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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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