The family of TJ Hickey stand together embracing each other while tears stream down faces that are drained, expressionless… all gathered around a microphone donning shirts that powerfully represent Aboriginal pride, a memory of their loved one and a poster to sign the petition for justice of Aboriginal youth and Deaths in Custody.
“It’s haunting that one isn’t it?” Barbra McGrady mutters as she takes a step closer to the moment she photographed.
Tucked inside the Australian Centre For Photography, amongst the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s iconic Oxford street are protests, sports events, achievements, community members, Elders, landmark moments – all of which Barbra has caught on camera and now decided to share with Australia at her exhibition.
Always Will Be is an exhibition of documentary photographs by Barbra McGrady which speak to all Australians, but it’s her art of being able to look through the lens with an Aboriginal eye that captures raw, rare unique moments unlike we’ve ever seen before because it’s told from the grassroots perspective.
Born in Mungindi, the Gomeroi/ Gamilaraay, Murri yinah woman’s interest in photography began in her early teens when she was gifted a camera. Ever since she has played an active role in social documentation of the communities she visits.
“It is a retrospective, a body of my work and it was really hard to select the photos, we took one down and put one up, took one down and put one up just yesterday! So it was challenging to put it together but I’m proud of what I’ve done and want people to see these moments I’ve captured.”
A photographer like Barbra is just as important as a recorder of history.... of the development of a community... from a grassroots perspective as any written stuff like a historian would do.”
Opening the exhibition was historian, Gumbainggir man and longtime friend – Dr. Gary Foley. He spoke fondly of Barbra’s work, labeling her as a ‘brilliant community photographer.’
“This exhibition not only represents a community perspective, it spans the gamut of emotional stuff. From tragic images all the way through to celebratory images of strong black women, and the powerful positive images that are here,” Dr. Foley said.
“This is really important stuff…As a historian, I believe it’s really important for people to be recording OUR understanding of OUR own history. A photographer like Barbra is just as important as a recorder of history and a recorder of the development of a community and the recorder from a grassroots perspective as any written stuff like a historian like me would do.”
Following Dr Foley’s performance was Gomeroi artist, Gumaroy Newman who enchanted the crowd with his yidaki beats, yarns and powerful poetry. His face, body and arms splashed with ochre while wearing a belt of Aboriginal pride, the Gomeroi performer praised Barbra’s achievements.
The two look at each other fondly and embrace. Gumaroy then asks aunty Barbra if he can recite a poem and she responds, ‘as long as it’s deadly’. His words shed light on racism Indigenous people face and highlight that regardless of colour, looks or style – ‘you know you’re a blackfella because it comes from within.’
Gumaroy Newman performs at opening night of Barbara McGrady’s Always Was Always Will Be exhibition pic.twitter.com/inNJn8yOoK
— NITV (@NITV) November 3, 2017
Despite being an established photographer with university qualifications, Barbra says being a ‘blackfella’ has always had its challenges.
“When I am working as a photographer ‘officials’ go straight to my white assistant…asking me ‘who are you?’ I say, ‘I am a photojournalist and I studied sociology at university.’ It doesn’t matter if you are the most white underrated bogan it is not as hard as being Aboriginal. As an Aboriginal you are in the gutter. That is the way the predominant culture thinks.”
Nearly 200 people came to observe, acknowledge and celebrate Barbra’s work captured over the years on Thursday evening at the opening of the Always Will Be exhibition. Amongst those guests was curator, Sandy Edwards.
“McGrady’s photographs are uncompromisingly real. It is her life purpose to document the community she knows and loves so well,” Edwards remarked.
Alkira McGrady or ‘Star of the show’ as she prefers, was really proud to be part of her nans exhibition and even wants to follow in her footsteps as a photographer one day; but most of all, she’s proud to be a blackfella.
“It’s fun, it’s deadly and you get to do mad stuff, and you get to meet mad people and learn how to dance, learn corroboree and play mad sport because we’re all deadly at sport and I end up doing amazing artworks.”
Looking around the room of people that came to see her work, Barbra, a female sports photographer, photo-journalist and interpreter of Indigenous events wants only one thing from Australians.
“What I would love is for more mob to come check it out. That would mean a lot to me.”
The Barbra McGrady Always Will Be exhibition runs from 3 November to the 9 December at ACP project space gallery, 72 Oxford street, Darlinghurst.