Who are these strangers and where are they going? is renowned contemporary artist, Dr Fiona Foley’s solo exhibition that will be showing at the National Art School in Darlinghurst for the 2020 Sydney Festival.

The exhibition hosts work spanning Dr Foley’s 30-year career aside new works which includes photography, installation and video, all underpinned by a soundscape.

“There are seven bodies of work from my photographic career, my art practice is wider than that but this really focuses on that photographic practice. It started in 1994 on a work I did called Badtjala woman, which is based on a historical photograph of a Fraser Island woman from 1899,” Dr Foley said.

“There were other bodies of work … overseas and there is work from 2017 related to my PhD work around the legislation in Queensland called the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897) which is one of those hidden histories few Australians know about.

“A lot of my work is research-based historically in Queensland … I take out the stories from that history to put it in a different context so non-Indigenous Australians are aware of what happened in this country.”

“There has been so much denial and silencing, the art is a way for me to communicate this history that took place here.”

The title of the show comes from the soundscape that flows through exhibition. It’s the oldest known Aboriginal song which details the first sighting of Captain Cook in 1770 by the Badtjala people of K’gari Island, otherwise known as Fraser Island.

Dr Foley is a Badtjala woman with a deep connection to the song and she created it with musicians, Teila Watson and Joe Gala. The soundscape builds upon the original song and incorporates Badtjala language.

“Last year was the year of Indigenous languages and it was a way for me to bring language through song, with a woman, Teila Watson.

“She worked with my mother’s Badtjala dictionary, my mother Shirley Foley put that language together over 20 years with her own research.

“It was a culmination; it was so powerful to take those words off the page and put it in a creative form through song and that really has activated a different space … what we can do with our language that hasn’t really been done before in Badtjala culture.”

Dr Foley also recognised the incredible exhibition curation by Bundjalung man, Djon Mundine OAM.

“I’m proud of the way the work is being curated by Djon … he makes work look really strong. Everything is sitting in the right place and there’s a real strength about the show,” she said.

“It’s a testimony to who I am as an individual person, the Badtjala people as a whole – we are a strong group of people and we have important things to say.”

Who are these strangers and where are they going? opened on Wednesday January 8 and will run until Saturday February 8 at the National Arts School in Darlinghurst.

By Rachael Knowles