Irony of ironies! The delightful new documentary film, ‘Alick & Albert’, about the remarkably incongruous links made between Torres Strait artist maestro Alick Tipoti and His Serene Highness, Prince Albert of Monaco was made by a company called Freshwater Pictures. Tipoti, of course, can be nothing but a saltwater man, living as he does with his family on that “tiny dot in the Western Pacific Ocean” called Badu Island.
But the result doesn’t suffer from this discrepancy. And nor does the importance of the linkage between a prince who genuinely cares about the conditions of the world’s oceans and the artistic Torresian islander who can plainly see all around him the essential nexus between crayfishing and conservation. Both have been caring for generations – Albert’s great great grandfather built Monaco’s imposing, cliff-face Oceanographic Museum. And Tipoti’s forebears had to learn all about tides, sea-levels, weather and the stars that inform the seasons in order to survive on their dot.
How did the imposing Tipoti and the plump prince ever get together? Well, promoters of TSI art such as Michael and Di Kershaw, Suzanne O’Connell and Stephane Jacob in Paris saw an obvious link between maritime concerns of TS Islanders with their mighty prints of sea stories by Alick Tipoti, Dennis Nona, Laurie Nona, etc and the developing art of repurposing Ghost Nets, and Monaco’s museum. A big show came about there in 2016. The roof of the museum became a gigantic canvas for an expanded Tipoti lino-cut. And, in polite conversation, the hospitable artist casually invited the Prince to his dot if ever he happened to be that way.
Well, Albert wasn’t intending to be that way, but, as the film puts it, “bent his agenda” to get there, much to the bemusement of diplomatic authorities in Canberra. Loaded down with frangipani leys and denuded of the sort of protective phalanx that you can clearly see around him in Monaco, Albert hit Badu, where they had decided to “make him fit in”. A battered jalopy transports him to a Badhughal greeting at the Council Offices. Pretty soon, he’s drinking beers with Alick in deckchairs on the beach, watching a sunset to die for. “Monaco’s just a dot as well”, he admits – but the two, so different dots are joined by the world’s oceans.
But then Albert has to face the gauntlet of Badu’s sizeable elder ladies – all of whom have fond memories of Albert’s Mum – the tragic Grace Kelly. Tears are shed.
Serious business gets done too. The Prince’s interest has brought in the Australian Institute of Marine Research – a long way from home! Politician and artist Laurie Nona is quick to talk about bleached reefs, rising sea levels, plastic pollution and the TSI’s evacuation plans. They even find common ground on threats to their languages – Badhughal and Monagasque. Could it be that through this film Canberra takes slightly more interest in the threat to so many Pacific islands from rising sea levels and climate change, bringing it all closer to home?
A brave thought.
The deployment of ‘Alick & Albert’ around the country seems a little random. There’s a premier in both Perth and the Sydney suburb of Avalon tonight, and Melbourne and Adelaide both get their first sightings tomorrow. On the Gold Coast, Home of The Arts (HOTA) sees a premier on Saturday. But it’s only Avalon that, thereafter seems to offer a season by the sea. Appropriate!
Hope they’ve all seen it on Badu!
Meanwhile, Alick Tipoti’s excellent solo exhibition continues at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney until February.