Monaroo Bobberrer Gudu: people of the mountains and the sea and White-out: new work from Michael Brogan was a lovely double show that had gallery visitors hankering for more. It was rich and varied and full of heart…
We’ve dropped in the gallery blurb…
Monaroo Bobberrer Gudu: people of the mountains and the sea.
The seed for this exhibition was sown back in 2011, when Beryl Cruse and her grandson Lee entered work into the Bega Art Prize 50th Anniversary exhibition. This was significant in two respects; firstly for the distinctive quality of the work and secondly for the outré show of self-assurance. Because in the art world there exists a very curious divide between indigenous and non-indigenous art in terms of exhibiting – almost a state of segregation, in fact. Initially, the imposition of separate presentation was a protective measure, to ensure space and engender respect; indigenous artwork is sacrosanct and any appropriation of storylines and/or motifs by a non-indigenous artist remains strictly taboo. As it should be.
Yet there is no reason why indigenous art shouldn’t stand, on its own terms, smack bang in the midst of mainstream exposition. It’s in this context that the submission of work by Beryl and Lee to the Bega Art Prize was a welcome demonstration of both personal and community empowerment – and it sent a loud signal that some serious cultural regeneration was stirring in the southern part of the Shire.
Beryl Cruse’s Culture Bridge belonged to an established tradition of shell work specific to the region stretching from Sydney (La Perouse) down to the Far South Coast of NSW. Decorative shell objects/souvenirs are recorded anecdotally from the 1880s and were a key source of income for a perpetually marginalised koori community. But the craft has much wider implications than merely pragmatic day to day survival – shell art is part of South Coastal indigenous visual heritage, a direct and crucial line for the transmission of knowledge. The collecting of shells and the making of objects is an inter-generational activity, a social opportunity to share traditional stories and skills. And there is some suggestion from art theorists that the progression from baskets, boxes and shoes to Harbour Bridges – and even Opera Houses – reveals a political underscore; traditional decoration of iconic landmarks was intended as an outward sign of koori cultural persistence. (Google Daphne Nash’s excellent paper shell work to shell art: Koori women creating knowledge and value on the South Coast of NSW)
Beryl passed away last year and her work in the exhibition is an homage to the pivotal role she played in her community. Liddy Stewart’s darling little shoes represent the continuation of the legacy and allude to the gathering together of the women folk; to preserve and impart local knowledge to the oncoming generations.
Lee Cruse won second prize in that Bega Art Prize 2011 – and the work, Joongar hunting, has since been acquired for the Bega Valley Shire Council’s Permanent Collection. He has gone on to paint a new series of work in his now recognisably idiosyncratic – and unique – style. Indeed members of propperNOW (the indigenous artist-activist collective from Brisbane who showed at the BVRG last year and met Lee at a Yarn-Up organised as a gallery public program at Jigamy) were highly impressed by his ‘moiré’ cross-hatching technique, declaring that they’d not seen anything like it. Lee now eschews the literal and tells his grandfather’s stories in his own inimitable fashion – the imagery is mesmerizing, the secret business artfully preserved.
Poker work has long been part of the indigenous trade repertoire and the cute carved poker work lizards made by Ossie Stewart demonstrate why – they’re irresistible and, as he explains, easy enough for a tourist to slip into a pocket. Less transportable but equally desirable are Darren Mongta’s snake sticks. As a boy Darren watched his uncles and cousins make snake sticks around the fire at Cann River – a laborious task of heating wire in the coals, then burning the wood one hot scorch at a time. There was no handing down of technique involved here, however; ‘just watch’, they told him ‘you’ve either got it or you haven’t.’ He patently has it – the eye for just the right branch in the bush, the patience for the stripping, drying and sanding process, and then the meticulous decorative work. The sinuous works are astonishingly lifelike and really quite beautiful – if you’re not ophidiophobic!
At the end of last year the BVRG facilitated a youth film project under the guidance of indigenous film maker Lou Glover. Filmed at Jigamy by a group of proud young people and their special guest star Uncle Ossie Cruse, Connected went on to share the major JD Shaw prize at the recent Festival de YoofTube short film competition held at the Picture Show Man Cinema in Merimbula.
Monaroo Bobberrer Gudu: peoples of the mountains and the sea is a wonderfully encouraging exhibition, a hint of the richness to come. Because while each step in the cultural evolution continues to sustain and venerate the sacred knowledge, the artist’s personal interpretation of that knowledge is key to the integrity and longevity of the Yuin culture. The past is the primer for the future, to borrow a painter’s term, and it’s the turn of the next generation to leave their own mark.
Lee Cruse, Spirit of Balawan, acrylic on canvas
Darren Mongta, Snake sticks, pokerwork
The exhibition had the bonus treat of being a double-header…
For the last four years the New Black mentoring program has been running under the aegis of the Bega Valley Regional Gallery, courtesy of funding from artsNSW. The aim of the program was fairly simple; to encourage local artists to consider their work in terms of a contemporary art practice – that is, as an expressive response to the specific socio-historic realities of their own experience (as opposed to just pumping out stereotypical commercial ‘tourist’ art.) In other words to move away from what the Brisbane-based artist activist collective proppaNOW call ‘ooga booga’ art and position their work firmly within contemporary social context. Otherwise there’s a danger that indigenous art will forever remain relegated to an anthropological curiosity show.
Michael Brogan has been both an exhibitor and key mentor throughout the New Black program. He presents work that is pared down to the essential, using low tech and easily accessible materials (in this case Wite-out on Arches and his signature polypipe) – and manages to convey so much in an extraordinarily unassuming way. These deceptively simplistic, minimalist works are a subtle representation of the indelible nature of indigenous culture. Try as the colonisers might, it cannot be erased.
reconcileNOW is a whitey guerrilla group empathetic to the cause of Brisbane’s proppaNOW mob. There can be no doubt that the visual arts provide a powerful platform for social change and the perennial political vacillations regarding all things indigenous – from reconciliation to basic rights and protections – has long been a source of angst for all decent Australians with a moral pulse.
Post Modern Tokenism III comes from a series of work alluding to the capricious nature of public displays of respect for our indigenous citizens – wheeled out when it suits for gala events (like the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games) and then shoved back into the gloom the moment the scrutiny is past. They emerge and fade from view as pomp and circumstance/politics/the marketplace dictates. It’s unconscionable.
Michael Brogan, Mock Turtle series, Wite-out on Arches
Michael Brogan, Schell Shock, polypipe
White Out: artist statement
Recent works on paper have become the extension of an ongoing going dialogue I have orchestrated between my self and an invisible art audience or general public who might just walk in off the street into the gallery. However, my concerns with both the medium and the subject matter are focused on the here, now and immediate future.
Though, the concepts and ideas surrounding my artwork are stark contrast to responses, encounters and engagement with other artists in between exhibitions and group shows over the last 10 years.
This particular body of work is in transition… a body of work in progress that has been fast tracked on account of a number of factors beyond my control. Most people familiar with my work will recognise that the Mock Turtle series is about returning to the nature of things and moving away from the incessant head stuff that has occupied my time working in academia over the last 20 years.
The little poly pipe sculpture pieces are also undergoing a transition of their own; from shield motif morphing into organic augmentations that appear like simple life forms you might encounter washed up on the shoreline after the tide has ebbed.
Post-modern Tokenism III
Monaroo Bobberrer Gudu: people of the mountains and the sea was complemented by a very rich and varied program, from the welcoming dances at the opening…
…to the floortalks given by Lee and Darren…
…to the culture walks down at Jigamy where Uncle Ossie had everyone playing the gumleaf (well, we were attempting to…)
More snaps here.