Indigenous art takes centre stage

In Attractions, Australian Cultural Exports, Community, Featured Home Page News, Western Australia
Indigenous Art

The global art world is taking notice of Australian Indigenous works, with Ilona McGuire being one of many in the surging interest is inspiring a new generation of First Nations artists to break into the scene.

The proud Whadjuk, Ballardong, Yuat and Kungarakan woman is one of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) resident ‘Hatched’ artists, a program that celebrates emerging artists across Australia. McGuire’s studio space at PICA in Perth’s Northbridge neighbourhood.

“I love coming in here each day and just creating space for myself to contemplate and really research and think about ideas so I’ve got a bit of a bank of ideas,” she said.

For McGuire, the impact of being given a platform has been huge.

“After last year and being in the public eye, it’s been a really great opportunity for me to receive more opportunities to work further as an artist.”

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From London to New York and Singapore to Paris, the global art world is taking notice of Australian Indigenous works.

The surging interest is inspiring a new generation of First Nations artists to break into the scene, including Ilona McGuire.

The contemporary artist spends her days researching and brainstorming ideas for upcoming projects.

Her studio space at PICA in the heart of Perth’s Northbridge neighbourhood comes with a background soundtrack of thumping beats from the bar downstairs.

But McGuire says the music doesn’t bother her; she’s just thrilled to have the space to work in.

“I love coming in here each day and just creating space for myself to contemplate and really research and think about ideas so I’ve got a bit of a bank of ideas,” she said.

The proud Whadjuk, Ballardong, Yuat and Kungarakan woman is one of Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) resident ‘Hatched’ artists, a program that celebrates emerging artists across Australia.

Even though she’s yet to complete her Fine Arts degree, she is already becoming well-known.

An artwork featuring six spades on a wall
The Sixth Spade is one of Ilona McGuire’s artworks. (ABC News)

She was thrust into the limelight last year for creating a drone light show for the Fremantle Biennale, a first of its kind in Australia.

Called Moombaki, the Nyoongar word for “where the river meets the sky”, three different shows recreated the first stories of Whadjuk Nyoongar Country.

“It’s surreal, I was working on (Moombaki) last year in the lead up to my grad show exhibition, and it was really overwhelming at times, but I think I really took on the challenge and enjoyed the experience because working in the arts was something I always wanted to do,” the 24-year-old said.

The shows attracted thousands of people and were highly acclaimed.

Revealing more emerging artists

McGuire is part of a growing number of Indigenous artists coming onto the scene.

A lady is pictured from behind looking at artwork hanging on a wall
Three-quarters of the artworks in the Revealed exhibition sold on opening night.(ABC News: Jade Barker)

On the other side of Perth at the Fremantle Arts Centre, the Revealed exhibition showcases more than 250 pieces of work from more than 100 creators at the beginning of their careers.

The annual event has been running for several years and curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington says it’s becoming easier to find talent to feature.

“Revealed is a really great platform for artists who haven’t had major exhibitions in commercial galleries and other major institutions and it’s a really important stepping stone for artists to get their work platformed,” he said.

People walk down a corridor looking at artwork
The exhibition celebrates the creativity, ambition and diversity of contemporary Aboriginal art. (ABC News: Jade Barker)

This year, three-quarters of the work sold on opening night, despite Perth experiencing a surge in COVID cases at the time.

Capturing global attention

But it’s not just on home soil where Indigenous artworks are proving popular.

Sotheby’s in New York recently moved its annual Australian Indigenous art sale from the winter off-season to the May marquee month, with the highest-selling work going for just over one million Australian dollars.

The Tate Modern’s exhibition, A Year in Art: Australia 1992, has proven so popular since it opened last June, its run has been extended until September.

YOUTUBEA Year in Art: Australia 1992 brings together works by Australian artists to examine debates around land rights and the ongoing legacies of colonialism.

In Singapore, the National Gallery has recently opened a major exhibition called Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia, the largest show of its kind to go on tour in Asia.

“The art industry and business of art are all highly connected, so when you see major state-run organisations delivering really big exhibitions, then that has a flow-on effect to the confidence people have in buying the work,” Iseger-Pilkington said.

Glenn smiling while pictured in front of Indigenous artwork wearing a flannelette shirt
Curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington says the increased global attention has a flow on effect, boosting the confidence of emerging artists.(ABC News: Jade Barker)

Not just a passing trend

McGuire agrees that seeing the commercial success and global attention of indigenous art is heartening.

“I find it really inspiring and encouraging to see my mob stepping out and creating work that’s beautiful and inspiring and empowering,” she said.

Ilona crouches down and places rocks in a circle in a studio
McGuire believes recognition of Indigenous artists will continue to grow. (ABC News: Jade Barker)

For McGuire, the impact of being given a platform has been huge.

“After last year and being in the public eye, it’s been a really great opportunity for me to receive more opportunities to work further as an artist.”

Both McGuire and Iseger-Pilkington believe the interest in Australian indigenous artworks is not a passing trend and that recognition will continue to grow, as more artists are inspired to put forward their creations.

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