The cultural legacy of Billy Missi


This posthumous retrospective exhibition honours the life and work of Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait Islander) artist Billy Missi (1970–2012). Known for his bold and intricate linocut prints that depict both his own life experiences and knowledge passed down by elders, Missi was also active in transmitting cultural knowledge to the next generation. He believed in the power of art to make change.

The exhibition’s title Billy Missi’n Wakain Thamai encompasses Missi’s worldview, which acknowledges the voices of animals, plants and people.

The exhibition catalogue charts Missi’s life, demonstrating how his art was rooted in his cultural identity and life experience. Threads intertwine to form an artistic practice fed by wide experience and concerns. From crayfishing, providing for his family and developing first-hand knowledge of ecosystems, to learning and seeking permission to share elders’ stories, co-founding the first Zenadh Kes art centre and serving on the board of other arts organisations—these experiences are crucial in understanding the subjects and aims of Missi’s work.

Billy Missi, Waru Thural | Turtle Tracks, 2009, vinylcut printed in black ink from one block, 1010 x 675 mm, edition of 60. Courtesy of Billy Missi Estate and Editions Tremblay NFP.

Billy Missi’n Wakain Thamai is curated by Russell Milledge, in close consultation with Missi’s family and community. Much of the exhibition is annotated in Missi’s language, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, and the exhibition design features the repeated motif of a pathway between mouth and ear, representing the transfer of knowledge. Missi’s best-known linocut and vinyl cut block prints are shown alongside rarer monoprints, etchings and lithographs. Subjects range from trade and kinship connections between Western Province Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands and mainland Australia, to the over-hunting of dugong, to the importance of proper cultural consultation.

For those not in Queensland, it can be hoped that this significant exhibition, which honours the life and work of one of Zenadh Kes’ most respected and prominent artists, tours wide and long.

Billy Missi
13 July—12 September
Preview Words by Rebecca Gallo