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NMA shows “Belonging: Stories from Far N Qld”

Helen Musa, ‘Belonging’ exhibition glows with creativity, CBR City News, 23 April 2023

A second iteration of the art project “Belonging / Stories from Far North Queensland” is now on show at the National Museum.

Last year we reviewed the first stage of this project, which featured 120 works by 29 artists working in Hope Vale, Yarrabah, Moa Island and Mornington Island, but this time there are 92 artworks by 31 artists from Girringun Art Centre in Cardwell, Badu Art Centre on Badu Island north of Thursday Island and Wik and Kugu Arts Centre in Aurukun on Cape York Peninsula.

Works from four other art centres,  Bana Yirriji, Pormpuraaw, Wei’ Num and Yalanji,  will be on display at the museum in 2024.

Lex Namponan, with Blue Ku’ [dog]. Photo: Helen Musa.

On hand for a media even late last week was NMA curator Catherine Czerw, who said more than 100 artists from far-north Queensland and the Torres Strait had taken part in the “Belonging” project, in which they experimented in a “holistic” way with new materials and techniques.

“The ‘Belonging’ project reminds us that art has an enduring capacity to bridge gaps in empathy, connectedness and understanding created by our diverse and often divergent histories,” she said.

Rather than pick winners in such an inclusive exercise, she said, the NMA decided to acquire the whole collection of 415 artworks, created by 103 artists working in 11 art centres across the region – Bana Yirriji Art Centre, Girringun Art Centre, Hopevale Arts and Cultural Centre, Mornington Island Art, Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, Wik and Kugu Arts Centre, Yalanji Arts, Yarrabah Arts and Cultural Precinct, Wei’ Num Arts, Badhulgaw Kuthinaw Mudh/Badu Art Centre and Ngalmun Lagau Minaral Arts (Moa Arts).

Leigh Namponan, with “Apalech, body design I,” looking down to bottom of the ocean. Photo: Helen Musa.

National Museum director, Mathew Trinca, has said “When IACA [Indigenous Art Centre Alliance] first presented the ‘Belonging’ collection in 2019, we were immediately struck by the power of these artworks. They glow with creativity.”

I spoke to Lex Namponan, visiting from the Wik and Kugu Arts Centre Aurukun on the north-west coast of Cape York Peninsula.

The centre, which opened in 1987 and is one of the pioneers of the art centre movement, famous for its sculptured camp dogs, one of which, Namponan’s work, is in the show.

Namponan described how he had carved the dog from milkwood then covered it in sawdust and lime to create the smooth, opaque surface.

“I love dogs, they protect you they go hunting with you… This dog is my totem, but the bull-shark is my mother’s totem.

Together with his brother Leigh, he showed me artworks by their older brothers, signalling the long heritage of Aurukun art.

Standing before his huge triptych, “Apalech, body design I”, Leigh explained that Apalech, his ceremonial group, meant “clean,  crystal-clear, saltwater in the dry season”.

The white area, he said, represented the big waves and the white dots the bubbles of saltwater left behind when the waves went out. He said he had painted it with the intention of showing how you could see down to the bottom of the ocean.

“Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland”, National Museum, until August 13.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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