Aboriginal Camp Life on show in Japan

[supplied by Jenny Fraser]


Image: supplied

'Gunya' a unique group showcase featuring the work of invited Aboriginal artists tours to Japan, for the JAALA International Art Exchange Exhibition at the Yokohama Arts Foundation from 11th to 16th August 2021. The artworks from Australia will appear alongside that of delegates from countries including South Korea, China, Taiwan, Palestine, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Columbia, Chile, West Sahara, El Salvador, Japan and others.

Curated by Jenny Fraser the 'Gunya' exhibition is focused on the contribution of the plant kingdom in camp life for Aboriginal people over millennia. The word gunyah describes the traditional dome shaped shelters made of bark and tree branches made by Aboriginal people on the Australian East Coast, and comes from the Darug language of the area that is now known as Sydney. The Gunya exhibition acknowledges the continuing role of native plants supporting daily life, that are used for dwellings as well as bushfood, medicine and adornments in Aboriginal societies. Gordon Syron (Worimi), Susan Reys (Guugu Yimithirr), Teho Ropeyarn (Angkamuthi) and Artist Curator Jenny Fraser (Yugambeh) present their work for the 2021 JAALA biennial exhibition. Gunya is a self-funded initiative and includes a range of prints, paintings, photomedia, film and banners produced by the artists in Australia.

Gordon Syron is known as the father of contemporary urban Aboriginal art. His works are politically motivated and come from a place of self-determination, cultural pride and legacy. Gordon belongs to the Birpi / Worimi Aboriginal language groups and.started painting in the early 1970s while serving a life sentence in jail. Gordons 2020 painting titled 'BOAT PEOPLE' is from a series often titled Invasion Day / Terror Nullius / Comin’ Through The Heads that he has been working on for many decades. Painting is healing for him and helps channel anger at the idea of terra nullius (land belonging to nobody) – a concept that is proven false by his depictions of Aboriginal people and Mimi spirits watching from their gunyah on the shoreline as the British invaders arrive. 'Go away first boat people' says Gordon Syron.

Susan Reys is a descendant of the Butchulla people in Queensland who were forcibly removed from K’gari (Fraser Island) to the Yarrabah Anglican Mission in 1904. Her works are inspired by various symbols found within her country, and the marks made in the sand during traditional story telling that continue to be practiced in the living culture. Susans painting titled Connecting to the 5 elements is motivated towards the rising consciousness of the co-dependent relationship that exists between creation and humanity. 'It is our personal responsibility to care for mother earth and its creation. We all have an obligation to preserve, protect and sustain life... It’s our social and cultural obligation to respect the land in which we live and for future generations' states Susan Reys.

Teho Ropeyarn draws on the traditions of the Angkamuthi and Yadhaykana clan groups from the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. The narratives in his artworks explore a number of traditional and historical stories, totems, the four clan groups that make up the Injinoo peoples, encompassing spiritual connection to country and community. The title of Teho's vinylcut print for Japan is Ivimi Utku, Ivimi Alarrakudhi and Wanthah Manggudhi. The images reflect two family groups, the Emu and Brolga families who lived side by side hunting and gathering until jealousy destroyed family and friendship. 'The yam represents the gathering event whilst also separating both family groups after the incident' said Teho Ropeyarn.

Jenny Fraser works within a fluid screen-based art practice that utilises popular cultural iconography as a bridge to challenge viewer’s frames of reference. Her current focus is healing work with Bush Foods, Plant Medicine, Flower Essences and other Body Work, using the raw energy of plants, helping people to help themselves and revitalising ancient practices. Her prints for Japan titled Flower Offering are a photomedia series, initiated through photography of native flowers and re-designed for prints on canvas, then hand-painted to create an aura. 'We can make use of them sameway they did by the river, back in the day, some of the longest surviving flowers are without continental shift, and the more isolated the better for us, with no fuel fumes, or sulphates to absorb' said Jenny Fraser. She has also produced a 10 minute film about the life of artist Gordon Syron to mark his 80th year, for JAALA 2021.

The acronym JAALA stands for Japan, Asian, African and Latin American Artists Association. The group initially began their work in 1954, concerned about the confrontation of major nuclear powers, and the JAALA exhibition was later founded in 1978. The inaugural show titled "reinstatement of man and nature" at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum included countries such as Palestine, China, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Kenya and others. 2021 sees the the 22nd JAALA Biennial International Art Exhibition, and this year more new countries are included, such as a focus on Lebanon. Historically their work also includes being actively involved in the international campaign to eradicate apartheid, particularly with regard to the ANC in South Africa, reflecting the unique position of Japan as a non-white nation.

Aboriginal artists from Australia, have again been invited to participate, to represent their cultures in Japan. A partnership between JAALA Japan and cyberTribe Australia is now marking 10 years and has realised the inclusion of Aboriginal artworks for the fourth time since the JAALA Biennial exhibition was founded in 1978. cyberTribe curator and artist, Jenny Fraser has worked with 2021 JAALA Curators Saburo Inagaki, Kobayashi Hakudoto and the team, to best feature Aboriginal representation and generational diversity for the 22nd exhibition, which coincides with the Tokyo Olympics. “The legacy work that JAALA has been doing to help overcome racism, apartheid, and militarisation in society is really inspirational, so It is an honour and a privilege to have Aboriginal Art included in this show of solidarity for the world. Each of our contributions to the collective do matter' she said.


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