Simon Chan at Sydney’s Art Atrium gallery has fingers in many pies. He didn’t earn his AM simply for selling art. His connections through Chinese community groups and the NSW Art Gallery are deep – sufficient for him to become heavily involved in the Voice Referendum campaign at a number of levels. And sufficient for him to be mortally disappointed by the result last year when 60% of Australians rejected the idea of First Nations having a body that could speak to power for them.

Only slightly daunted, Chan has moved on to the next step in the Uluru Statement process – truth-telling. He’s pulled together an exhibition of photos that show some of the reality of Aboriginal life – it’s ordinariness, its heroes and its dramas. Nine photographers are involved – five Indigenous and four who’ve engaged closely with communities.

The aesthetic Willie Yang, for instance, was invited out to Enngonia in 1990 for a 21st birthday party, and, totally out of character, went hunting with the Shillingsworth family. Was it then, or was it 10 years later when he returned to capture more domestic scenes in Enngonia that he took remarkable images of what was almost certainly a massacre site – a child’s finger bones reaching vainly out of the ground? Sadly that’s not on show.

But yummy-mummy Della Shillingsworth is portrayed by Sandy Edwards as part of an AIATSIS-commissioned series showing family life in Brewarrina as part of a Bicentennial project. It’s a delicious slice of real life besides Edwards’s elegant portraits of winsome young hopefuls Marcia Langton and Tracey Moffat in 1996.

Talking of portraits, there are two from Brenda Croft’s outstanding 2023 Barangaroo outdoor exhibition series, which also appeared in The National. They go on to the Australian Embassy in Washington next. They’re darkly stylised, capturing spirit as much as mere appearance, and the pair on show feature an unknown, strong woman – Ali – and, most appropriately, First Nations Minister, Linda Burney looking as though she already knows the Referendum result. She opens the exhibition tonight.

Interestingly for the market, Croft prices her images at $25,000 each. I believe it’s the first time they’ve been offered for sale.

Burney also turns up in Juno Gemes’s suite of works from Uluru when she was invited to record events ‘celebrating’ the 6th Anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in May 2023, also the final the Referendum Advisory Committee meeting before the Referendum. Burney, once again, looks as though she’s already heard elder Pat Anderson’s observation at the time, “There’s a rain of hate coming down on us”.

But (later), Burney proved surprisingly optimistic, saying her face in Gemes’s Uluru photo reflected only just how cold she was at that moment.  ‘Today we can see that there are silver linings which are blindingly beneficial”, she averred. “Six and a half million people said Yes in the referendum, and in Aboriginal-dominant areas, the vote was 86 to 96% positive”.

Of course there has to be the far more positive image from photo-journalist Mervyn Bishop’s oeuvre showing Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari in accord over recognition and land rights via the transfer of Gurindji soil. I wonder how many copies of this absolutely iconic trope there are around the world?

But then there’s the heart-rending Redfern reality of the Hickey family mourning young TJ after his death, spiked on railings following a police chase on his bike. That comes from Barbara McGrady, a career photographer most associated with her renowned sporting coverage. Here she proves more Cartier Bresson in being in the heart-rending place at the right time.

McGrady’s is also about to open a solo show in Campbelltown Arts Centre.Ngiyaningy Maran Yaliwaunga Ngaara-li (Our Ancestors Are Always Watching)’, contains compelling photographs by this Gomeroi/Gamilaraay Murri Yinnah Elder. Trained as a sociologist, Barbara brings a Blak lens to her practice. She has been described as a “true historian” and in 2020, she was selected to participate in the landmark First Nations-led Biennale of Sydney, NIRIN, presenting a selection of works at Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Painter Blak Douglas also had his camera out in Redfern – or Dreadfern as he types it as he records TJ Hickey’s loss ten years on and prime examples of local police harassment. Interestingly, his images appear only postcard size and appear as fridge magnets on a vintage, 1950s HMV refrigerator – perhaps the model he himself used in Redfern during 17 years residence.

Thirty images in all, and every one has a back-story, which Simon Chan hopes will help to overcome some of the ignorance that undoubtedly contributed to the Referendum result, as well as reinforcing their identity for First Nations viewers. There will be artists in conversation to back up those hopes on both of the first two Saturdays in July.

This Saturday (and Sunday) sees the opening of the fifth National Indigenous Art Fair in Sydney. Like the last couple, it’s at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay with 22 remote art centres trekking art and artists down to the Big Smoke from remote parts of Australia like the Tiwi Islands, Lockhart River on Cape York, Arnhemland and the Deserts. Don’t miss the amazing Mark Atkins, Kurmur-virtuoso – as the Yidaki/Didg is called in his Ngarluma Country outside Roebourne, WA. He’ll be performing over the weekend.

The weekend also sees a First Nations art auction for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern. Deutsche & Hackett are conducting the 22-lot event for free (no fees to add to your bid price!) at 3pm on Sunday at the Centre at 180 George Street. Works by Emily Kngwarreye, Angelina Pwerle, Richard Bell and (coincidentally) both Tracey Moffatt and Brenda Croft should draw a few punters.