Manifesting sovereignty with Black Sky


The night sky tells many stories. Stretching above us, it is a witness to life and history. For Indigenous Australians, it is also a symbol of sovereignty—the black on the Aboriginal flag represents the sky. Taking over the entirety of the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Black Sky asserts this sovereign vision. “This cultural continuity and cultural resistance comes through all the works really strongly,” says co-curator Jessyca Hutchens.

Hutchens worked with fellow Berndt Museum curator Michael Bonner, as well as Lee Kinsella from the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, to bring this exhibition to life. Though it primarily consists of new commissions, the show also includes existing work from significant Indigenous artists such as Julie Dowling and Tracey Moffatt. Moffatt’s 1997 photo series Up in the Sky will be shown as a full set of 25 prints—a rare event that Hutchens says is “really special”.

Gombawarrah-Yinhawangka, Mount Elephant, photo by Justine Kerrigan ACS.

Black Sky was born from an idea between Hutchens and Bonner for a show centring on Indigenous cinema, and while it has expanded beyond that, its origins can still be felt. There’s theatre in collective Tennant Creek Brio’s immersive multimedia work, and mining maps painted over by Joseph Williams, who also curated the show. “ There’s something really cinematic about these works,” Hutchens confirms.

The artists’ relationships to their heritage are communicated through their works, suggesting a wider cultural significance of the sky. “A lot of the works for us are about sovereignty, and maybe even thinking of the expanses of the sky up into the universe as a beautiful way to picture Country as well—not just the land, but extending far beyond,” Hutchens says, adding this final question: “How does the sky link to this bigger issue of manifesting and visualising sovereignty?”

Black Sky
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery (for Perth Festival)
11 February—22 April

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen