Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Contemporary Indigenous photography at Horsham Regional Art Gallery

Adam Harding and Danielle Smelter have over the last year added a number of key works by Indigenous photographers to the Horsham Regional Art Gallery's exceptional collection of photographs. Photographs by Tony Albert and Fiona Foley recently joined pictures held in the collection by Ricky Maynard, Leah King-Smith, Darren Siwes and Brook Andrew. These photographs – alongside a work by Destiny Deacon on loan from a private collection – were until recently on display at the gallery in a wonderful, concise show that clearly demonstrates the strength of a collection rarely seen outside of the Wimmera.

Contemporary Indigenous photography demonstrated some of the ways Indigenous photographers have interrogated some of the myths of contemporary Australia. A range of strategies – humour, doubling or mirroring, shock – are seen throughout the work to meet this end. Many of us are now familiar with these strategies and their effectiveness – the idea that dominant images can be critically unpacked by drawing attention to the pictorial and visual codes used historically to produce and/or circulate myths.

But this little exhibition had a certain power because of its location. Who knew that Horsham had, for some time now, been putting together a sub-collection of pictures by contemporary Indigenous photographers? Like many prosperous regional centres, Horsham – and the Wimmera more broadly – has a troubled Indigenous history. My experience of the area during the seventies and eighties is of a place without Indigenous presence; the exceptions were a few references to the local Jaadwa people in placenames like Jardwa Park and Jardwa Court. We couldn't even spell it correctly. Although a few, very proud Indigenous families lived in the town, it was possible to live in Horsham and not encounter Indigenous people at all.

It's a different place now. The Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Coorperative and the Barengi Gadjin Land Council are both highly visible, and the municipal authority is also doing its bit to reconcile the region's settlement history. And all the while, under the astute leadership of Merle Hathaway and now Adam Harding, the gallery has been compiling a series of photographs that can assist this process further. I don’t want to sound like photography needs to play a grand social or historic role to be of use; but I can see how this show might have made a real difference to the Wimmera people lucky enough to have seen it.
Shaune Lakin
image: Tony Albert, Omptimism 8 2008, Type C print, 80 x 80cm, purchased through the Horsham Art Gallery Trust Fund, 2009

1 comment:

  1. Just came across this - very kind of you. Horsham's collection has some surprising strengths and I enjoyed the small role I played in gaining some of its indigenous works. The Ricky Maynard was one work I nearly missed. It was first shown in Horsham at an exhibition curated by Helen Frajman of M33. Although I was highly disturbed by it (a sure sign one should buy!) we didn't as we had almost no budget then. Years later I saw it at a friend's house and it absolutely hit me and I rang Helen Frajman to see if one was still available. Fortunately yes!