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A Day In The Life With Trailblazing Curator, Shonae Hobson

A Day In The Life

We first met Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson when she curated the groundbreaking Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion exhibition at Bendigo Gallery in 2020. Spanning numerous mediums and artists, and organised according to the seasons, the landmark show challenged traditional modes of gallery storytelling and Shonae herself made an indelible mark on Australia’s curatorial scene.

Now the curator of Indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Shonae spends her days liaising with artists and formulating new exhibition ideas. Her world is filled with local talent and creativity. This is a day in the life of one very impressive woman!

25th January, 2022

Shonae at her office at National Gallery Victoria. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Researching and planning exhibitions. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Moodboards are essential when concepting an exhibition. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Mini diaoramas of the gallery layout sketch a 3D map for visitors. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Shonae at the front of Bark Ladies, a brand new exhibition featuring First Nations women artists at the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Shonae speaking to fellow curator, Myles Russell-Cook. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

What a dreamy workplace! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

More First Nations fashion at the NGV. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Pieces by First Nations textile artists and designers in the NGV’s permanent collection. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Shonae amongst the pieces. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
Tuesday 25th January 2022

‘It’s about curating spaces for our people to feel proud of their history and identity so that they can see themselves reflected in these predominantly white spaces.’ – Shonae Hobson

Shonae Hobson grew up in the remote township of Coen on the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. If you recognise the surname, that’s because her mother is acclaimed artist and Southern Kaantju woman, Naomi Hobson. Art runs deep in this family!

Moving to Melbourne in 2014 for uni, Shonae discovered the theory side of art and was drawn to curation as a mode of storytelling. She became the inaugural First Nations curator at the Bendigo Art Gallery a week after graduating (!), and has since moved to the National Gallery of Victoria, where she is now the curator of Indigenous art.

‘I think the role of an Indigenous curator has shifted and changed over the past two decades,’ Shonae explains, situating herself within this changing ground. ‘I see myself as a conduit between my community and the institution. It’s not about being the knowledge holder, it’s about enabling conversations and relationships between our artist and broader audiences. How am I helping an artist to tell their story?’

In her position at the NGV, Shonae curates exhibitions, writes for art magazines and acquires artworks for the gallery’s permanent collection. She also works within a team of curators and artists that develops public programs and events. It’s a big job!

When it comes to curation, her philosophy is simple: tell authentic stories.

‘It’s about curating spaces for our people to feel proud of their history and identity so that they can see themselves reflected in these predominantly white spaces,’ she says of her job.

’When I start to pitch an exhibition idea the first questions I ask are; why is this exhibition important and whose voices are being reflected? I think it’s important to have spaces that cater to and reflect my community and the diversity of our storytelling. We have an ancient culture, but we are also evolving and innovating in new and exciting ways – its critical for me to reflect this in my work.’

This is a day in her life!

First Thing

My alarm rings at 6.30am and I am usually out the door around 7.30. The first thing I have in the morning is warm water with lemon and a banana or smoothie for breakfast.

I am not an early morning person but after the lockdowns I made a consistent effort to wake up early so that I could get the most out of my days. I feel so much more productive and energised when I do.

Morning

I catch the train to work and usually arrive around 8.30- 9.00am. Occasionally I like to drive to work but the traffic into the city is never ideal.

A great way for me to prep for the day is to listen to a podcast or some light music. My favourite podcast right now is The Daily by the New York Times. I have also started listening to Art History for All by Allyson Healey – it’s a great way for me to brush up on my art history knowledge.

When I get to the office, the first thing I do is order a takeaway cappuccino and then check my emails and tasks for the day.

Mondays are usually very busy for me. I meet with my curatorial manager at 9.30 am and we run through our tasks for the week. I have been assisting with an upcoming exhibition hang of masterworks from the Indigenous Art collection including Emily Kam Kngwarray’s Big Yam Dreaming, and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri’s Spirit Dreaming through Napperby country. The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our collection of old and new works.

Lunchtime

I usually break for lunch around 12 :00- 1pm. When I am busy, I get a chicken sandwich from the gallery café. If I have some more time, I will head to Chocolate Buddha or Mabu Mabu at Fed Square. The menu at Mabu Mabu is amazing and always takes me back home! The cocktails are also really great for an afternoon drink.

My afternoons are spent reading, researching and writing. I am currently writing an essay for a forthcoming NGV publication. I have been exploring the work of three photographers in the NGV collection; Miriam Charlie, Naomi Hobson and Tyler Mitchell. I love the way photography can transform our understanding of people, places and time.

Afternoon

My sisters and I have been exercising at the local parks near our house in the afternoons. It’s something we started during the lockdown to get active and has now become a ritual.

Evening

I finish work around 5.30-6pm most days. If there is an exhibition opening or an event I will stay later. No two days are the same in my role and I love that!

For dinner, my partner and I take turns cooking. A go to favourite of ours is pan fried salmon with quinoa rice, bok choy and avocado – it’s so delicious! I love my seafood.

Last Thing

A warm cup of English breakfast tea and some dark choccy before bed is always a good idea. To unwind from the day, I usually watch some TV; I have recently started watching the new season of Euphoria. Most weeknights I am asleep by 9.00pm

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Mabu Mabu at Federation Square is a Torres Strait-owned and operated business specialising in native ingredients, and reminds Shonae of home. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Perfect location for after work drinks! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Right now, I’m listening to, watching, and reading…

Listening: Sweet Soul Chillout on Spotify. The best mix of soul music to nourish your soul.

Watching: Season 5 of ‘Insecure’ and I have just started the latest season of ‘Euphoria’.

Reading: Castaway by Robert Macklin. The book is about a French cabin boy who was shipwrecked across Eastern Cape York in 1858. He was fourteen at the time and was adopted by my Uutaalnganu Ancestors (my great-great grandfather’s people). It’s a fascinating story.

I get my best work done when…

I am feeling creative and inspired. So much of my work is driven by my community and the people I work with, and this is when I feel most productive and at my best. I am constantly researching exhibition ideas, talking to artists, and brainstorming new ways to tell our stories.

So much of our culture and history is expressed through our art and it’s exciting for me to play a part in that storytelling through my role at the gallery. The most rewarding part of my job is that I get to work closely with artists and communities. Seeing the positive impact that exhibitions have on our community makes it all worthwhile.

My productivity tool/tip is…

Be consistent and set goals. I am a big procrastinator and I work best under pressure. I have been managing my time better by setting realistic goals and sticking to them.

A philosophy I live and work by is…

My philosophy for life and work is to be open minded. Sometimes things may not go your way but it’s important to always have a positive attitude.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is…

Mistakes are never a bad thing. It’s important to realise that everyone makes them. It’s about how we learn from them that matters.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net