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Engaging in First Nations art to enhance knowledge this NAIDOC Week

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

When Belinda Briggs thinks about good art, she thinks about pieces that engage and highlight perspectives otherwise unknown.

‘It can be a learning opportunity,’ the Yorta Yorta artist says. ‘An opportunity to appreciate the talents and the amazing body of knowledge that people carry, and an opportunity for that body of knowledge to add value to our lives in whatever capacity we agree on.’

According to Belinda, Indigenous art is becoming increasingly valued, with First Nations artists given the permission they deserve to create in safer and more celebrated environments.

‘I think over the years there has been a demand and space for people to perform (their art) and safely express themselves that wasn’t there in the past.’

The theme for NAIDOC Week 2022 is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! – dedicated to working towards systemic change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Whether it’s seeking proper environmental, cultural and heritage protections, Constitutional change, a comprehensive process of truth-telling, or calling out racism, NAIDOC Week asks all Australians to rally together for betterment.

Belinda says engaging with Indigenous artworks and becoming intimately acquainted with artists’ stories is one way for everyone to enhance learning and, as a result, empower us to effect change in our communities.

‘You might find yourself drawn to the (art) and then you’re like, “who’s the artist, what do they intend to express?”,’ she says.

Belinda is the indigenous curator at the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) and co-curator of the prestigious SAM Indigenous Ceramic Award. Founded in 2007, the Award aims to recognise the rich and diverse use of the ceramic medium by Indigenous artists all across Australia while providing a national platform to share personal, historical and deep cultural learnings from artists and Country.

‘Ceramics is a continuation of an ancient connection to earth in many ways,’ Belinda says. ‘There are some master ceramicists out there and really talented and amazing stories to share.

‘I know most clay is processed but I’m seeing more and more that artists are looking to use clay from Country which I think is really beautiful.’

Since the Award’s inception, close to 100 Indigenous artists have showcased their work with previous prize winners including the likes of Jack Anselmi and Aunty Cynthia Hardie, Vera Cooper, Janet Fieldhouse, Irene Mbitjana Entata, Danie Mellor, Rona Rubuntja, Yhonnie Scarce and Carol Anilyuru Williams.

‘It’s played such an important role in giving space to emerging artists and their practise,’ Belinda says.

Belinda was immersed in creativity from a young age. It isn’t something she feels was necessarily taught to her, but rather a natural element interwoven seamlessly into her family’s everyday doings – in her Mum’s cooking, her Dad’s creative expression, and the makings of her grandfather’s artefacts.

‘Art has always been present in one way or another,’ she says. ‘It’s a lived experience and I don’t think about it as creativity.’

‘Through high school, you do your different subjects and I guess then I started to learn about the western world and the whitefella way about art. But in terms of working in this area, it didn’t really occur to me I could have a career in the arts.’

And as a woman with a rich cultural experience and an influential role at one of the state’s leading museums, Belinda’s work has the ability to inspire a shift in people’s hearts and minds.

‘Change is so slow and you won’t know there’s been change until you have enough hindsight, so sometimes I don’t know. But I think what I do is hold the space for learning and conversations and an exchange.

‘It’s not just one way. It’s a transference of my learnings into the community.  By being there, you’re cultivating relationships and people are able to better see you and engage with you because of your visibility.

‘It makes it possible for new horizons and there’s a sentiment of hope and new possibilities.’

NAIDOC Week is celebrated between July 3 to 10, 2022. For more information, visit naidoc.org.au


THE DETAILS

WHAT: SAM Indigenous Ceramic Art Award
WHEN: 13 August – 04 December 2022
WHERE: Shepparton Art Museum, 530 Wyndham Street, Shepparton
FIND OUT MORE: Shepparton Art Museum

We wish to acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
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