KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: From the inner city to the remotest part of the nation, Australia’s contemporary Aboriginal art movement is on the move.

A new exhibition in Sydney is showcasing its richness and diversity.

Curated by Hetti Perkins, the daughter of the late activist Charlie Perkins, the exhibition aims to engage mainstream Australia with Indigenous cultural heritage.

The artists behind the works will also feature in a new ABC documentary filmed by Samson and Delilah director Warwick Thornton.

Conor Duffy reports.

(Didgeridoo plays)

HERRY PERKINS, CURATOR: The wonderful thing is the diversity. You know, some artists are making very contemporary interpretations of stories that are, you know, a millenia old. You know, it’s the ancestors stories.

CONOR DUFFY, REPORTER: Deep in the New South Wales Art Gallery is one of the biggest and most varied collection of Aboriginal works ever assembled.

Paintings and sculptures from north and south, east and west, city and country are all on show, painstakingly put together by Curator Hetti Perkins.

HETTI PERKINS: Well, it was quite big. It was a pretty exponential learning curve for me. But it’s something that really came out of the express wishes of artists – in travelling around and having these wonderful privileges to visit people in their communities, whether they be in a studio in inner city Brisbane or out in a remote area outstation.

(Excerpt from documentary Art & Soul)

HETTY PERKINS: Many of our artists live lives as young men and women completely separated from the rest of Australia…

(End of excerpt)

CONOR DUFFY: This exhibition came out of a new ABC documentary written by Hetti Perkins and filmed by the director of the award winning movie Samson and Delilah.

WARWICK THORNTON, DIRECTOR: Hetty, you know, to give her absolute respect, has this incredible knowledge about art and artists. And it’s interesting because the nuts and bolts of film making is taking a back seat to her knowledge.

CONOR DUFFY: Hetti Perkins is the daughter of the late indigenous activist Charlie Perkins, who was the first aboriginal university graduate.

Charlie Perkins helped lead a famous freedom ride through regional New South Wales in 1965.

That ride saw bans lifted on Aborigines using local swimming pools and RSLs and Hetti Perkins wants to continue her father’s advocacy.

HETTI PERKINS: But I think one of the things that he- that he told me and my siblings was that if you get a chance to speak for your people, you do it.

(Excerpt from documentary Art & Soul)

HETTY PERKINS: But it wasn’t always like this. Following a time of great drought…

(End of excerpt)

CONOR DUFFY: One of the key themes in the documentary is the connection of Aboriginal people to their home country.

In particular it explores the forced relocation of Aborigines living in the Western Desert in the northern territory.

(Excerpt from documentary Art & Soul)

HETTY PERKINS: ..into white society. And all too quickly, they became refugees.

For many years they were in fact exiled from their home, you know, living in Pupunya, this Government sort of assimilationist outpost. And the way that- For them art became a way of maintaining that connection to their country hundreds of kilometres to the west.

CONOR DUFFY: City artists are also feature, including Richard Bell from Brisbane, a self proclaimed trouble maker.

RICHARD BELL, ARTIST: Name the last art movement started by curators.

HETTY PERKINS: Well, you see you wouldn’t know because we’re such shy, unassuming people that, unlike some artists, we don’t put ourselves forward, Richard.

RICHARD BELL: Oh, really? Really?

HETTY PERKINS: We just stay quietly in the background.

CONOR DUFFY: Richard Bell has been painting works since a chance encounter with another artist in the 1980s.

RICHARD BELL: I was making tourist art at the time. He said ˜Why don’t you get into fine art?’

I said ˜What are you talking about look at these fine lines here muthaf**ker’.

(Laughs) And of course he laughed. And he said ˜No I mean fine art’. And he said ‘You know, like high art’.

I said ˜Well, what do you mean by that?’ and he said ˜Stuff in the galleries and that’.

And I said ‘Oh… oh yeah. Turn it up’.

CONOR DUFFY: Despite that he’s been producing feisty displays that blend the political and the traditional ever since.

He hopes the exhibition will generate attention and interest in aboriginal art which he believes is often neglected.

RICHARD BELL: Well, I just hope the artists and the art work don’t just become relics, you know, like of the longest surviving civilisation this planet’s known. And I would’ve thought that that’s something really, really valuable

CONOR DUFFY: Hetti Perkins is more optimistic about the future and is impressed by the new wave of Aboriginal artists making their name across the country.

HETTY PERKINS: It’s looking pretty good for the future. You know, the children, the younger artists that are coming through, it’s all very exciting. And it’s really- I feel very fortunate to have been part of this particular era of Indigenous art. And I think it bodes really well for my children and their children – and that this wonderful tradition will continue.

KERRY O’BRIEN: And you can see the documentary Art & Soul on ABC1 on October 7.

Conor Duffy reporting there.



Category: Media ,


Gallery: Art Gallery of NSW ,