Following a decade-long hiatus, Dunghutti artist Blak Douglas says his new works featuring 'black swans' were inspired by powerful Aboriginal women at this year's Black Lives Matter protests.
Shahni Wellington

5 Dec 2020 - 12:24 PM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2020 - 8:24 AM

While being no stranger to the ranks of the country's elite artists, Dhungutti man Blak Douglas has held his first solo major exhibition in around ten years. 

The 'Corroboration Nation,' exhibition is nestled in the streets of Sydney at the Nanda\Hobbs gallery and features both new and older works.

Due to what Blak Douglas describes as a stagnant political climate, the messages of his artworks remain relevant for the plight of Aboriginal people.

Many of his unveiled canvas pieces feature 'black swans,' described as a mixture of beauty, strength and resilience that was influenced by Aboriginal women.

"The substance of the exhibition is based around the suite of black swans and the black ballerinas, and these were inspired by the prevalence of black women on the microphone at the protests that I was seeing after the loss of George Floyd in the States, and then what ensued here with the Black Lives Matter movement," Blak Douglas told NITV News.

"Coming home talking about youth deaths in custody here and I just wanted to make a commentary about addressing sovereignty and autonomy, particularly from the Aboriginal female's voice."

Re-writing history

Imagery throughout the gallery makes reference to the history between First Nations peoples' and British coloniser's, with the women dancing proudly with who Blak Douglas describes as 'red coats'.

It speaks of survival and the different versions of what it means to be 'cultured'.

While many people are familiar with the canvas work of Blak Douglas, having been a finalist in the Archibald Prize four times, his new exhibitions aims to re-write Australian history in other ways - including mixed media and bronze statues. 

"As we know, it's very hard to find a bronze statue of a blackfella in Australia," Blak Douglas said.

"Most parks you visit, you're gonna see a Caucasian conqueror, or discoverer, but where are the acknowledgments to the blackfellas?"

"I've only really seen about three in my life from my travels across this continent, so now we've got historic firsts created right here," Blak Douglas said.

Ten year turnaround

It's been a long time since Blak Douglas voluntarily withdrew from commercial exhibition of his artworks.

He described the decision to focus solely on major art prizes as having to 'prove himself'.

"I really felt that I needed to go away and earn some stripes, and the art world works in funny ways and it's very hard to A) be an artist in Australia, B) to be an Aboriginal artist, and C) a contemporary Aboriginal artist,"

"So you really have to do some hard yards and prove your worthiness of your initiations into the art world," Blak Douglas explained.

His time and energy has been well spent over the past decade, having been a finalist in eight major art prizes across the continent in last year alone, and taking out the $50,000 Kilgour Prize, for his painting of actor, singer and Burarra woman, Ursula Yovich.

One of his proudest moments was being a finalist in the 2020 Archibald Prize for his painting of Arrente and Garrwa boy, Dujuan Hoosan, who has been advocating to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia from 10 years of age. 

"It's a hard act to follow, arguably my best portrait so now I'm going to start looking for my candidate and I'm not going to rest,"

"I'm going to be chipping away at those three prizes over the silly season," Blak Douglas said. 

‘Corroboration Nation’ runs at the until December 12.

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