First of all, can you tell us what the BlakLash Collective is and what it brings to the Brisbane art community?
BlakLash Collective is a small arts curation business focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. The collective members are Amanda Hayman (Kalkadoon and Wakka Wakka), Freja Carmichael (Ngugi, Quandamooka) and Katina Davidson (Yuggera and Kullilli). Each member has experience in the Gallery, Library and Museums, (GLAM) sector and are passionate about creating platforms to showcase First Nations stories through art.
We’re excited to see the amazing artworks on display during this year’s Maiwar exhibition. As curators, what was Blaklash’s selection process behind the assembled works?
Maiwar is widely accepted as the local Aboriginal name for the Brisbane River, and the Maiwar exhibition celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists that have connections with Brisbane and the river. BlakLash Collective selects practicing artists that were born, lived or currently reside in the wider Brisbane area. We select artwork that showcases the diversity of First Nations people and brings a multiplicity of narratives to the cultural landscape. We also aim to have a balance of emerging, mid-career, and established artists a part of the line-up each year.
What are some of the key ideas and stories that the 2018 Maiwar Project aims to share with participants and audiences?
Artwork in Maiwar 2018 was motivated by the Commonwealth Games and responds to the thematic concept of ‘endurance’; celebrating Aboriginal people’s strength and resilience as the longest living culture in the world. We are so proud that we can share our contemporary stories through artwork displayed in public places during this time, especially with the anticipated influx of many international guests.
Is there anything that you’re adding to the program this year that is different to previous editions of the project?
This year we are really excited to introduce 3D sculpture into the Maiwar program with the Edward Street vitrines. The vitrines will feature Brisbane based, Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) artist, Mandy Quadrio’s sculptural work entitled Indicative Concepts. Mandy’s work is really intriguing as she creates visual art from steel wool; a harsh, abrasive, cleaning material that metaphorically speaks to the scrubbing out and attempted erasure of Aboriginal history, identity and culture. We are hoping this re-contextualisation of this everyday medium, will grab the attention of passers-by and spark new conversations.
This year the project looks to uncover some of the hidden histories of Australian First Nations peoples – what was one of the most interesting stories that you discovered in the curation of this event?
All of the stories shared in Maiwar are interesting to us; from the uncovered stories of grass-tree abuse in the 1800s, because they were often “mistaken for natives”, as referenced by David Jones in his print work Black boyz, black boyz, what ya gunna do when they come for you… (2014) on display in Fish Lane, the extremely personal stories of contemporary Wiradjuri artist and emerging jewe;ler Jordana Angus as her Fractures Emerge (2016) shells are displayed in lightboxes in Eagle Lane, to the artwork of Dylan Mooney and Kiana Larkins of Digi Youth Arts, as they express two very different aspects and life experiences of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be displayed side by side in Irish Lane, Charlotte Street, and all the artists in between.
For those taking in the Maiwar Project for the first time, what would you say are some of the must-see works or must-attend talks?
The night-time tours are pretty spectacular with the William Jolly Bridge alight with contemporary Aboriginal art. This year’s featured artists are Jason Murphy and our very own BlakLash Collective member Katina Davidson. The lightboxes are also illuminated and the evening stroll is a really pleasant and invigorating activity. We also have day time tours as well as a conversation series that allows the audiences to connect with the Maiwar artists and hear more about their personal journey and arts practice.
In your opinion, what are some of the most interesting and engaging aspects of contemporary Australian First Nations art?
Contemporary Australian First Nations art is rich in societal truths, whether you were brought up within a strong political family, with or without cultural knowledge, struggles with racism and recognition, privilege or sharing positive stories of family, community and connection to Country, we all have different experiences that shape our world views and it is really important for non-Indigenous people to realise that we do not all agree and do not have the same story. Art can be a vehicle for change, empathy and understanding.
Finally, where do you hope to take the program in coming years?
We hope that the Maiwar exhibition continues to thrive, grow, and find innovate ways to engage with new audiences. Over the past three years we have been extremely proud of the caliber of artists and pleased to have engaged with 35 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists that have connections to Brisbane, and there are many many more to come.