Women have emerged as looming figures on the Indigenous art scene over the past two decades – something a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) sets out to showcase.
Over 200 contemporary works by 118 Aboriginal and Torres Strait women will be spread across six gallery spaces.
Who's Afraid of Colour? challenges notions about how Indigenous art should be created and interpreted, with works ranging from all artistic disciplines, from customary woven objects and bark paintings to modern photographic and digital works.
Judith Ryan, Senior Curator of Indigenous Australian Art NGV, says she hopes the exhibition will defy some common preconceptions about Indigenous art.
“Indigenous art has come out of the cave and demands to be taken seriously and given due acknowledgement.”
And, she says, Indigenous women’s art is starting to get the recognition it deserves.
“The exhibition was inspired by the desire to celebrate the power, diversity and modernity of Indigenous women’s art practice,” Ms Ryan said. “The emergence of women as artists of consequence and daring has changed the face of Australian art.”
Ms Ryan says women have shot to the forefront of contemporary Indigenous art scene – a movement she first noticed gaining serious traction in the 90s.
“I wanted to show out audience that this is great art by artists who happen to be women and that their work is equal to the best art being made now anywhere in the world,” she said.
Indigenous women have transformed Australian contemporary art – something that gained prominence in the 80s with key figures including Bronwyn Bancroft, a Bunjalung woman, known for her acclaimed contemporary paintings and textiles and Fiona Foley, a Badtjala woman, is known for her work’s bold exploration of race, activism and gender.
Who's Afraid of Colour? celebrates the diversity of daring work within the female Indigenous art space, showcasing paintings, sculpture, jewelry, glass, textiles and more.
Highlights of the exhibition include Wadawurrung woman Bindi Cole Chocka, who uses photography to look at Aboriginality in contemporary Australian society. There are also the large-scale works by renowned artist, the late Emily Kam Kngwarray.
Many of the pieces being shown are new acquisitions. Some were acquired decades ago but have never been put on public display, or contextualised alongside examples by the same artist.
“The female-only showcase came about because of the cultural and aesthetic power of these works. They need seven metre ceilings and culturally belong together. This concentration of works enables us all to celebrate women’s business: making art,” said Ms Ryan.
For 21-year-old artist Claudia Moodoonuthi, who was raised on Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the exhibition is a family affair.
“All my grandmothers and great grandmothers from Bentinck Island are featured in this exhibition and Sally Gabori exhibition – I am always excited and inspired when I think of family and home,” she said.
“As the youngest artist in this exhibition, I hope my artworks show that all the women are all sharing their different stories and life experiences, especially at different stages of their life,” Ms Moodoonuthi says.
“I … hope my art can inspire other kids or young people – and hope the oldies feel proud of me too!”
Who’s Afraid of Colour? runs from December 16, 2016 until April 2017