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Indigenous artwork takes up residence at the Alliance Française

French version

This article has been published exclusively by the Courrier Australien and the Alliance Française de Melbourne.    

Once again, this year the Alliance Française de Melbourne welcomes the Dhumbadha Munga exhibition as part of the Yalukut Weelam Ngargee Indigenous Arts and Cultural Festival organised by the City if Port Phillip. Sponsored by the association The Torch, the exhibition presents works from 9 artists, 6 of whom are ex-prisoners whose art was recognised while they were still incarcerated. The exhibition’s curator, Kent Morris, tells us the touching story of this collective work.

“The association The Torch has been running for about 20 years. In the beginning, it offered a multidisciplinary program for Indigenous people in prison. Seven years ago, I was in charge of developing an activity more specifically linked to art and culture. Finally, this activity took precedence over the rest.” The association helps detainees to put together the pieces of the puzzle to their identity, to understand the stories of their ancestors, their language and even their lost traditions. From here, they can begin (or continue) to express themselves through the medium they prefer: painting, sculpture or ceramics… “we help them while they are still in prison – we work with 14 penal institutions in Victoria – but we also accompany them when they get out, these two as aspects are equally as important” explains Kent Morris.

Since the beginning, The Torch has organised a large collective exhibition annually entitled ‘Confined’ where all of the participants in the program are exhibited. “But the production of work has increased so much that we’ve had to find other exhibitions spaces outside of the gallery at the St Kilda town hall. This is how we met the directors of the Alliance Française.” For the last three years, Eildon Mansion has welcomed the most promising talents from The Torch, including certain members of the association. Kent Morris is an artist himself: this year, he is exhibiting his works alongside the others… as their equal. “We think it’s important not to make distinctions” he smiles. Between teachers and students, framed and framing… there are no bounds.  

In the small gallery adjoining the large gallery which was once the ‘ballroom’ the walls are covered in spinning dragonflies. The paintings by Robby Wirramanda often take on this allegorical figure which announces the arrival of a fruitful season and which reflects the personal journey of the painter. “The mauve, pink, blue and silvery backgrounds… are the colours that you can see in North West Victoria, the region where Robby is from” explains Kent Morris. In the centre, surrounding a wooden sculpture, curved ceramic plates give a sense of the traditional Indigenous items which were used to carry children, fruit or water.

Originally from New South Wales, artist Graham Gilbert is entirely self-taught. His paintings mix Pointillist techniques with geometric lines and more figurative forms. His nearly turquoise blue is astonishing. He says that he was inspired by his grandmother and his mother, a nurse who was very creative with textiles. He has sold several paintings to institutions as well as museums. “This is the objective” explains Kent Morris “we want our artists to be able to have visibility in contemporary art galleries and that their works are bought by private buyers such as professionals”.

Here in St Kilda, in the airy space which opens out onto the garden, during the six weeks that the exhibition is open, collectors won’t be disappointed. You’ll just need to loosen the purse strings, as artists in their own right, the prices are set at market price.

Written by Valentine Sabouraud

Translated by Ilaria O’Brien

Dhumbadha Munga runs from 28th February to 28th March
Free entry - Alliance Française, 51 Grey Street, St Kilda, 3182

More information here