Our family relationships shape who we are and who we will become. Through photography, painting, wearable art, sculpture and installation, the young artists of ‘Creative Generation 2022’ consider the influences of family on their identity in contemporary society.
‘The natural instinct when we are growing up is to shy away from family traditions’, reflects Creative Generation artist Marley Russell — ‘to forge our own paths in the world as individuals’. Mixed-media work Interconnected 2021 (illustrated) features a portrait of her grandmother and mother, as well as a self-portrait and collaged family photos, inspired by her research into genetic memory. She concludes that, inevitably, ‘some elements from our family stay with us in the pursuit of identity’. In Caged Bird 2021 (illustrated), Ezra Singh uses his father as the subject to explore feelings of being trapped. For Singh, the photograph represents his relationship with his father, the double portrait symbolising ‘the duality of his support for me but the expectations that trail with it’.
Other artists use their family stories to define themselves. Jahla Harvey’s video Sailing the Wind 2021 projects photographs of her family onto a boat, representing memories of trips home to Waiben (Thursday Island). ‘Sustaining the stories of the past is very important to me’, says Harvey. ‘It helps me stay connected to where I come from.’ The importance of connecting to family through story is also emphasised in Jaeve Proberts’s work, Apii Warukara; Kalkadoon language meaning Songlines 2021. The piece was inspired by time Proberts spent sharing stories with her aunty, an experience that highlighted the disconnection she felt with the past, but also the reconnection her family were working for in the present. Aiyana Matenga’s series of photographs titled ‘Who are you?’ 2021 explores the separation she feels from her Indigenous heritage, using empty picture frames to symbolise the impact of the Stolen Generations on her family’s identity and connection to culture. Although facing challenges in uncovering her family’s story, the artist reflects: ‘we can never really forget who we are’.
The influence of family can also be found in the smaller, quieter moments within works. Bridget Kent’s toothsome installation Sweet times ahead 2021 embodies the artist’s aspirations to become a pastry chef. Incorporated into Kent’s sugar-cookie sculptures are the signature decorative patterns of porcelain plates — a reference to the artist’s grandmother, from whom she inherited a love of baking. Similarly, in Settler 2021 (illustrated), Charlotte Peachey uses the crochet skills learnt from her grandmother to recreate heirloom items of clothing, passed down through generations, and to reflect on traditions preserved and lost. Instead of using cotton or wool, her garments are constructed from raffia ‘to create a metaphor of how practices, family and culture are closely intertwined’. Peachey explains that the work ‘touches on the complexities of my European past with the Indigenous land that my family and I occupy’.
Family and identity are enduring themes in each year’s iteration of ‘Creative Generation’. However, this selection of works represents a deeper consideration of the meaning of family. From interpersonal relationships to the importance of intergenerational story, to the sharing of knowledge and traditions, these young artists reflect on how family shapes our identity and our understanding of the world around us.
Rebecca Smith is Program Officer, Education and Curriculum Programs, QAGOMA
This article was originally published in the QAGOMA Members’ magazine, Artlines, no.1, 2022
‘Creative Generation 2022’ is at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 May until 21 August 2022.
The Creative Generation Excellence Awards in Visual Art is an initiative of the Queensland Department of Education, supported by QAGOMA and QSuper.