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Indigenous artists take centre stage in Naarm

Dechlan Brennan -

The William Mora Indigenous Art Centre Program was recently housed at the Melbourne Art Fair in Naarm from the 22-25 of February, highlighting some of the most detailed and outstanding work of Indigenous artists working on Country, and throughout communities, across Australia.

Palawa woman Jessica Clark, who is the Yalingwa Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, spoke to National Indigenous Times after touring the various Indigenous artists and centres at Melbourne Convention Centre.

The works included the outstanding display from Aurukun artist Keith Wikmunea, who last year won the 2023 Telstra Art Award, and Yolŋu artist Wanapati Yunupiŋu, who has developed his own style of contemporary work: etching his sacred Gumatj clan designs and stories into the face of discarded street signs and twisted metal and aluminium surfaces.

The work of Aurukun artist Keith Wikmunea. (Image: Dechlan Brennan)

Ms Clark said four Indigenous arts centres were supported through the William Mora Foundation.

"That's fully funded participation [for the centres]...otherwise they wouldn't have the financial capacity to be here and be sharing their work," she said.

Ms Clark noted there was 30 or more Indigenous artists and centres on display at the fair - many from remote and regional areas - and this exposure gives the artists the chance to promote their work to a wider public.

"It's also about creating an equal standing and playing field between the art centre and a commercial gallery," Ms Clark said.

"I think it's really important that this kind of crowd in this place and space is able to engage with artists, with different communities, and have that equal kind of standing and engagement."

The unique takes on everyday objects by Yolŋu artist Wanapati Yunupiŋu. (Image: Dechlan Brennan)

Having run the tour over the previous four days, Ms Clark said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, especially as visitors of the fair were able to directly interact with the artist and the centre in ways that are often difficult normally.

"The narrative of First Nations art is at the heart of it and the community, and the collaboration's tell wonderful, energetic, ancestor stories that have been handed down for so long," she said.

"And that's what everyone gets excited about on these tours. They want to know the story. They want to know where the work is from. Where to place the work and what that then means to the artist and their engagement with the work."

Ms Clark also highlighted that from next year, Victoria will join the rest of the country in hosting an Indigenous specific arts festival - the First Peoples Art and Design Fair - which will be a major biennial event for the state. It will showcase not just work from Naarm, but Indigenous artists and designers from all corners of the state.

All images were taken with permission of the William Mora Indigenous Arts Centre.

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