It’s sad that after years of art history at high school and university, my experience of Indigenous art has mostly been limited to what seemed to be a tokenistic choice for the decoration of parliament hallways and the tourist traps of Circular Quay. Personal preamble aside, if any of that holds true to your perception of Indigenous art, Boomalli Art Gallery might just be worth a visit. That’s not to say it will completely revolutionise your perspective on Indigenous art, but it’ll definitely give you something to think about.
Boomalli Art Gallery is the exhibition space of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, a collection of artists who aim to redress social inequalities and provide a strong cultural voice within a contemporary Australian context. Beyond the well-constructed words of the exhibition catalogue, it’s a group of passionate artists working towards a common goal.
What differentiated the Boomalli gallery from my prior engagement with Indigenous art was its diversity. Walking through, it was as if the works knew about my unjustified preconceptions of Indigenous art and were acting purposefully to subvert them. The homage to more traditional Indigenous aesthetic styles was complemented by pieces incorporating found objects, and was laced with irony. The best example of this was probably Bronwyn Bancroft’s ‘Some of my best friends are Aboriginal’, a sculpture of a laconic Bondi Rescue-esque Australian male tattooed with tacky butterflies, a cross around his neck, and a singlet with the Aboriginal flag. At first, an image of multicultural Australia, but upon further contemplation, a mockable character that hit too close to home. That is, the Australian who claims to understand Indigenous issues through appeal to a few stereotypes, but flees at the opportunity to engage meaningfully.
Another personal favourite was Nicole Monk’s ‘Deconstruction of my stolen past’. Perhaps less direct in its political message, this installation of flashing red lights and rustic wood was the first to catch my eye in the gallery and left me, as good art often will, still completely lost as to its specific meaning. To be fair, these works were the minority; the larger part of the exhibition was made up of more conventional canvas and drawing works. The beauty of these pieces was found by viewing the exhibition as a whole – a divergent range of perspectives all advocating a common goal, seeking political change through the potential power of artistic expression and in the process, challenging monolithic conceptions of Indigenous art and culture.
It’s a shame this exhibition only ran for a short time, but the Co-operative is definitely one to watch.
The Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative are based in Leichhardt and host regular exhibitions. For more information, visit www.boomalli.com.au