Off The Wall: New exhibition by indigenous artists blows audiences away

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Spencer Fowler Steen

A stunning new exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT) brings together the work of three Indigenous artists and their individual experiences of loss and reclamation, as well as stories of their families, culture, and country in Naarm.

Off The Wall showcases a diverse range of works produced by Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta artist Simone Thomson, Yorta Yorta artist Mandi Barton, and Kanolu artist Charlie Miller.

Pierra Van Sparkes, a Kulin Country based Pibbulman Noongar artist and assistant curator at the KHT, said the materials used in the exhibition and the unique installation encouraged audiences to think about the multiplicity of First Nations’ People and their stories.

“I’m so blown away with what the artists have produced,” Pierra said.

“We’ve provided each artist with a 1.5- by 10-metre roll of Stonehenge paper and there’s a mixture of works to be extended from the ceiling and on the gallery floor.”

One of the pieces on display by Mandi Barton, Burnt Words, depicts a charred roll of paper with Indigenous words written in ink.

Pierra said the piece spoke about the history of Indigenous languages and storytelling being erased by colonisation.

“In yarning with Mandi about it the burning quality of it, it speaks to this act of quite literally destroying cultural knowledge and family ties,” they said.

“It also speaks to the long history of documenting our people on paper. The Stolen Generation was documented on paper and burnt to cover up the uncomfortable past.”

While the piece represents loss, Pierra said the burnt paper also captured the potential for regrowth after initial destruction.

“I think each artist talks about their dual experience of loss and reclamation,” Pierra said.

“Each artist in their own way reflects this idea of Aboriginality and puts their stories of families, cultures, community in one place.”

Having now come full circle, Pierra’s artwork was featured in the Koorie Art Show back in 2016.

But having only been in the new role as assistant curator for six months, Pierra said Off The Wall had been in the works longer than they had been at KHT.

“The show itself is such a celebration of black excellence and the many forms it takes,” Pierra said.

“It really speaks to the multiplicity of the ways we tackle ways of life in spaces that weren’t made for us. It’s always such a welcome reminder of how manifold we are and our unique voices that come from that. And sharing space with mob is always great!”

Working with photography, videography and digital media, Pierra said a big influence for them was paying homage to the creative practice they had inherited from their family.

“I projected a video recently that was my own version of a blanket,” Pierra said.

“The idea of that is carrying on my nanna’s practice of making patchwork blankets.”

In their spare time, Pierra said they enjoyed taking a stroll down the Merri Creek, taking photos, and spending time with queer and Aboriginal communities.

“I’ve also been trying my hand at sewing; hopefully Nan’s looking down at me and saying, ‘call that a cross stitch?’” Pierra said.

Off The Wall is showing from March 5 until May 15, 2022 at the KHT •

For more information: koorieheritagetrust.com.au

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