• Warraba Weatherall was born the same year the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody began. He says nothing has changed in 30 years. (Mick Richards)
The first major solo exhibition from street artist Warraba Weatherall offers a scathing assessment of the prison system.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

21 Aug 2017 - 1:46 PM  UPDATED 21 Aug 2017 - 1:46 PM

The provocative installation isn't designed to make viewers feel comfortable. 

"To be honest, I want them to feel sick," Kamilaroi artist Warraba Weatherall tells NITV News.

"I want people to feel how blackfellas feel. I want people to realise the magnitude and just how disgusting this is that this nation are OK with this." 

InstitutionaLies marks 30 years since the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was established. 

Rich with symbolism, it draws parallels between colonisation and the current state of Indigenous incarceration, which Warraba describes as "institutionalised racism". 

Ten caged trees stand in a circle, each representing an Aboriginal person who has died in custody.

"The carved trees to my people are a ceremonial, cultural practice," Warraba explains.

"They are used for funerary rites and carving the trees with customary carvings to reflect that person and their life." 

Every tree bears a number - one of the 339 recommendations from the royal commission, most of which were never implemented.

"So basically all of these people are actually calling to account the institutional, systemic racism that's led to their deaths," Warraba says. 

At the centre is a re-worked sculpture of a craniometer - a tool historically used by anthropologists to analyse Indigenous peoples based on brain size.  

Warraba's remodel replaces the brain with a west-facing globe, and measuring pins with spears, representing the "western gaze that is under scrutiny by Aboriginal peoples". 

Together, it makes for a scathing assessment of the lack of progress since the royal commission, and a haunting reminder that First Nations people continue to die in custody. 

'There's so many, it's so frequent, and besides blackfellas, no one gives a shit.'

"You go onto the internet or you watch TV, it's like every couple of weeks it's like who's next? There's so many, it's so frequent, and besides blackfellas, no one gives a shit, or that's what it seems like," says Warraba, who was born in 1987 - the same year the royal commission commenced. 

"So all of this has happened in my lifetime. Nothing has changed."

Warraba hopes his art will help agitate for change.

"I think art is one of the main ways that we're able to have that dialogue that transcends whatever you wanna call it - other people's baggage, white fragility, all that type of thing," he says.

"You're saying the exact same thing that people are saying when we're protesting, it's just putting it in a more poetic language. 

"What I'm saying here isn't any different to what our elders have been saying for so long. It's just that we have to keep saying it, because they're still not listening."  

InstitutionaLies is on display at Brisbane's Metro Arts until August 26.