Who’s Afraid of Colour?

Who’s Afraid Of Colour? is the NGV’s latest exhibition featuring a wide range of artistic works by Indigenous women from all over Australia.  A colourful assortment of paintings, photographs, woven works and sculptures have all come together to both celebrate Indigenous culture and to create a space to openly discuss Indigenous issues.  The exhibition celebrates female artists such as Queenie McKenzie, Emily Kam Kngwarray, Julie Gough and Nonggirrnga Marawili whose art allows a person to connect to their Indigenous heritage.

Storytelling is a major part of Indigenous culture and is an art form that can be traced back to the origin of language itself.  Stories are conveyed through speech, paintings, songs and sculptures; all forms of expression that Indigenous Australians have used to convey traditional stories and contemporary issues.  Who’s Afraid Of Colour? is an exhibition that allows the viewer to wander and immerse themselves through stories from all different walks of life.  Some are thousands of years old, others only recent.  Some of the artwork shares memorable elements from the Dreamtime that are crucial to the Indigenous identity and culture.  It’s an exhilarating experience to absorb storytelling that has been passed down through generations and to be able to understand a more complete form of Australian history.

Being able to have conversations about issues like institutionalised racism, domestic violence and the role of women in Indigenous culture is a unique experience that the NGV offers through this exhibition: to be able to hear stories of Indigenous women and to give weight to their narratives.  When you walk through the venue you are surrounded by multiple voices that are loud and confrontational.  It’s a unique exhibition in the sense that you are not just being asked to look and interpret but rather to listen with an open heart and mind.  It’s rare that Indigenous people can be heard rather than merely discussed in public discourse.

Julie Dowling, Goodbye white fella religion, 1992

The skill and artistry on display is superb, every piece is beautiful and vibrant.  One of the most mesmerising artworks in the collection is a 32-piece woven sculpture array entitled ‘Sea Country Spirits’ created by Jenny Crompton.  The sculptures serve to represent the spirits of Lakorra (sky), Beeyak (land) and Murrup (sea) from Wathaurong Country.  They are made from copper wire, tree grass, driftwood, kangaroo bones, feathers, wood (beads), synthetic polymer paint, seaweed, grass roots and resin.  The spirit sculptures are hoisted to the ceiling and form a cascade that flows down a hallway.  When walking through the ‘Sea Country Spirits’, one is surrounded by white birds, crustaceans, fish, shellfish, shells and macropods.  There is something quite ethereal about the layout of Crompton’s work as it evokes a sense of wonder that transports you to a different place.  Each sculpture is convincing in embodying the different spirits and making one feel like they are envisioning the sky, land and sea in their mind’s eye.

The inclusion of traditional baskets like those woven by artist Janine McAullay Bott celebrate the art of basket weaving that is very prevalent in Indigenous culture.  Bott’s ‘Traditional basket – spiked handle’ is made of palm wood and agave and while the spiked handle is a rather intimidating feature, the craftsmanship is quite amazing.  Mati Mudgidell’s work is a far more colourful basket made of spinifex, wool and synthetic polymer paint on gumnuts and feathers.  It naturally draws a lot of attention with its intricate design and bold colours.  All the baskets and other woven objects are a testament to a universally ancient craft that evokes amazement.  It is an engaging display for anyone interested in textiles or fashion.

Maryanne Mungatopi’s ‘Taparra, the Moon man’ is a painting that depicts a central figure of Indigenous sky stories called Taparra.  Earth pigments are used on paper to give life to the Moon man who flew up to the sky and became what we see as the moon today.  Another canvas medium that transcends into more modern issues is Samantha Hobson’s bold piece entitled ‘Bust ‘Im Up’ which unapologetically speaks about domestic violence and alcohol abuse which plagues women in the Lockhart River community in Queensland.  Hobson embraces a non-traditional style with vivid abstract reds, yellows and blues that burst over the canvas with great intensity.  Hobson has a style and trademark that stands out from the other pieces and is clearly adamant about having her message heard and understood.  Her electrifying ‘Calm night…..down at the beach’, also another synthetic polymer painting, is one of the first artworks to really draw your attention upon entering the room.  The dark moody blues with the splashes of bright colours of red, white and orange echo a narrative of a young woman’s desire for escape into the beautiful scenery of the Australian landscape.  It’s a contemporary appreciation of nature where the reef, sea and shore are still inspiring creativity and a sense of wanderlust even in light of society’s current ills.

All work is sourced from city and bush studios around Australia and have been specifically compiled together to bring all sorts of energy and moods to create a perfect atmosphere.  All sorts of emotions are being evoked throughout the exhibition which invites a lot of reflection on the way society treats Indigenous Australians.  It has been ensembled together to make the viewer engage in critical thinking and to become more socially aware.  To be invited to step outside Eurocentric thinking and to see things from a standpoint one hadn’t previously conceived of is a unique opportunity that should be taken advantage of.

Who’s Afraid Of Colour? is an exceptional exhibition that everyone should take the time to visit.  Amazingly curated and full of breath-taking artwork, there is so much to take away from the experience.  Being able to celebrate Indigenous art, Indigenous women and to present itself as political-social commentary on Indigenous issues makes it a multi-faceted platform that is quite engaging.  The exhibition is currently being held at Federation Square, Level 3 (Indigenous Art) of the NGV and entry is free.  It will continue to run until the 17th of April next year, so there is plenty of time to get down there and partake in something that is one of a kind.

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