Indigenous staff invited to connect with Parliament House art collection | Riotact

Indigenous staff invited to connect with Parliament House art collection | Riotact

Program manager with the Parliament House art collection, Lucy Dingwall, in front of Louise Pandella’s Season of Barramundi painting at the Reflections exhibition. Photo: Sally Hopman.

About a year ago, members of the Parliamentary Service Indigenous Employee Network were invited to select works of art from the Parliament House art collection that they “connected” with.

It could be any work of art, from paintings to photographs, bronze castings to glass, ceramics to weaving – it just, in the words of program manager Lucy Dingwall, had to be something that “spoke to them”.

“We started with a series of workshops, inviting people to access and view collection items in the arts store,” she said.

“We wanted people to come and see the artworks, to physically see them so they could consider and reflect on them.

“The idea was to find out if the art spoke to them and, if so, why.”

The result is Reflections, Selected works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from the Parliament House Art Collection, a free exhibition now on at Parliament House featuring the works of emerging and established Indigenous artists, including Gail Mabo, Leonard Andy, Joseph Au, Julie Dowling, and Jennifer Kemarre Martinielo.

The piece by Gail Mabo, a Meriam artist from Mer Island in the Torres Strait, is called Tagai, and it is named after the constellation communities use to find their way home. Sharing her respect for family and cultural knowledge through her art, Gail Mabo’s large star map, made from bronze and tortoiseshells, features a star for her father, the late Edward Koiki Mabo.

Tagai was the Parliament House Art Collection’s major indigenous art acquisition for 2023.

In a video called Under The Stars, made by the Art Gallery of NSW, Gail Mabo says: “When you follow your Tagai, it means you follow your star. It means that you follow the path that leads you to where you need to be.”

Piece of abstract art on a wall

Gail Mabo’s Tagai, made from bronze and tortoiseshells, represents a star map and includes her father’s journey, Eddie Koiki Mabo. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Another highlight of the exhibition is an artwork by Jennifer Kemarre Martinielo called Open Weave Basket #2, a hot-blown glass piece with cane work. It is a rare piece, unusually using both mediums.

The exhibition features artists from every state and territory, and its subjects include the national apology, bushfire dreaming, the Canning Stock Route, Cassowary birds and kelp.

“An important part of this project was for everyone to come down and see the artworks themselves, to give people time to look at them and to reflect, to consider possible connections that they may have with the works,” Ms Dingwall said.

“I believe art is all about connecting … art speaks to people for a reason. With this exhibition, I love that the art spoke to people – and that’s why they wanted to include it.”

Ms Dingwall said the exhibition was a rare opportunity to see works from the Parliament House art collection, which boasts more than 6500 pieces that were not often on display in the public areas.

Artist Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello will be in conversation with curatorial staff on Thursday, 18 April, from 11 am to 12 midday, at Parliament House, Canberra. The talk is free, but bookings are recommended. The Reflections exhibition finishes on 28 April.