the Pasifika diaspora explored how her use of powerful imagery connected them to their heritage, prompting reflections on the intergenerational journey of Pasifika people over time. The paradoxical notion of the moana evoking sentiments of both longing and aspiration moved them to dream of future possibilities for our people, as descendants of fearless voyagers.

Growing up in Australia, the land of milk and honey was not wasted on me. But what is milk and honey if my soul remains malnourished? Western ideals of milk and honey focus on health, wealth and prosperity, often accompanied with a dollar sign. Pasifika ideals of milk and honey are associated with and are found in connection to community. The collective. The village. Aiga. The benefits of living in the ‘land of milk and honey’ are undeniable from the perspective of accumulative wealth and status. But do these elements provide such sustenance for the soul, in the way milk and honey was revered and coveted in the times of Moses? I explore the concept of what truly nourishes us and offer my story as a postcard sent to those who left and those who stayed behind.


three years young
left the long white cloud
for golden sunburnt plains
knees grazed by afternoons spent
bike riding on gravel roads well-travelled
by the tamaiti of tāmaki makaurau
arms adorned with temporary tattoos
thanks to bubblegum snuck in during dairy trips for frujus
sour faced at auckland airport
in the brown puletasi nana made just for me
fluent in sāmoan and being a bots
with all that practice
I’ve only retained fluency in one
and it’s not on the didactic

uprooted
to grow on land not my own
but how can I
an ocean away from my abode
when the resources to nourish are out of reach
the milk and honey
are a different brand
the niu tastes like plastic
less sweetness less fatness
back in grandma’s day
you’re warm regardless of what the weatherman says
here they burn

stuck in a perpetual state of other
my mother tongue twisted
name became unpronounceable

lunchbox unpalatable
flavour must be foreign here

I take my lemons and make raro
teach myself to dance
through the in between
teach them how
to say my name
include all the apostrophes
navigating new spaces
I seek out brown faces
different versions of me
sweet harmonies in threes
the hums of a nylon string
hyena laughs, slapping arms and jokes that sting
touchstones tethering myself to home

embracing the warmth
pohutukawa trees turned to eucalyptus leaves
coconut oil to mozzie coils

thick mink floral blankets
kookaburra wake up calls
I bask in the sunshine whilst longing for the sails
pining in the midst of plenty

the graveside cul de sac
esoteric nicknames
revolving door house
more mattresses than floor
repositories of used to be’s
counting down the days
I can lay the bouquet of flowers picked while away

adopted lands made me who I am
grown but still growing
a daughter of the moana
she separates and connects us
when I go beyond the reef
in the name of opportunity
I bring my village with me
e lele le toloa i fea ae ma’au lava i le vai
no matter where the bird flies
it will always return to the water
its home


At the start of 2022, I moved out of home again to a new city in the name of opportunity, this time on my own. I think of my forebears who traversed uncharted waters with no map to guide them. All they had was where they came from and an assured confidence in who they were. I think I owe it to them to build upon their boldness, on their sacrifice, to strive to go further. I’ve learned that the further forward we advance, the more grounded we need to be, and as the unfamiliar becomes the familiar, we become the ancestors on which our descendants will build their scaffolds as they reach further and higher than we could ever have dreamed. Returning home does not always require a flight; sometimes it’s a conversation, a meal, a song, or maybe even an afternoon spent at the gallery. Where milk and honey is not easily accessible, we can fashion the tools to collect and mould them in our own way. Just like our ancestors did.

Osanna Fa’ata’ape is a South Auckland–born Samoan woman, whose lineage stretches to the villages of Sale’aula, Vaie’e and Iva. Fa’ata’ape was raised in Meanjin (Brisbane), Queensland, and is now based on Ngunnawal Country, Australian Capital Territory.

This is the third in a series of blogs on the ACAPA Community Engagement Project.

Read about Asia Pacific artists / Know Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories or Australian Art highlights / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube

The Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA) is the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s Asian and Pacific research and publishing arm.

‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) is at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.

The ACE Project, coordinated by Ruha Fifita (Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, QAGOMA), invited members of the Queensland Pasifika community to contribute to activations and projects within APT10. This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Office for the Arts.

Featured image detail: Edith Amituanai View from Matavai resort, Niue (from ‘L’a’u Pele Moana (My darling Moana)’ series) 2020

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Unlocking the collection: Project digitise

 

As part of QAGOMA’s Collection Online project, the Gallery joins forces with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) for a new Digital Residency, writes Tonya Turner, that will reveal how digital experiences can best engage virtual and on-the-ground visitors.

The residency will break new ground in understanding how visitors engage with art and digital interactives across gallery spaces. Undertaken by QUT’s Associate Professor of Digital Pedagogies, Dr Kate Thompson, the residency also provides a detailed review of existing research into how people use and learn from digital museum experiences.

According to Thompson, there is much work to be done in the field. ‘Digital interactions are a powerful way to immerse visitors in an experience that can extend the art in a lot of different ways — there just isn’t a lot of research on it’, she says. Thompson’s planned outcome of the residency is a set of design principles, ‘so if you’d like your exhibit to have a particular impact, you’ll have guidance’.

RELATED: European masterpieces digitally enhanced

The Collection Online team prepares for installation of an artwork during the QAGOMA Foundation Digital Appeal / Photograph: Lee Wilkes © QAGOMA

This residency will measure engagement on a custom-built, small-scale virtual tour (created by QAGOMA’s Digital Transformation Manager, Morgan Strong), in which Gallery visitors are invited to partake via their smartphones or other personal devices. The project will start with a handful of interactives, expanding to include more works and tour points as the Gallery digitises more of its Collection; and test how engaging in-person visitors find various digital features, including high‑resolution imagery, map-based explorations, image sliders, essays and other digital content.

Among the works on the virtual tour is one of the Gallery’s most popular paintings, Under the jacaranda 1903 by R Godfrey Rivers. Visitors can go deeper into the world of the painting via an image slider and essay. ‘It will be fascinating to see what type of detail people are interested in’, says Thompson, whose team will determine which digital features have visitors hooked. ‘We’ll be able to collect information about what they’re clicking on’, she says.

Esteemed Pintupi/Ngaatjatjarra artist Doreen Reid Nakamarra’s Untitled (Marrapinti) 2008 is also part of the tour. This painting is ‘normally displayed flat on a table in the Gallery’, says Thompson, ‘so the high-resolution digitisation allows visitors to pinch and zoom to see the detail in the work’.

RELATED: ‘Under the jacaranda’ image slider

DELVE DEEPER: The art of R Godfrey Rivers

R. Godfrey Rivers, England/Australia 1858-1925 / Under the jacaranda 1903 / Oil on canvas / Purchased 1903 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
R. Godfrey Rivers, England/Australia 1858-1925 / Under the jacaranda 1903 / Oil on canvas / 143.4 x 107.2 cm / Purchased 1903 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Pintupi/Ngaatjatjarra people, Australia b.c.1955-2009 / Untitled (Marrapinti) 2008 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 213 x 275cm / Acc. 2009.021 / Purchased 2009 with funds from the Bequest of Grace Davies and Nell Davies through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Doreen Reid Nakamarra

In the international art collection, an interactive map will take visitors on a whirlwind tour of the world. Pinpointing the origins of works by Camille Pissarro, Spencer Gore, John Russell, Edgar Degas, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, the map connects art-lovers to places ‘that can be difficult to imagine from so far away’, says Morgan Strong, allowing ‘more of an appreciation of [a work’s] context and how it was created’. In this way, a visitor can zoom in on Degas’s Trois danseuses a la classe de danse (Three dancers at a dance class) c.1888–90, then take a virtual trip to Paris to map out his artistic neighbours and contemporaries.

RELATED: Zoom in on ‘Three dancers at a dance class’

DELVE DEEPER: The art of Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, France 1834–1917 / Trois danseuses a la classe de danse (Three dancers at a dance class) c.1888-90 / Oil on cardboard / 50.5 x 60.6cm / Purchased 1959 with funds donated by Major Harold de Vahl Rubin / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

The Digital Residency forms part of QAGOMA’s Collection Online digitisation project, which aims to make the Gallery’s entire Collection accessible virtually through photography, 3D imaging, timelapse records of installation and more. Collection Online is the largest component of the QAGOMA Digital Transformation Initiative, a wide-reaching program moving the Gallery towards a digitally integrated future.

Tonya Turner is a freelance writer. She spoke to Morgan Strong and Dr Kate Thompson in November 2021.

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QAGOMA Foundation
You can help make our Collection accessible alongside inspiring and thought-provoking digital resources by donating online or contacting Dominique Jones, Philanthropy Manager on (07) 3840 7246.

QAGOMA Business Development and Partnerships
For details on our Corporate Partnership initiatives, please contact the Gallery’s Head of Business Development and Partnerships, Kylie Lonergan, on (07) 3840 7641 or email kylie.lonergan@qagoma.qld.gov.au.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

Featured image: A visitor using QAGOMA’s interactive digital experience to dive deeper into the story of Judy Watson’s tow row 2016 / Photograph: Chloë Callistemon © QAGOMA

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The ACE Project: Healing the Spirit of Collections

 

“And this is what we call, area five… the Pacific Art collection”, the heavy metal doors open sending out a cool breeze. Stepping inside I remember the words of my Mum and Aunties, don’t forget to call yourself back, you don’t want to be lost in there… a warning that our soul and spirit are deeply connected to objects, and we don’t want them to hide among these shelves once they leave our bodies. I whisper my name and intentions for being in this room so as not to disturb the deep slumbers of these works. Here they sit, safely tucked away, some still holding a warm glow of objects recently embraced and exhibited.

There was something unsettling about being in that room and I’ve spent time asking my elders why I once held this feeling, that despite the undeniable beauty of these works, being in that room brought its own uneasy feeling. Maybe historically and in other institutions words and sentiments like this would best sum up the experience of being a person whose community have often been exoticised and become subjects of study, standing in a room holding some of the ‘treasures’ and ‘trophies’ of an anthropologist’s voyage.

ACE Tour of APT10 by Moale James

I have spent some time reflecting, asking questions, and engaging in conversations with others about how we all can feel the spirit of objects deeply in our soul; that their mana can be inherited and transmitted. Sometimes I ask these people if they also notice the warm hue that surrounds a work recently exhibited and in contrast, the darkness and shade of a work that has not been touched by familiar hands or heard the rhythm of their first language over a long period of time.

I don’t mean to tell you these sentiments to encourage anarchy or the storming down of storage facilities and institutions that exist across the globe. I share these confronting sentiments with you to remind you that communities must be engaged with these institutions and their collections at every level — not just in public engagement, but in the conservation, installation, and curatorial process. Recently, I have witnessed the way community, QAGOMA staff and other institutions foster and enrich the spirit of collections and I hope my accounts will provide peace of mind for colonised communities; that these stories will encourage other institutions that may have gatekeepers to stand away from the door and create space for us to engage with the objects in their collections that hold our living stories and histories.

Area 5

In my first week of work at QAGOMA I was shown works that were connected to my background as a Motuan woman and as a Papuan-diaspora. I was able to view a group of Motuan pots and during the production of ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) work closely on Bubu Mary Gole’s installation of clay pottery and figurines.

Maybe for most audiences, they only see these works as pots. But for myself, they triggered memories of time spent in my village. The taste of vegetables cooked in coconut cream with the tang of banana leaves. The smell of a burning fire, mixed with sea breeze. The sound of children playing by the shoreline, laughing as they tease each other. These memories are held in a collection storage facility, preserved and under wraps. Sometimes it does feel sad to think of them in this way, but there is a part of me grateful that they are always within reach, a place where I can trigger these memories.

Joyce Mary Arasepa Gole’s (Mary Gole) work on display during APT10

Mary Gole’s Daughter viewing the display at GOMA during APT10

On the opening night of APT10 as I was leaving the event, my mother grabbed my arm and said, “You need to come quickly. Mary Gole’s daughter is here, and she saw the display”.

These moments as I have learned can be very anxiety inducing, for a few reasons. Obviously, you want not only the artist, but their respective communities to be proud of the work you have done to display, essentially, pieces of their identity and spirit for public viewing. You also are constantly asking yourself the question, “Are the written labels and didactics accurate?”; “Is this display conscious of cultural protocols?”; “Is the complete vision of the artist/s (or in this case, family of) complete and realised in the final display?

As I walked up to Korina the first thing she said to me was, “Mum would be so proud”,

A rush of relief and pure joy at these words. We had done it. But I must insist the only reason this could have been done was because of the ongoing relationship building by Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art, QAGOMA. I have watched McDougall communicate with all the artists and communities she works with throughout the planning of APT10. These relationships (and I must insist that is what they are called), not just a ‘transactional’ process of commissioning an artwork, for display; but exploring and developing artist visions and stories.

Now as I walk past these pots on display in APT10, it almost seems like a warm hue embraces them, like some of the other work in the collection storage room, shining from the shallowly lit corner of area five.
Maybe it is safe to assume that objects can also be re-awoken when their people lay eyes upon them and speak their language?

Transformative Experiences

Recently, Ruha Fifita, Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, QAGOMA and I welcomed the Pasifika Women’s Alliance to QAGOMA as an initial step in their ACE activation space. Elders and youth from six language groups walked around the exhibition to learn about specific projects, one being Air Canoe. A mother and daughter belonging to the Chuukese people of Micronesia saw the colourful array of urohs displayed along the wall in the Gallery, the mother’s excitement quite literally brought her to dance in front of the display. Songs that this family had sung since they were children echoing the walls and into the hall. Staff and public flooded toward the singing, an impromptu performance and display of joy. Again, the urohs despite their colourful display seemed to have brightened up, this familiar warm glow reflecting across the room.

The Air Canoe project during APT10

Viewing Air Canoe at APT10

The Air Canoe project during APT10

When we make a conscious effort to engage the community with their objects not just in storage but when on display it can bring forward these ‘transformative’ experiences; they can be beautiful, they can make people cry (and in-fact, the daughter on her first visit after she saw the labels in language did come to tears); it can whisk people’s memories back to islands that they often do not get to visit.

Sleeping Objects

For those that may be feeling unsettled, as someone who has had these observations and worked in this space, I want you to know that there are institutions and staff conscious of the need for this work, and there is not only a national, but global push for our communities to be present in this space. I want to commend our neighbours, the Queensland Museum in their most recent exhibition, Zenadeth Kes, for the display of the following didactic:

When an object is created, it involves the practices and teachings of the Old Ways and becomes imbued with the maker’s stories. It is difficult for objects to keep their connection to the Old Ways when they are held in museums all around the world. Under these conditions, the objects are, in effect, sleeping.

As I walked through this exhibition the warm hue, I often see at QAGOMA also exists here in the Queensland Museum. Here this didactic called out to the display, waking up these displayed objects, calling their spirits back into reality and before me the stories and memories of individuals and families – people I could connect with, even if only on a small level.

There are people enriching the spirit of the collections and this is becoming a part of working practice. Maybe in your next travels to these institutions you will recognise that warm glow attached to an object and know that the work is being done. Or maybe you might see that glow is missing and you will encourage us to find the right people to awaken those objects from their slumber.

Today, as I leave collection storage facilities, I no longer whisper my name or my language, I call out to the spirits of our objects. And as I close the door behind me a warm glow seems to grow and bounce across different shelves and corners of the room.

Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art (far left) and Ruha Fifita, Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art (far right) with the Pasifika Climate Awareness Group viewing new collection works as part of their involvement in the APT10 ACE project

Moale James is a Darwin-born, Papua New Guinean woman, with family ties to Central Province and the Motuan people. James belongs to Gaba Gaba — an eastern coastal village in PNG — and currently lives in Kallindarbin (Ashgrove) on Turrbal Countryin Meanjin (Brisbane).

This is the second in a series of blogs on the ACAPA Community Engagement Project.

Read about Asia Pacific artists / Know Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories or Australian Art highlights / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube

The Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA) is the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s Asian and Pacific research and publishing arm.

‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) is at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.

The ACE Project, coordinated by Ruha Fifita (Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, QAGOMA), invited members of the Queensland Pasifika community to contribute to activations and projects within APT10. This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Office for the Arts.

Featured image: Joyce Mary Arasepa Gole (Mary Gole) display during APT10

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The ACE Project: Making space/s

 

For artists and arts workers, meaningful community engagement requires a long-term commitment to learning, write ACE Project team members Moale James and Osanna Fa’ata’ape, who here explore the ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10) project’s aims through a reflective case study and poem.

Guests taking part in a kava ceremony at the APT10 Artist Welcome and Cultural Warming, GOMA, December 2021 / Photograph: J. Ruckli © QAGOMA

For the Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA)1 Pasifika Community Engagement (ACE) Project, I wear multiple hats. I worked on Salote Tawale’s APT10 project — installed as No Location 2021 at GOMA — as an ACE catalyst and a site-build assistant (although the team jokingly called me ‘the foreman’). Initially, the project was a self-portrait of Salote’s experiences as a Fijian–Australian diaspora woman. I would argue that her bilibili reflects the histories and stories of the wider diaspora community. The warehouse was more than just a build-site; it became a place of cultural safety for all participants, Pacific Islander or not. This was a place of teaching and learning, a place where one’s first language was prioritised, and a place where all senses — sight, sound, smell, taste, touch — differentiated from Western norms.

Salote Tawale, Fiji/Australia b.1976 / No Location 2021 / Bamboo, nylon rope, cotton, polycarbonate sheeting, tarpaulin and found objects / 300 x 240 x 1350cm (approx.) / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT10). Purchased 2021 with funds from the Jennifer Taylor Bequest through the Queensland Art Gallery l Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Salote Tawale / Photograph: N. Harth © QAGOMA / This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments. Salote Tawale is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Sydney.

Members of Brisbane’s Fijian community visiting Salote Tawale’s APT10 bilibili during the construction of
No Location 2021, September 2021 / Photograph: L. Wilkes © QAGOMA

Artists Salote Tawale and Brian Fuata setting sail in Tawale’s bilibili, installed as No Location 2021 for APT10, GOMA, November 2021 / Photograph: C. Callistemon © QAGOMA

The warehouse holds multiple trolleys of bamboo stretching 20 metres in length down the room. Salote’s request sings through my ears: ‘Bless the space for me’. I run my hands along the bamboo and announce my presence, reassuring the stems that although I am not the artist, they are in safe and capable hands. There were anxieties from all parties, not having Salote onsite for the build (due to COVID-19 travel restrictions). I was concerned her vision wouldn’t be fully formed, so I asked Salote how she would want the room to feel if she was there. What music should I play in the background? What food did she want participants to be fed? What tools should we use? These questions framed the spirit of our relationship — not as a transactional exchange of services, but with an honest desire to support her vision in its entirety.

This is the learning process at the heart of the ACE Project: to create spaces that design and deliver diverse experiences of engagement, and to reflect and document that process in ways that contribute to an expanded vision of how art institutions can truly engage communities. I can think of moments in working on No Location where the fruits of our intentions really came into bloom, involving — would you believe it? — a machete. Salote’s request for this tool to clean the bamboo required various department signatures. But the instant we handed these machetes — tools community participants like Suliasi Talakai Naulivou and Jonah Kalousese Waqa had been using since childhood — to our team was the moment the Gallery, as an institution, started relinquishing power. I later found out a master bilibili builder, Sevu Nasaunidoko, was called upon by Suliasi to make sure the installation was not only crafted the way it historically would have been, but also that it would indeed float.

I once heard Ruha Fifita, QAGOMA’s Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, and ACE Project Coordinator, say, ‘Perhaps an artwork isn’t fully completed until it is viewed by an audience’.2 At our Brisbane–Fijian community viewing, I saw faces light up with a sense of pride that a large-scale installation representing their communities existed in an institution like QAGOMA. I watched children from the Fijian community run up to the installation, hearing their Elders tell stories about how these boats were used ‘back home’; No Location brought memories back to life.

Mele Ngauamo, Ruha Fifita and Siale Molitika at the official opening of APT10, GOMA, December 2021 / Photograph: J. Ruckli © QAGOMA

Seleka International Art Society Initiative / Hifo ki ‘Olunga 2021 / Synthetic polymer paint, recycled fabrics, barkcloth, wood, coconut shells, dried pandanus, mixed media / Commissioned for ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) / Purchased 2021 with funds from Tim Fairfax AC through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The Artists / Photograph: K Bennett © QAGOMA

The ACE Project asks, ‘How do we meaningfully engage community within the institution’? No Location is a perfect case study: through conversations with communities and their artists, we allow opportunities for the institutional way of doing things to adapt. And we allow our practice to evolve — as histories and ways of living, being and belonging are, too, ever-changing. There is beauty and power in embracing language, food, music and community as tools for change.

Moale James is a Darwin-born, Papua New Guinean woman, with family ties to Central Province and the Motuan people. James belongs to Gaba Gaba — an eastern coastal village in PNG — and currently lives in Kallindarbin (Ashgrove) on Turrbal Countryin Meanjin (Brisbane).

Endnotes
1 The Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA) is the research arm of QAGOMA’s Asian and Pacific activities.
2 Ruha Fifita, in conversation with participants at the ‘Pasifika Young Peoples Wellbeing Network’s ACE Activation: Creative Pasifika 2021’, GOMA, November 2021.


teu le vā

a basket of possibility
woven by institution and community
resourceful and abundant
convention meets curiosity
method meets malleability
framework meets fluidity

the deeper the roots
the sweeter the fruits
anchored in connection
cultivated through talanoa
nourished by deep reflection
strengthened through fa’asoa
venturing into unknown produces
fertile ground for seeds to be sown

away from home
in the land of milk and honey
our niu tastes different
expression evolving as we change
whilst our values remain the same
like our ancestors we traverse vast waters
adapting to the rhythm of the shifting tides
drawing upon our ways of being
moving, tasting, hearing, feeling
our mother tongue keeping alive
the ties to home

as we mark our tapa
as we build our waka
as we sing our waiata
as we feed our manava
as we speak our gagana
we honour our whakapapa
we cultivate mana
we teu le vā
drawing upon our abilities
we reshape the possibilities
nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou
ka ora ai te iwi

people of the most biodiverse sea
hues of colours not found on the wheel
our oceans ebb and flow
washing up treasure and pearls
reflect on how the light hits
how the flavours enrich
an oeuvre of possibility observed
for the cycle to begin again

Osanna Fa’ata’ape is a South Auckland–born Samoan woman, whose lineage stretches to the villages of Sale’aula, Vaie’e and Iva. Fa’ata’ape was raised in Meanjin (Brisbane), Queensland, and is now based on Ngunnawal Country, Australian Capital Territory.

This article was originally published in the QAGOMA Members’ magazine, Artlines, no.1, 2022

This is the first in a series of blogs on the ACAPA Community Engagement Project.

Read about Asia Pacific artists / Know Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories / Read about Australian Art / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

The Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art (ACAPA) is the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s Asian and Pacific research and publishing arm.

‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10) is at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) and Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.

The ACE Project, coordinated by Ruha Fifita (Curatorial Assistant, Pacific Art, QAGOMA), invited members of the Queensland Pasifika community to contribute to activations and projects within APT10. This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Office for the Arts.

Featured image: Members of the Brisbane Tongan Community weaving coconut fronds to build fale walls for Seleka International Art Society Initiative’s APT10 project, September 2021 / Photograph: K. Bennett © QAGOMA

#QAGOMA