The unique food culture of the Northern Territory, and the diversity of artwork being created, inspired Sarah Pirrie to curate We Eat We Are. Currently on tour through Artback NT, the exhibition makes its third stop at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art.
We Eat We Are explores food as a social interaction— a kind of Joseph Beuysian social sculpture—that brings people together, builds relationships and community, records and continues culture, and, for Pirrie, allows us to explore “relationships we have with our identity.”
The exhibition includes the work of six artists and collectives with significant ties to the Northern Territory. Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda, a senior artist of the Dhuḏi-Djapu clan from Dhuruputjpi, paints her clan’s sacred designs, including plants eaten and used when she was young. She shares her cultural knowledge for recovery and resistance.
Taking a different approach, Siying Zhou’s 2018 work Suk My Exotic Fingers uses the symbols of chicken feet and chopsticks to pointedly question national cultural identity and the dynamics of multicultural Australia from her Chinese-Australian vantage point.
An installation of painted Jukwarringa (Mud Mussel) shells, by Tiwi artists Kaye Brown, Raelene Lampuwatu Kerinauia, Janice Pungautiji Murray and Michelle Woody, directly references the practice of foraging, feasting and sharing seafood with family and community. It also reflects the ancient shell middens that demonstrate continuous engagement with Country.
Through these and other works, We Eat We Are explores food interrelations in the Northern Territory, recognising the region’s varied demographics and proximity to South East Asia. For Pirrie, our shared love for food presents a way of “cutting through the distance, or the language barrier” to engage more deeply with complex social and cultural relations.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.