An exhibition on display at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Art Museum is set to prompt thought around James Cook’s voyage on its 250th anniversary.

Featuring contemporary works from a group of 11 esteemed Aboriginal artists, curator Shannon Brett is aiming to provoke questions around Cook’s journey.

A descendant of the Wakka Wakka, Butchulla and Gurang Gurang peoples, Brett said the exhibition is a representation of transition.

“A rite of passage marks an important stage in someone’s life, or death – a transition. During a time not so long ago, the Aboriginal population of this country transitioned from a free civilisation to a nation conquered,” Brett said.

“In the process, thousands of years of ecological and spiritual power and cultural knowledge were diminished, and many customs and traditions of our original people were lacerated – with many lost forever.”

With nearly 20 years’ experience in the arts industry, Brett is well versed in the power of art and its ability to inspire, empower and leave people with thoughts they may have never considered.

“When it is honest art – the work will do its job,” Brett said.

“We need to listen to artworks like these that actively contribute to the undeniable truths of our Aboriginal existence and, as our planet gets smaller, we need to solemnly participate in asphyxiating the damaging rhetoric that divides us.”

The veteran curator said the exhibition’s title, Rite of Passage, was always the foundation of her curation and collaboration with the artists.

“The artists of Rite of Passage are people who are explicit in their actions regarding their Aboriginal rites,” Brett said.

“They carry their families’ wisdom with them every second of every day that they exist.

Rite of Passage reveals how these artists define themselves as voices of their families and their ancestors in their quest to preserve their Aboriginality.

“They are well aware that it’s time for change for this nation, it’s time to accept the shadow of death in its past, and to place this awareness within our historic timeline; it’s time to insert this knowledge within our country’s psyche.”

Brett said each artist participating in the exhibition is using their platform to dismantle misconceptions and teach the way forward.

“These artists dismantle the quasi-tribal myths imposed by early white Australia and reframe the way newcomers of the past century see Aboriginality,” Brett said.

“They teach us that the time to act is now and that accountability is an expectation.”

All works on display are autobiographical, from respected artists:

  • Glennys Briggs
  • Megan Cope
  • Nici Cumpston
  • Karla Dickens
  • Julie Gough
  • Lola Greeno
  • Leah King-Smith
  • Jenna Lee
  • Carol McGregor
  • Mandy Quadrio
  • Judy Watson.

Crediting the hardworking team who assisted her with the exhibition at the QUT Art Museum, Brett said she hopes visitors respect the premise of Rite of Passage as much as the “dedicated arts workers” who helped make the exhibition happen.

Rite of Passage is on until May 10 at QUT Art Museum.

By Hannah Cross