‘I had goosebumps’: New Indigenous exhibition brings people to tears

A new exhibition showcasing Aboriginal history and the constant evolution of Indigenous culture was "60,000 years in the making", according to curator Marcus Hughes.

Upon entering Linear at the Powerhouse Museum, visitors are immediately greeted with Ngarinyin elder David Mowaljarlai's visual map of lines that link Australia together culturally, spiritually and physically.

Linear exhibition designer Jacob Nash and curator Marcus Hughes, with artist Vicki West’s work, Milaythina Takila (heart country), at the Powerhouse in Sydney.Credit:Janie Barrett

For both Mr Hughes and designer Jacob Nash, the map was the inspiration for the entire creation.

"It gave incredible clarity to the way that we as a community across the country are connected," Mr Hughes said.

"For us, at the core of it, it's all about our people."

Mr Hughes and Mr Nash, with Linear artist Maree Clarke’s work.Credit:Janie Barrett

The exhibition is a journey through time, chronicling the ways that new technology has integrated with traditional Aboriginal culture and their inventions.

"Culture's never still, we're always growing and changing," Mr Nash says. "But at the heart of that it's us."

In between traditional artworks, including some artifacts which are centuries old, are TV screens which show the artists creating their works and a virtual reality experience by artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, which invites viewers into the world of the Martu people in the remote Western Australian desert.

The reason for that, Mr Hughes said, was so that people could see the focus, concentration and story behind the art; rather than the finished product. He said that art often "transports" the maker somewhere else.

"When the aunties paint, they go back to that place. And when you see our mob working on their work, they're in a different place," he said.

"So often our cultural material is objectified and we need people to know it's more than just an objective and there's a deep connection to those materials."

I had goosebumps… seeing these old photos and how they were captured, they stopped me in my tracks.

A friend of the group, having just walked through the museum, tells Mr Hughes that she cried walking through the exhibition. The admission brings him to tears as well.

Mr Nash says that even though the exhibit operates within western constructs, the creator is culturally diverse and in-line with the various Aboriginal communities around the country.

"We're all one but we're all different," says Wayne Quilliam, one of the exhibit's artists and adjunct professor of photography at RMIT. His photographs of remote Indigenous communities hang on the wall, next to a series of pictures taken in the 19th century.

Photographer Wayne Quilliam with his work in the exhibition.Credit:Janie Barrett

"I had goosebumps. People constantly ask me 'who do you admire? Do you emulate other photographers?' and I honestly don't. But seeing these old photos and how they were captured, they stopped me in my tracks."

He said the amount of time it took to record a single picture had made him reassess his own work.

"Society's like a big drive-thru. Bang, bang, bang there's your photo, move on. But these old people took the time to stop, listen and learn. I re-look at the way I do things now."

Mr Quilliam cites David Unaipon, who adorns our $50 note, as an Australian Leonardo Da Vinci. A portrait of Unaipon is the centrepiece of the hallway which leads into the main exhibition room.

"We've got incredible individuals, both black and white in this country, and we need to remember all of them," Mr Quilliam said. "If you don't remember the past, then what is the future?"

Mr Hughes said that it was vital that we continued the study of Indigenous culture in our social fabric.

"For our people it's really important to see their work presented in a way that does showcase the sophistication of practice. And hopefully through that [visitors] will get a greater understanding of our culture."

Other artists featured include Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Maree Clarke, Mikaela Jade, Nicole Monks, Glenda Nicholls, Lucy Simpson, Bernard Singleton, and Vicki West.

Linear opens at the Powerhouse Museum on Friday November 15th.

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