Asked to describe the 118 indigenous women artists represented in Who’s Afraid of Colour? NGV Senior Curator of Indigenous Art, Judith Ryan only takes a moment to respond, “Daringly innovative senior artists who are at the forefront of indigenous art practice”.
Both prominent and emerging Indigenous artists have been gathered in this celebration of diversity which underscores contemporary indigenous art, from weaving and bark painting, to installations, new media and photography. Iconic images accompany new acquisitions, while digital works appear amongst more traditional pieces. Assistant curator, Serena Bentley explains that this “depth and diversity” provides an insight into the NGV’s Indigenous collection “on a scale that hasn’t been seen before.”
In the 1970s female Indigenous artists weren’t recognised in collections, notes Bentley, but “this show is the antithesis of that; celebrating the strong and resilient voices of indigenous artists who are women.” Ryan explains that the exhibition’s focus is not on gender but rather on these “great innovators” and “transformers of tradition and precedent”.
Works by Yhonnie Scarce, Julie Gough, Emily Kam Kngwarreye, Queenie McKenzie, Judy Watson, Destiny Deacon and Bindi Cole Chocka combine in a potent mix of the traditional and contemporary. Bark paintings, for instance, break free of pre-ordained minytji (sacred design), formerly the work of men only, and give way to what Ryan describes as “intuitive drawing” and “gestural freedom”.
While the works do not “conform to stereotypical expectations,” states Ryan, they reveal a traditional culture that is cherished and consciously perpetuated.
The show’s 200 plus work see the ancient art systems of Indigenous Australians unite with contemporary needs and practices to create expressions of dispossession, identity and connection to Country, pertinent to Indigenous communities yet reaching the core of any audience.