Two important exhibitions of Indigenous art have been launched at the Lismore Gallery and will both run until November.
Penny Evans: Language of the Wounded and Body Language: a major touring exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from National Gallery of Australia.
In a first for the area, Lismore Regional Gallery will present a touring exhibition from the prestigious National Gallery of Australia. Body Language explores the cultural identity of Australia’s diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities and features works by more than thirty artists.
Director of Lismore Regional Gallery, Brett Adlington says that the National Gallery of Australia has almost 160,000 works of art in its care and holds the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material.
‘It’s really exciting for Lismore Regional Gallery to be sharing this collection with local audiences for the very first time. This is an incredibly rich exhibition, depicting the diversity of contemporary First Nations practice.
Kelli Cole, Curator Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, National Gallery of Australia says that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people identity is a source of strength and resilience. ‘There are many ways in which we identify, what we believe in, how we look, how we feel and how we see ourselves in society and language is fundamental to the expression of our cultural identity. Before the arrival of the British colonisers in 1788 there were over 250 Indigenous Australian languages, including 800 dialects, but today those numbers have dramatically declined to under 50 spoken languages.’
‘Aboriginal people traditionally painted on rock surfaces, barks, on the body and engraved symbols in scar trees to tell the stories of ancestors and creation. We drew symbols in the sand representing maps, waterholes and food to teach about hunting and cultural knowledge. Symbols are an essential part of a long artistic tradition in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and remains the visual form to retain and record significant information.
‘As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people we did not have a written language but our oral stories were shared throughout generations keeping our culture alive. Body Language explores the iconography of language as expressed through symbols and patterns and includes works that explore themes such as identity or representation, mark making, spiritual beings and Ceremony with song and dance.’
PENNY EVANS: Language of the Wounded
Language of the Wounded is an exhibition of powerful new work by Penny Evans, a Northern Rivers NSW based artist of Gomeroi descent. Referencing bones or keloid scars, Evans’ ceramic wall installation explores a system of signs, an hieroglyphics-like language strewn across the gallery wall.
Each piece is striated and scarred exploring the widespread traditional Aboriginal practices of body scarification like a history inscribed on the body, where each deliberately placed scar tells a story of pain, endurance, identity, status, beauty, courage, sorrow and grief.
‘These new works reference dispossessed ancestors fallen during frontier conflicts, the billions of our native animals who perished as a consequence of multiple environmental disasters in recent years, and intergenerationally traumatised peoples from everywhere,’ says Evans.
‘The work also creates a rhythm of cultural forms that evokes cultural connectedness, a cadence that lies at the very heart of our country.’
Language of the Wounded has evolved from the designs and patterns Evans has explored for many years in her ceramics practice. The simplest of symbols reverberate with references that are both deeply personal and broadly evocative.
An exciting suite of exhibitions
Brett Adlington says this a really exciting suite of exhibitions for the gallery. ‘Firstly, to have the first touring exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia in Lismore is really a great coup for us. This never would have been possible in our old facility – so illustrates the level of exhibitions we can now bring to audiences.
‘Body Language also offers a countrywide overview of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait practice, while also getting to know works more intimately in the national collection. Perhaps more importantly though, is seeing this new body of work by Lismore-based artist Penny Evans. Penny has shown with us a few times, and this new body of work is incredibly powerful, and the result of years of research, and growth and maturity in her practice.
A duty and an honour
Brett says the gallery, on the whole, feel it is their duty and an honour the work and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. ‘I feel that as a white person living on Aboriginal land, we need to be constantly reminded of our place within this rich heritage.
‘The visual and performing arts of First Nation culture is an incredibly accessible way to deepen this knowledge. Artists such as the late Digby Moran offered so much in sharing this knowledge, that I think people in our region do have a much better understanding of Bundjalung culture through individual artists.
Brett says there is a strain of thinking that connects the two exhibitions, importantly about how the body is an integral part of culture. ‘Penny’s work references body scarification and markings, which is writ large on the gallery wall, while Body Language speaks to the notion of language being expressed in visual ways, including on the body.
‘More coincidentally though is the fact that Penny has recently been named in the National Gallery of Australia’s National Indigenous Art Triennial, being held late 2021. This is a wonderful recognition of Penny’s practice.’
Penny Evans: Language of the Wounded
22 August – 1 November
Lismore Regional Gallery
Online Artist in Conversation: Penny Evans in conversation with Pat Hoffie (date to be announced)
Body Language: A major touring exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from the National Gallery of Australia, featuring the work of Brook Andrew, Lyndsay Bird Mpetyane, Mavis Bolton, Jeremiah Bonson, Robert Campbell Jnr, Robert Ambrose Cole, Rose Graham, Josephine Grant Nappangarti, Philip Gudthaykudthay, Queenie Kemarre, Mary Kemarre, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Arone Raymond Meeks, Butcher Joe Nangan, Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan Jnr, Wally Petyarr, Prince of Wales, Angelina Pwerle, Reko Rennie, Phyllis Ricky, Elizabeth Riley, Jean Riley, Damien Shen, Joan Nancy Stokes, Jimmy Thaiday, Warwick Thornton, Aubrey Tigan, Alick Tipoti, Evonne Tompson, David Wallace, Judy Watson and Nawurapu Wunungmurra.
29 August – 8 November, Lismore Regional Gallery
For more information, visit the gallery website: www.lismoregallery.org.