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Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland exhibition of extensive new Indigenous collection at NMA

[by Diana Streak]


 ‘Hairy Men’ sculpture with headband and necklace, Yarrabah Art Centre. Supplied NMA

More than 100 emerging and established artists from Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait took part in the Belonging project run by art centres from across the region and the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA). They experimented with new materials and techniques, creating a collection of artworks that represents the vibrant and innovative creativity of First Nations artists and explores what it means to belong.
The National Museum acquired the collection of 415 artworks created by 103 artists working in 11 art centres across the region: Bana Yirriji Art, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, Hopevale Arts & Cultural Centre, Mornington Island Art, Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre, Wik & Kugu Art Centre, Yalanji Arts, Yarrabah Arts Centre, Wei’Num Arts, Badu Art Centre and Moa Arts.
The first iteration of the Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland exhibition features 120 works by 29 artists working in Hope Vale, Yarrabah, Moa Island and Mornington Island and will be on display in the Museum’s Focus Gallery until 12 February 2023.
Works from the other seven art centres will feature in exhibitions opening at the National Museum in 2023 and 2024.
National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said “When IACA first presented the Belonging collection in 2019, we were immediately struck by the power of these artworks. They glow with creativity, reflecting the freshness and vitality of the artists' diverse styles. 
“Rather than picking out individual pieces, we saw the richness in the entire collection and the potential to bring these stories to all of Australia and the world,” Dr Trinca said.
National Museum curator Shona Coyne said “The Belonging collection is so much more than beautiful art; it describes a way of life. Each painting, image and sculpture takes you to Country and shows you what it feels like to belong in Far North Queensland. 
“The collection highlights the importance of Indigenous art centres, which are often the heartbeat in the life of remote and regional communities.
“The Belonging project encouraged artists to experiment, creating exciting new works using new media such as earth and dry pigments, fluorescent paints, digital film and photography. The results were immediate; art centres were re-invigorated and new styles emerged,” Ms Coyne said.
IACA’s Pam Bigelow worked closely with the art centres in setting up the Belonging project. “Art centres in central, western and the top end of Australia have been known for so long. We are trying to even that up and have our artists seen. Our art centres had to advocate hard to get a peak body to represent them, so this project is a major milestone.
“The Belonging exhibition is an outstanding opportunity for IACA member artists to gain a national profile and boost their careers,” Ms Bigelow said.

Works from seven other art centres; Badu, Bana Yirriji, Girringun, Pormpuraaw, Wei’Num, Wik and Kugu, and Yalanji will be on display in two more exhibitions at the National Museum of Australia in 2023 and 2024.


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