Karen Rogers, Ngukurr artist, Elder, animator, curator, and printmaker at the Ngukurr Art Centre in the Northern Territory, and Brunswick Street Gallery director Sean Richard Smith had long dreamed of a collaborative group exhibition between art centres. But, it wasn’t until this year that the dream took form, with ‘Our Country’.
‘Ngukurr Arts has a long history of collaborating with artists and makers, so it felt natural to approach other art centres,’ Karen explains.
When it came to selecting the pieces for the show, it was important to Karen that the artists had the freedom to chose what artworks they put in.
‘Every community has different lore and styles of artwork talking about relationships and land. It wasn’t right for me to choose someone else’s artwork,’ Karen explains.
Instead, she created an exhibition statement for the artists to respond to: ‘Our Country is our home. It is very important to me as it is where I grew up. My identity comes from the land, my dreaming. It tells us where we belong, and how we interact with our mob. It is part of our knowledge, stories, family. It is our culture. Even if we don’t live on country, it shapes who we are. If we don’t have country we have no home. Country is especially important for our children, as it connects them with past generations. It allows us to pass on knowledge from old days to today. It is a bridge connecting us.’
‘Every artwork tells a different and personal story on how important Country and dreaming is. It is powerful to see so many artists working around one idea,’ Karen says.
The exhibition will take over the entire top floor of the Fitzroy gallery space, with an immersive projection displaying remarkable moving image works from Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Art Centre setting the scene upon entry.
This is accompanied by sculptural carvings from Elcho Island artists, Megan Yunupingu and Judy Manany; paintings in ochre from senior Warmun artist, Gordon Barney; vibrant and playful paintings on canvas from Tjarlirli & Kaltukatjara artist, Aaron Pei Pie; and both moving image and painting works by Ngukurr artist and curator, Karen Rogers, accompanying iconic and colourful scenes from fellow Ngukurr artist, Jill Daniels!
‘Some are personal, some sacred, some more fun and modern,’ Karen says of the collection. ‘Mine is about the past and present existing together. It is a very engaging show that you can spend a long time enjoying and learning about each artist, their work and connection to country.’
‘Our Country’ is also the first Melbourne-based curatorial project for Karen, and the first instance each of these art centres are exhibiting together.
‘For our regular visitors and collectors, it is rare to visit a local gallery – outside of those larger Melbourne institutions – and have an opportunity to engage with work of this calibre,’ Brunswick Street Gallery manager Jacqui Burnes explains.
And for Karen and the artists involved, it represents something much bigger – a hope that visitors will gain a greater understanding of Aboriginal people in remote Australia.
‘When I see the exhibition, I see memories and feel our ancestors are proud of us’ she says. ‘I can feel the energy of all of us coming together – it makes me really proud. All of these art centres coming together, speaking in their own voice and describing their country. I want the whole world to know this.’
See ‘Our Country’ at Brunswick Street Gallery from June 2 until 19. Pre-sale for the artworks are open now!
Brunswick Street Gallery
Level 1 & 2
322 Brunswick Street
Wurundjeri Country, Fitzroy VIC