‘The photos say they can’t breathe’: Barbara McGrady at Campbelltown

A heavy yet upbeat heart pounds from the core of Campbelltown Arts Centre, host to Western Sydney’s iteration of ‘NIRIN: 22nd Biennale of Sydney’, where Ngiyaningy Maran Yaliwaunga Ngaara-li (Our Ancestors Are Always Watching) (2020) is fated to dislocate the dominant white gaze. In this work (created with John Janson-Moore), artist and proud Gomeroi/Murri/Yinah woman Barbara McGrady exposes her 30-year-strong photography practice in a jolting, symphonic, archival assemblage of text, photography and music, full of eye-opening contradictions and realities.

McGrady is ready to perform and to tell us how it is – how Indigenous Australia views the world – through her black lens. An immersive 360-degree kaleidoscopic multi-screen installation fuses imagery and text that pulsate in unison with Tasman Keith’s captivating and Indigenous reality-check hip-hop track, ‘My Pelopolees’ (2018). While McGrady’s powerful images do most of the talking, her byte-size texts, lifted from her regular social media posts and projected one word at a time to the beat of the music, sometimes rapid-fire, convey a feeling of being present at a protest rally, surrounded by placards, calling the audience to action. Each word. Each image. Each imbued with the reality of the human condition …

McGrady’s images conflate past and present events – both adverse and triumphant – deserving of commiseration or celebration. She shows Indigenous Australians at sporting events as well as Mardi Gras, traditional and contemporary performing arts, with family members and at protest events, drawing attention to issues of land rights, racism, connection to Country, Aboriginal pride, traditional customs and oppression …

Ngiyaningy can be likened to a shattered mirror or cubist painting, where shards of contemporary Indigenous Australian history, disjointed yet connected, project a singular subject from multiple angles. The design of the space reinforces this effect, as snippets of the same image slice the viewer’s peripheral vision, complementing an inescapable immersion of imagery, text and sound. McGrady’s black box within a predominantly white cube institution, highlights the intention for Ngiyaningy to disrupt audiences’ perspectives and preconceived belief systems …

Halfway through the work, Ngiyaningy re-routes into a less activist and more intimate personal journey. Witnessing a heartfelt conversation with her passed mother, to the tune of Electric Fields’s soulful song ‘Pukulpa’ (2016), the audience is reminded to remain strong and proud … As well as speaking intimately with her mother, McGrady communicates with former AFL star Adam Goodes, one powerful word at a time. The artist comforts Goodes with her declaration that she was there, supporting him during the darkest days of the controversial booing campaign, directed at Goodes for speaking out against racism …

Ngiyaningy needs to be experienced multiple times to appreciate its intricate web of stories, events, messages and emotions. McGrady’s images were not photographed with the intention of displaying them in the context of a contemporary art exhibition. Each image was destined for a newspaper, magazine, website, social media post or personal photo album. However, the power of their collective re-presentation in Ngiyaningy provides a forceful and creative narrative …

On entering Ngiyaningy I was stopped in my tracks. McGrady captured the first #BlackLivesMatter campaign in 2015 and declares that ‘THE PHOTOS SAY THEY CAN’T BREATHE’. Five years on and the photographs are alarmingly current. Selected as one of four images to be presented on a massive scale at the Art Gallery of New South Wales during ‘NIRIN’ (until 27 September), and incorporated into Ngiyaningy, the contemporaneity of McGrady’s Black Lives Matter, Martin Place (2015) is both uncanny and intolerable, given the recent death of George Floyd. As I reflect on the work, the unsettling realisation occurs to me that the loop of many unresolved issues, including Aboriginal deaths in custody, is on repeat. Again and again, they keep on happening: ‘OH YES JUST ANOTHER DAY IN THE COLONY.’

Nicole Fiedler Wallace, Sydney

This is an edited excerpt of an essay written in partial fulfilment of a Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, responding to Barbara McGrady’s Ngiyaningy Maran Yaliwaunga Ngaara-li (Our Ancestors Are Always Watching) (2020), at Campbelltown Arts Centre for ‘NIRIN: 22nd Biennale of Sydney’ until 11 October 2020.

Seven First Nations Artists You Should Get to Know Better This Year and Why – Concrete Playground

in partnership with

Australia’s longest running exhibition and art prize of its kind, the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) was established in the early 1980s when the commercial popularity of Aboriginal art was just starting to develop. The coveted award not only offers one of the biggest prizes for First Nations artists in the country, but it also aims to highlight the diversity and evolution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and its various forms.

This year, there are 65 artists who have been selected as finalists for the seven awards, which have a total prize value of $80,000. So we’ve partnered with Telstra to give you a rundown on seven impressive artists that we think you should get to know better — and support — as they share their artistry with the world. Make sure you visit the NATSIAA website on Friday August 7, from 6pm, to watch the Awards presented live by host Brooke Boney.


VICTORIA’S MULTI-TALENTED ARTIST CASSIE LEATHAM

Inspired by walking the country near her two-acre property in Central Gippsland, Taungurung woman Cassie Leatham, from the Kulin Nation, is a true slashie. She’s an artist, designer, weaver, dancer and educator. Leatham is hoping her second entry in the Telstra NATSIAA — a woven artwork that tells the creation stories passed to her by her elders — connects with the Award’s judging panel. ‘Nugal-ik Liwik Bundjil (My Ancestors Creation Story)’ features a mix of pipe clay, emu fat, wattle sap, stringy bark, mud, ochre, sand crystals and wedge-tailed eagle feathers. The artist says her goal is to maintain cultural practices, with her dream being to create a teaching centre on her property to keep her culture alive.


WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S KNIFE WELDING ILLIAM NARGOODAH

Emerging artist Illiam Nargoodah is gaining acclaim for continuing an ancient tradition. Based out of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region, the 23 year old uses his skills to create knives by hand from found objects, crafting every part of the knife from handle to blade. Upholding knowledge that runs in the family, the young artist has been learning alongside his father — a leatherworker — since he was a young boy. The artist’s first Telstra NATSIAA entry consists of several special knives that were crafted out of metal objects and artefacts collected on community station properties near his home.


QUEENSLAND’S VISUAL ARTIST RYAN PRESLEY

Using the iconographic traditions of Christian art as his launchpad, Marri Ngarr man Ryan Presley has his second entry in the Telstra NATSIAA this year. It’s a political work that depicts the “beauty, resistance and everyday heroism of Aboriginal people today”, he says. ‘Crown Land (till the ends of the earth)’ mixes oil, synthetic polymer and 23 karat gold on canvas. Presley, who was born in Alice Springs and now lives in Brisbane, is known for creating works that reference the impacts of colonisation on First Nations people, and the devastation of country and wellbeing from industries such as mining.


CANBERRA-BASED SHELL ARTIST KRYSTAL HURST

Proud Worimi woman Krystal Hurst brings the strength of the women in her family, and her ancestors before her, to her art. Working with banded kelp shells, bitjagang (pipis), fishing line and seaweed, Hurst has created a layered necklace for this year’s Telstra NATSIAA. This is her second time entering the Awards, and the jewellery maker’s artwork references an enduring connection to the sea and the continuation of knowledge passed on through generations. Hurst grew up on the Mid-North Coast and she continues to tell the stories of her people through her jewellery, and via weaving workshops that she runs at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.


SOUTH AUSTRALIA MOTHER-DAUGHTER PAINTERS BETTY AND MARINA PUMANI

Winner of the Telstra NATSIAA 2016 Telstra General Painting of the Year, Betty Kuntiwa Pumani enters the awards again this year — but this time in collaboration with her daughter Marina Pumani. Based in Mimili, a remote community in the APY Lands of South Australia, the mother-daughter duo has made two paintings that celebrate matriarchal knowledge. Painting Antara, a special site for the women in their community, Marina adds her knowledge to this particular diptych, referencing Maku Tjukurpa (the witchetty grub songline), which is central to all of Betty’s paintings, marked by her signature use of vibrant reds.


NEW SOUTH WALES DISRUPTOR AMALA GROOM

Mixed media artist Amala Groom is the only New South Wales-based artist to make the finalist list of this year’s Awards. Based out of Bathurst, the Wiradjuri artist has re-appropriated a beaten up print of a famed painting by Frederick McCubbin — a prominent member of the Heidelberg School movement — found discarded in a parking lot during the bushfire crisis, earlier this year. Groom’s piece ‘The Fifth Element’ is a “conceptual intervention into the Australian canon of art history”, she says. It comments on the uncertainty of our current times and remind us of ngumbaay-dyil — that ‘all are one’.


ARNHEM LAND TEXTILE ARTIST DEBORAH WURRKIDJ

A previous Telstra NATSIAA finalist, Maningrida-based artist Deborah Wurrkidj has this year created a woven sculpture that reflects a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris taken in 2019. Alongside four other artists from the Bábbarra Women’s Centre, Wurrkidj was asked to exhibit her artwork at the Australian Embassy in Paris, which was then profiled in Vogue. This new work, woven from memory, is inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Wurrkidj says, “I saw that tower and I thought I’ll go back to Maningrida and I’ll make her. Yes, I can weave that tower in our way, our Aboriginal way, not balanda [a white/European] way. And I did it.”

Find out more about the upcoming Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards

Top image: Krystal Hurst

Published on July 31, 2020 by Emily Nicol


Takani Clark, Selena de Carvalho and Georgia Morgan: re-member

Do you know about the Australian Holey Dollar and the Dump? – Evenings – ABC Local

What can you see at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery?

Visitor Services Officer at TMAG, Luke Leitch talks us through the more than 2500 years of history on display in the Medals and Money Exhibition.

He can’t say how much the Australian Holey Dollar is worth, but recommends you check out local markets, garage sales, and even the taps at home as you might just find one!

Closer than they appear