Next Matriarch

Strength, sisterhood and Ancestral healing unite the practices of Paola Balla, Ali Gumillya Baker, Hannah Brontë, Miriam Charlie, Amrita Hepi, Nicole Monks and Kaylene Whiskey in ‘Next Matriarch’, an exhibition of new works co-curated by Kimberley Moulton and Liz Nowell. Presented alongside the ‘Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art’, ACE Open’s group show brings sovereign female voices together in different modes from photography, painting, video and installation. It is both an ode to the critical role women play in Indigenous and contemporary culture intellectually and also emblematically with the female body positioned as a carrier of children, resilience and knowledge. We spoke to Moulton about the concepts explored in ‘Next Matriarch’.

Ali Gumillya Baker, SovereignGODDESSnotdomestic #2, 2017, digital photograph on lightbox, 120 x 83cm. Courtesy the artist

How is resistance expressed in the show?
Resistance is the artists being here and sharing their work, our very existence as Sovereign people is a legacy of the resistance of what came before. The artists in this show make work that speak back to tropes of what Aboriginal art should be, they bring their matriarchs to the fore and resist the white patriarchal influence and the colonial regime and its continuance. They speak up for women, for family and community and for themselves.

What does it mean to be a ‘Sovereign woman’ today?
To be a Sovereign person today I believe is any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who identifies and connects with their country, culture and community. We all have a personal approach to living life as a Sovereign person, there is no right or wrong way, but it is our birthright to country that has been passed down for thousands of generations that gives us strength. It’s knowing where I come from and the legacy of my Ancestors that gives me strength. As a Yorta Yorta Sovereign woman I ensure I honour my Ancestors and family legacy, go back home to country when I can and work for the support and benefit of First Nations artists and community.

Hannah Brontë, Mother Lava, 2017, digital image. Courtesy the artist and ACE Open, South Australia

Many of the women cast themselves as the protagonist in their works; can you speak on this trend?
Hepi, Balla and Whiskey all position themselves within their work; literally, with Hepi dancing in her video and Whiskey has painted herself. Balla’s work lovescapes is a large wall paper installation of her Wemba Wemba country overlaid with images of seven generations of her matriarchs, herself and her daughter Rosie, looking at both her past but ensuring a supportive future for her daughter.

I would say that all the works have a very personal approach and in fact the artists in many ways position themselves and their culture in the work. Baker’s work for example looks at the history of domestic service and forced servitude of Aboriginal women and the history in her family, she has taken images of women in her community in Adelaide and while she does not physically position herself in the work her story is there.

Kaylene Whiskey, Strong Kungka Story 2, 2017, acrylic on linen, 122 x 167cm. Courtesy the artist and ACE Open, South Australia

Both Brontë and Hepi use a combination of visual art principles, music and movement in their work. Do you think this multi-disciplinary approach is a result of their social message?
They are both incredibly diverse in practice and approach to telling their story, and realising multi layered concepts of identity, activisms, body Sovereignty and social and environmental advocacy.

I think Brontë and Hepi’s approach is actually a strong message of the way they are not only talented across platforms of visual art and performance but how artists are indigenising spaces through an approach of story, sound, sensory and visual experiences and are not wanting to be defined or restricted by a white cube. Music and performance is also a way of engaging people on multi levels, the artists play with the influence of popular culture and hip hop which also has a huge reach to younger generations. Old messages and new ways or new concepts informed by old ways – it is all entwined.

Monks’ beautiful self-portrait personifies the importance of the matriarchy. How does this concept manifest in the show?
All of the works speak to the influence of matriarchy in the artists lives and community and Monks’ animated images of her pregnant, share her experience of the power of motherhood but also the fear, the confusion and unknown space in entering that role, they call upon all the women that have come before and given birth asking for strength and guidance. Charlie’s portraits of women in her community are candid snapshots of every day life and the matriarchs that keep things running, her personal documentary-style approach to her photography gives an intimate view into her community and the people she calls friends and family.

Why is it powerful to bring memory and visions of the future together?
Because they inform each other, we learn from our memories, they can cause us pain and joy. They inform our identities and direct us.

ACE Open
Until 9 December, 2017
South Australia