250 years on, Cook’s legacy examined in art

A group exhibition featuring the work of contemporary Aboriginal artists opens at QUT Art Museum on 6 March and takes a fresh look at 2020 and the 250th anniversary of the arrival of James Cook in Australia.

Curated by Shannon Brett, descendant of south east Queensland’s Wakka Wakka, Butchulla and Gurang Gurang peoples, Rite of Passage aims to reframe the way Australia’s history is viewed.

Brett said the exhibition posits 2020 as a key turning point – a transition from the past, towards a future that respects Aboriginality and validates the sovereignty of Aboriginal people. The artists carry the fire of a continuing culture and pave the way for tomorrow.

“A rite of passage marks an important stage in someone’s life, or death – a transition. During a time not so long ago, the Aboriginal population of this country transitioned from a free civilisation to a nation conquered,” Brett said.

Nici Cumpston: Listening to the river 2005–19

backlit transparent archival film (lightbox) edition of 5 + 2AP

Courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney

“In the process, thousands of years of ecological and spiritual power and cultural knowledge were diminished, and many customs and traditions of our original people were lacerated—with many lost forever.”

Rite of Passage showcases autobiographical work by eleven highly regarded Aboriginal artists from across Australia – Glennys Briggs, Megan Cope, Nici Cumpston, Karla Dickens, Julie Gough, Lola Greeno, Leah King-Smith, Jenna Lee, Carol McGregor, Mandy Quadrio, and Judy Watson.

Judy Watson – the holes in the land #2 2015

4 plate colour etching, edition 30/30

Courtesy of the artist and grahame galleries + editions

The exhibition reveals how they define themselves as voices of their families and their ancestors in their quest to preserve their Aboriginality.

“These honest artists are creative storytellers, people who know our history and who understand those melancholy yesterdays and our acrimonious now,” said Brett.

“Through their work, the artists contemplate their intergenerational pain to de-colonise current social realities and to conjure the political change that will educate a greater community conditioned by the constructs of whiteness. This has become their rite.”

The exhibition also aligns with a major QUT priority to focus on Indigenous Australians by addressing questions of sovereignty and the legitimate assertion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights. QUT’s commitment to this goal is apparent in an increase in its Indigenous Australian staff and research focus, as well as attention to the needs of Indigenous future and existing students.

Rite of Passage runs from 7 March to 10 May 2020 at QUT Art Museum. A suite of special public programs, including talks and drop-in workshops, will be held over its opening and closing weekends. The exhibition will travel to NorthSite Contemporary Arts (previously KickArts) in Cairns later in 2020.

Caption for main image:

Jenna LEE

un/bound passage (detail) 2019 – hand-dyed and folded paper installation from pages of ‘The Voyages of Captain Cook’ Ladybird Book, with video projection

/University Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.