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Contemporary Aboriginal artists put Cook’s legacy under the microscope 250 years on

Shannon Brett Source: Supplpied

Rite of Passage is a group exhibition featuring the works of contemporary Aboriginal artists taking a fresh look at 2020 and the 250th anniversary of the arrival of James Cook in Australia.

Rite of Passage is curated by Wakka Wakka Butchulla and Gurang Gurang woman Shannon Brett. In an interview with NITV Radio she explained that the exhibition is a response to the way herself and the artists feel about the hoo-ha associated with Cook’s landing on our shores 250 years ago.

“There is quite a lot of money put in the event and infrastructure going into the celebration of James Cook’s and Banks's arrival in this country,” Shannon Brett said.

She added that the exhibition which was launched at QUT Art Museum earlier this month aims to reframe the way Australia’s history is viewed.

The entire projection and the publication is really a collaboration between herself and the artists, discussing their rite of passage and how they present that through artwork and projects.

“It is a form of autobiographical exhibition with the artists telling their own individual story and also representing their people,” Shannon Brett said.

Rite of Passage also conveys lived experiences of intergenerational trauma stemming from ongoing colonisation and subsequent controversial annual commemorations.

‘It is appalling that we have to protest the fact that whiteness is reminding us every year that they rein, they dominate in terms of this ridiculous reminder every January 26.” .

Rite of Passage is about rites (R-I-T-E-S) and rights (R-I-G-H-Ts). One of the manifestations of colonisation was the depletion of languages. Yet language is a big component of culture.

“There are layers upon layers of importance in a language. When you cut language, you are cutting a culture you are hurting, you are diminishing understanding of the way to be.”

In Shannon Brett’s personal story, language ceased only two generations ago with her grandmother. “The language disappeared out of fear. My great grandmother was fearful of teaching language to my grandmother because they were afraid that she would be taken away and completely assimilated in the white way of being.”

Rite of Passage showcases work by eleven highly regarded Aboriginal artists from across Australia - Glennys Briggs, Megan Cope, Nici Cumpston, Karla Dickens, Julie Gough, Lola Greeno, Leah King-Smith, Jenna Lee, Carol McGregor, Mandy Quadrio, and Judy Watson.

The exhibition is on  display at QUT Art Museum until the 10 of May.  It will travel to NorthSite Contemporary Arts (previously KickArts) in Cairns later in 2020.

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