Julie Dowling: Yagu Gurlbarl (Big Secret)

Julie Dowling has a big secret, and it isn’t pretty. Dowling is a First Nations Badimaya/Yamatji/Widi from the Midwest of Western Australia, whose solo exhibition, ‘Yagu Gurlbarl (Big Secret)’, explores the theme of slavery and poverty in Australia for First Nations peoples, both in past centuries and in current Australian society.

Curated by Charmaine Green, the exhibition presents a series of highly decorated figurative artworks that will draw in and engage the viewer. Working in a realist style, Dowling draws on diverse traditions including European portraiture and Christian icons, mural painting, dotting and Indigenous Australian iconography. Her works are strongly political; commenting on deep-seated injustices and challenging the myth that First Nations peoples are indolent and a drain on society. The beauty presented in the works becomes a metaphor for the resilience and wisdom of First Nations peoples to overcome the narrow narrative that has mythologised colonisation.

Julie Dowling, Aunty Violet, 2017, acrylic, red ochre and mica gold on canvas, 110 x 89.6cm. Courtesy the artist and Yamaji Art, Western Australia

‘Yagu Gurlbarl (Big Secret)’ is semi-autobiographical, referencing her own family as well as other First Nation individuals marked as ‘Unknown’ from international photographic archives. She investigates their ongoing struggle for compensation for stolen wages and reparations for slavery. ‘An amnesia exists whereby Australian agriculture and other primary industries were founded on the slavery of its first peoples. The works in Dowling’s exhibition speak of these atrocities and to show how beautifully resilient her people are despite this.’ – Carol Dowling, twin sister of Julie Dowling.

This ART ON THE MOVE touring exhibition has been on display in Western Australia since 2018. It is currently on show at Collie Art Gallery until 16 August, before heading to Bunbury Regional Art Gallery from 5 September to 29 November 2020.

Julie Dowling, Granny Mary, 2017. Courtesy City of Greater Geraldton