Kimberly Moulton’s essay Sovereign art and the colonial canon; Are we lost until we are found, which accompanies the ground-breaking exhibition Sovereignty, explicitly reminds us of the cutting irony of being an Aboriginal artist in the creative industries. “Is Aboriginal art only accepted when it suits a capitalist agenda?” Moulton asks. These challenging contradictions mark our work and mean we are constantly questioning our integrity. Who is this work for? Should I accept their money and this platform if it advances my career but does little for my community? There is a fervent appetite for Aboriginal art and culture in mainstream Australia; as Richard Bell proclaimed Aboriginal art is a white thing. But is it? Or does it have to be?
These questions loiter uneasily whenever I am invited by white institutions to present my work to what will inevitably be a predominately white audience. A friend and extraordinary Yuin designer and writer told me that she no longer feels comfortable sharing her stories and her knowledge in spaces that lack Aboriginal participation. If Blakfellas aren’t going to be there then what’s the point, we’ve done enough for white Australia as it is.
The need for meaningful relationships and co-existence which centres Aboriginal people is vital, but continues to be clumsy. These thoughts run wild as I approach Moulton’s new exhibition RECENTRE; sisters at City Gallery in Swanston Street, Melbourne’s CBD.
Having had the pleasure of seeing Moulton speak on a range of panels, I am aware of some of the difficulties she has encountered working in museums.
As a Yorta Yorta woman, Moulton has had to push for deep cultural engagement and representation of Aboriginal work while grappling with the abhorrent knowledge that Aboriginal remains often sit locked away in museum storage units.
When I enter her latest exhibition, I am immediately elevated by her words printed on the gallery wall. Her curatorial statement shouts, “These works challenge patriarchal dominance and boldly state that united in sisterhood, we are our own (s)heroes.” Unlike other experiences, Moulton is confidently and clearly asserting her curatorial voice in this space.
As I walk through the exhibition I gravitated towards Paola Balla’s work ‘And the Matriarchy Sang’. The textural painting come collage both haunts and beguiles, echoing the outstanding story Balla wrote for the literary magazine The Lifted Brow titled “Get Me Out of Here”. With themes of injustice and misogyny, we see that Aboriginal women have copped it the worst, but as Balla demonstrates in her art and her own spirit, we’re still standing strong, smart and beautiful.
All the pieces in the exhibition radiate with style and intelligence, but it was a delight to watch Hannah Brontë’s “Still I Rise.” where Indigenous issues, feminism, and the changing role of young women explode like a high-octane music video. The work is direct about continuing struggles, but also relishes in pleasure as we watch these exquisite women dance in hot pink clothes.
Elsewhere, Kimba Thompson’s photography valorises the activism that Aboriginal women are leading in Melbourne. A striking image which features Thompson wearing a black t-shirt with the words “ALWAYS IS ALWAYS WILL BE” disrupts the idea that we are past tense historical people.
RECENTRE; sisters is an exhibition for us mob, and while whitefellas may walk past, drop in and stare, it’s not about them. As Moulton’s words declare, these works are about centring her sisters and celebrating us.