There’s no denying the urgency of the world we live in. The news seems increasingly bleak, the climate is changing, and social media churns out absurdity by the screenful. But that’s never the whole story of our lives: we eat, garden, work, listen to music, make art, watch TV, and crack up laughing with friends.
For curator Hannah Presley, these seemingly unremarkable joys are not just worth examining – they are crucial to presenting a rounded narrative of Aboriginal experience.
Presley’s latest exhibition, A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, foregrounds food, music, films, friendship, cups of tea – the things of daily life in Aboriginal culture. Featuring ten new commissions, it’s a deliberate shift in focus from the current artistic landscape, in which contemporary Indigenous exhibitions are so often steeped in trauma and shrouded in educational strategies.
A Lightness of Spirit is the Measure of Happiness is a significant exhibition in a number of ways. Presley is the first Aboriginal curator to work at ACCA in a permanent role. And as she points out, prior to the “extraordinary” 2016 exhibition Sovereignty, curated by Paola Balla, no ACCA show had focused on Aboriginal artists or curators since 1994.
Seeking to address this serious absence, the Yalingwa initiative is a significant new partnership between ACCA and TarraWarra Museum of Art which will see three curators appointed across the two institutions, resulting in three major exhibitions. A driving force of Aboriginal artistic and curatorial voices, there’s a focus on commissioning new works and showcasing artists from the south-east. Presley is the first curator to take up the reins.
Bringing together a stellar selection of artists, this exhibition addresses history and culture through an experience of joy. It’s a deeply important premise – and one that should certainly lighten all of our spirits.
Preview written by Anna Dunnill.