Freshwater Tassy artist mesmerises with patterns from country

Wayne Quilliam's exhibition 'Instaculture' looks at the deepest, oldest continuing culture on earth.

Former NAIDOC artist of the year Professor Wayne Quilliam is set to bring country, culture and spirit to the public in a series of mesmerising large scale-photographs.

The exhibition, which will run in Sydney from Monday July 8 until the start of August, is titled ‘Instaculture’ and presents images of Australia’s vast landscapes, as well as nodding to this year’s NAIDOC Week theme: Voice. Treaty. Truth.

“These artworks have been done specifically for this show. They’ve been created whilst I’ve been out on country.”

Mr Quilliam, a freshwater man from Tasmania, always had a yearning for travel and creativity.

“Growing up as a young fella in Tasmania back in the 1960s it was one of those incredible places. I had a wonderful loving family, and a beautiful lifestyle, but I knew there was something more.

‘Instaculture’ will be on display at Sydney’s Darling Quarter.

He began his journey travelling the world whilst in the Australian Navy.

“On my 16th birthday I was crossing the line, up in south-east Asia. Back then, there was one television station, and you knew nothing of the world. Going out into it was an incredible experience … [now] there are very few places I haven’t been.”

“The wanderlust for international travel is amazing but I also wanted to discover my cultural identity and spirituality. It was that was something I didn’t have in Tasmania because there wasn’t in the opportunity in those days. A lot of our knowledge and cultural essence had been lost.”

“I remember when I came to the mainland, I connected with community in Victoria. Later, I realised that’s the community a lot of my family were in. It developed from there. I started working for the Koori Mail, as a photo journalist and that was my idea of participating and growing as a young Aboriginal man.”

Travelling the nation, from regional Victoria, to Arnhem Land and beyond, Quilliam began connecting to country and his own spirituality.

“There was never a single moment that was transformational—there were so many moments. So many times I’ve been out on country with the old people when they have been telling stories and sharing knowledge. I would sit there, like a child, listening and absorbing. I understand why we need to be connected to country.”

“I continually get drawn back to Lake Mungo; I’ve been going there for thirty or so years. There’s something so spiritual about it—sitting on the dunes at four o’clock in the morning waiting for the sun to come up, watching the kangaroos go one way and the emus go the other, the pure silence. You can feel the spirits there with you, it’s an extraordinary experience.”

Arnhem Land is another place that Mr Quilliam has often visited.

“I’ve been going there for so long. The Yolngu stories about country continually inspire me and help me grow. So do the uncles and aunties who have embraced me as family. It’s such a unique experience.”

Quilliam’s art is narrative of his own spiritual journey and continually changes to reflect his connection to culture. He describes his work as ‘traditional digital art’, predominantly taken with a digital camera or drone, and he hopes to expand perspectives on what defines Aboriginal art.

“The art has continued to grow. What I’m creating now, is completely different to what I was doing twelve months ago, and I believe it’ll change again. The experiences change. It’s when people get caught up in the question, ‘What is Aboriginal art?’ … My explanation is that it is art created by an Aboriginal person. It’s my cultural intent to create something that fulfils me spiritually.”

“I’m a massive believer that I create art purely for myself. It’s not something that I necessarily want to do, it’s something that I have to do. And my wife will tell me, I need to get into the car and go out bush. I need to get out and create.”

“To young Aboriginal artists, don’t be afraid, be bold. I continually challenge myself to find new practices. Remember, it’s all a process.”

‘Instaculture’ is something entirely new for the artist, featuring sixteen large-scale artworks on four large cubes in an outdoor gallery space.

“aMBUSH and I sat down and we had a yarn. They were so supportive, and they’ve let me develop what I needed for this show.”

“Creating art, it comes from the soul, from the spirit and these guys understand that.”

Mr Quilliam hopes that the piece will inspire audiences to engage with the world around them on a deep spiritual level.

“Don’t get me wrong I love Instagram and social media. But I could post a photo and I’ll get so many hits, likes and responses and the next day nothing.”

“The idea behind this exhibition is mother earth and the spirits that roam. They have been here since the beginning of time, and the importance in stopping, looking and learning. The earth is an incredibly beautiful place and a lot of people walk over the top of it.”

“I hope people stop and look and absorb the patterns in the artwork. I hope they could feel what I felt when I created it, the connection.”

‘Instaculture’ has been curated by aMBUSH Gallery and will be on display from July 1st until August 3rd at Darling Quarter, Sydney.

By Rachael Knowles

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