The Bega Valley Regional Gallery is privileged to present, in concert with NAIDOC week, an exhibition of indigenous art featuring the work of three prominent emerging contemporary practitioners; Michael Brogan, Janet Fieldhouse and Tevita Havea.
Contemporary Primitive (named after a series of work made by Tevita Havea in 2007) explores the practices of three artists who successfully straddle the creative demands of cultural duality. While their work is informed by a complex of traditional customs they nonetheless find ways of expressing themselves in a distinctly modern idiom.
The work in this exhibition celebrates indigenous culture firmly set in the context of the present day. All three artists are making sense of contemporary social narratives once removed from mere stereotypical decorative motifs. Their language is current and relevant and quite groundbreaking in a way that still honours tradition and customs, without being confined by it.
Michael Brogan, A-Jar: Tales for the Modern Home, paint on mission blanket
A-JAR: Tales for the Modern Home: Artist Statement
A-JAR: Tales for the Modern Home was exhibition that had became an opportunity to reconcile aspects of my past in order to move forward. These images incorporate my own personal experiencesto illustrate specific events that have had a significant impact throughout my social development.
The glass jar crystallizes the concept of the self as a living being. In some ways the jar comes to represent the psychological self, the mental self, the emotional-self in a transparent state. The Jar like a body has become a vessel fragile and vulnerable that can easily end up hitting a brick wall smashed, broken or trashed! The image of the jar and the subject matter along with the social content contained within this visual imagery is childlike and innocent, evoking a vague recognition and yet a sinister familiarity to a subtext created out of memory as the trigger for the encounter.
The original idea and concept for this artwork was based on a previous artwork called ‘The Medicine Jar’ back in the early 1990’s. The Medicine Jar was based on the notion of a journey and my concept centered on the journey of life. By highlighting one’s journey, I identified physical scars on the body in contrast to the mental and emotional scarring that comes from the things we learn, accept or discard about ourselves from the forces of life we encounter along that journey.
These particular artworks represent the internal and external aspects of the self. The means through which I am able to give an audience the cues to reading and interpreting the artwork so they became part of the narrative or dialogue I am having with the audience.
Michael Brogan’s work, A-JAR; tales for the Modern Home, is a metaphoric layering of early life experience as the indigenous ‘jungle bunny’ growing up in middle-class white enclaves in Europe over the course of his formative years. Here the memories, both good and bad/ spiritual or emotionally scarring, are preserved like vital organs in specimen jars; never quite forgotten and stored away in perpetuity. The army, or mission, blankets are redolent of the anecdotal experiences of extended family and are loaded with disaffected social history. His latest work (below) is a point of departure for a new series of work – snapshots of manmade marks (graffiti, signage, etc) on the environment, reconfigured into a fresh way of interpreting country.
Michael Brogan is the Director of the Oorala Centre at the University of New England.
Michael Brogan, Untitled, photographic arrangement
Michael Brogan, Untitled, photographic arrangement
Janet Fieldhouse, Ancestor Series-Kupmarri, smoke fired Raku clay porcelain, porcelain, feathers & Dance Series, flexible porcelain
My work is an expression of my Torres Strait Islander heritage: the material culture, rituals of social and religious life, and artefacts which are created to fulfill the functional and spiritual needs of the Torres Strait peoples.
I would like the viewers to explore the Torres Strait Islander culture through my art and recognise the significance of Torres Strait Islander art. I demonstrate all this through my individual art pieces that tell a different story about my culture.
Janet Fieldhouse, Ancestor Series-Kupmarri, smoke fired Raku clay porcelain, porcelain, feathers
Janet Fieldhouse’s Torres Strait Island background is reflected in her woven baskets and smoke fired clay vessels, whereby she uses a distinctly refined, new material (the flexible porcelain) to reproduce an ancient craft. The body of work in this exhibition celebrates customary family get togethers, replete with feasting and ceremonial dancing and song. The artist, who graduated with a Masters of Philosophy in Ceramics this year from the ANU School of Art Ceramic Workshop, has only recently returned from a residency on Thursday Island – where she spent time developing a visual dialogue with the women, particularly the elders, of that community. She’s been primarily influenced by her grandmother and while the works in the main are women’s narratives, the drum (the piece with the cassowary feathers) is traditionally men’s business – and she was amazed to find that women were now encroaching onto what has hitherto been a distinctly male domain. A kind of equality is starting to take hold – and women are quietly shifting away from the confines of gender specific motifs. The turtle is her grandmothers totem and the raku fired vessels represent the coconut baskets used for cooking food in fire pits.
Janet Fieldhouse was the winner of the Inaugural Indigenous Ceramics Prize in 2008.
Janet Fieldhouse, Dance Series-Rhythm, flexible porcelain
Tongan born Tevita Havea explores and reconciles the polar demands of his Pacific Islander heritage and current Western/urban existence (Sydney) by making work that underscores the mutual inclusivity of both. He once described himself as a ‘contemporary primitive’, caught in-between worlds. “There are always contradictions when there are two opposing forces, but instead of one dominating the other, I aim to make pieces that are neither ancient nor contemporary, but operate to explore the tensions of the space between.” His work is a lyrical interweave of Tongan mythology, creation stories and custom; stories about regeneration and the symbiotic relationship between the feminine and masculine. Vesica Pisces, for instance, pays tribute to the mother figure and the balance of mind body and soul…
Tevita Havea, Vesica Pisces, mixed media
…while Vaka Ika holds the viewer in literal suspense with a breathtaking manifestation of the physical tension wrought between the liberation of the mind and the mortification of the flesh; the soaring (and baring) of the spirit despite the drag and anchoring of the body by the agonising fishhooks of life.
Tevita Havea, Vaka Ika, mixed media
Tevita Havea is a graduate of the ANU School of Art Glass Workshop. He has recently returned from New York where he received the prestigious UrbanGlass New Talent Award 2009. He shows annually at Collect at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and at SOFA (Sculptural Objects Functional Art) in Chicago and New York (with Glass Art Gallery, Glebe.)
The exhibition is on until the 8th August. For more gallery snaps go here.