Dora Griffiths Curates Her First Exhibition; ‘Our Legacy’

Geraldine

“Even though our old people is gone, they are still with us here today, the spirit is here… It is a way of connecting back to the artists and also reminding us how far these artists have carried this place and kept us motivated and connected to each other through arts and culture.”

Dora Griffiths 2017.

With this in mind, a very special event took place at Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Centre in Kununurra at the end of 2017; locally curated show entitled ‘Our Legacy’ opened in the Dawang Gallery on the 13th December. Waringarri is no stranger to hosting special events, visits by high profile guests and powerful performances are a semi-regular occurrence. However, this significant event embodied the past, present and future thinking around the art centre’s collection, honouring the work of four deceased artists in the curatorial debut of Waringarri board member and artist Dora Griffiths. The combined artistic perspectives of Paddy Carlton, Daisy Bitting, Mignonette Jamin and Peter Newry form a lasting cultural legacy, now regarded as the cornerstone of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts’ vision[1].  After three years of consultation this noteworthy cultural event helped synthesise Waringarri’s thinking around exhibition making and working with sensitive materials. In this way, Dora is pioneering new curatorial frameworks for cultural material to be presented and represented, highlighting the value of local curators to the wider Indigenous art dialogue. 

Dora deftly demonstrated recently acquired skills in conservation, collection management and exhibition presentation cultivated through support and assistance from the Melbourne University’s Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. The concept for the exhibition was Dora’s brainchild; “Me and little brother came up with that (Our Legacy) the thinking behind it is even though our old people is gone, they are still with us here today, the spirit is here.” [2] The four judiciously selected artists were amongst the earliest to paint at Waringarri Arts. They were hugely influential and crucial to establishing Waringarri’s strong foundations, guiding future direction and informing current practice.

As Ted Carlton explains; “They were some of our strong elders and leaders of Miriwoong country who played a key role. I know all the senior past elders worked hard to establish this special place. This place is like a school — all the Aboriginal education happens here.” Representing the various language groups of the region encompassing Kununurra, today the majority of Waringarri’s current practising artists are culturally connected or related in some way to Paddy Carlton (Gadjerrabeng), Daisy Bitting (Jamijung), Mignonette Jamin (Murrinh-Patha/Miriwoong) and Peter Newry (Miriwoong/Ngarinyman).

Through this, Dora was able to build a curatorial concept around the work of these former masters who used art as a tool to celebrate, educate and deliver cultural knowledge to future generations. Reinforcing the notion of strong inter-generational ties, Dora liaised with the family members in selecting the art. Through her guidance, family members were able to choose artworks based on the personal significance to them as well as cultural relevance. The relevance of these artworks to current living and cultural teaching was emphasized by David Newry, who spoke at the opening about Peter Newry’s works; “It tells Miriwoong people or people of that family group the things that happen in the Dreamtime and when our forefathers came to this country and laid down foundations for the things Miriwoong people follow today and keep passing down to future generations”.[3]

It is custom at Waringarri Arts that when an artist passes away their artworks are removed from public display and placed in the art centre’s community collection storage space. Drawing on this rich depository was a remarkable opportunity for curator Dora however, it came with its own particular set of complications to overcome; families of deceased artists only allow the art centre to display artworks once they feel comfortable with them being shown or sold again, in some cases many years pass before this happens. Also, some of the works in the collection needed some conservation and restoration attention before being exhibited and once again, permission needed to first be attained from artist’s family members.

After extensive community consultation, the exhibition was well received by both the public and Waringarri artists, a viewpoint humbly expressed by artist Agnes Armstrong; “We are all very proud of Dora”.  Over 200 visitors attended the opening where they were greeted by a line of Waringarri dancers welcoming visitors to the Dawang Gallery. Visitors were impressed by the paintings and also moved by the emotional talks given by Dora and relatives of the artists represented in the exhibition. The audience were also treated to a poem by Jan Griffiths honouring the deceased artists. Possibly the best signifier of community support and the significance of this event, was the willing participation of the artist’s relatives in the exhibition floor talks as well as the fact that many enthusiastically joined in dancing with the Waringarri dancers during the performances. According to Dora; “The families were very happy and pleased because this was the first time we have done this exhibition. It is a way of connecting back to the artists and also reminding us how far these artists have carried this place and kept us motivated and connected to each other through arts and culture.”

The exhibition is currently open to visitors and will be showing throughout 2018. Due to the success and great interest generated by the show Dora and Waringarri hope to run more exhibitions in the future including a prospective focus on the art of Kalumburu, whose remote Kira Kiro art centre Waringarri supports and helps to promote.   

 

[1] Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Annual Report 2017

[2] Kimberley Echo ‘Our Legacy celebrates art of elders’ Peter de Kruijff. 22/10/17 http://www.kimberleyecho.com.au/?news/the-kimberley-echo/our-legacy-celebrates-art-of-elders-ng-b88692730z

[3] Kimberley Echo ‘Our Legacy celebrates art of elders’ Peter de Kruijff. 22/10/17 http://www.kimberleyecho.com.au/?news/the-kimberley-echo/our-legacy-celebrates-art-of-elders-ng-b88692730z  

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