Many lessons learnt, When The Sky Fell In, at PICA - an Indigenous art exhibition that looks at the Referendum from the position of impact.
Installation view of the exhibition, When the Sky Fell: Legacies of the 1967 Referendum at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art: Photo Glennys Marsdon
Fifty years ago a Federal Referendum produced the highest YES vote ever recorded, with 90.77% voting for change. The result created a critical turning point in Australia’s history and constitution. Can you guess what the issue was?
No, it had nothing to do with wages, interest rates, immigration, not even the exorbitant price of smashed avocado. The topic was the removal of two clauses within the Australian Constitution that were discriminatory towards Indigenous Australians. One, I believe, was about members of this ancient culture no longer being classed as fauna. Did I say this was only fifty years ago?
For many Aboriginal Australians though, there were unexpected consequences of the yes vote, both positive and negative.
Every year the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts’ undertakes a major exhibition, and this year they have chosen to shine a light on the historical and ongoing impact of the 1967 Referendum.
Curated by the highly respected Clothilde Bullen, When the Sky Fell In features the work of 26 acclaimed WA Indigenous artists who were significantly affected by the consequences of the vote.
This stunning looking landmark exhibition covers two floors of the PICA gallery and is the first of its kind in Australia.
The exhibition features both traditional and contemporary mediums. One such example is the sand animation by Mervyn Street, a senior Gooniyandi man from the Fitzroy Crossing River Region. On opening night I was fortunate to watch Street work.
Seated at the back of the gallery Street dragged a needle thin paintbrush through a layer of red sand laying on top of a lightbox. Just as I was taking in the final product Street waved a larger paintbrush through the image and started another. It was mesmerising watching each new sand story appear, only to disappear moments later. In an interesting twist, the images were captured on a mobile phone that was hanging over the lightbox, and beamed out to the public via a large screen in Northbridge Cultural precinct. A wonderful marriage of heritage skills and modern technology, and another lesson learnt.
Artist Mervyn Street working on sand animation at opening performance; Photo Glennys Marsdon with permission of the artist
To view Mervyn Street's sand painting animation
Watching Street brush away each image reminded me of the Buddhist mandalas that take days to make, only to be swept away at the end. Also fleeting is a large wall painting by Street, that will disappear once the exhibition is over. The exhibition is reminder that life is a gift we need to embrace every day.
Thankfully future audiences will be able to experience Streets sand paintings through a video installation on the gallery floor. Such a clever idea to place the video screen on the floor, as it makes the viewer feel like they’re in the outback watching someone run a stick over the ground. Here’s a link to the video. The music is by the Morrditj Moort dancers who performed at the preview.
Another lesson learnt, a reminder that art needn’t be restricted to the canvas. Aside from some stunning large pieces on canvas, there were interesting pieces painted on saddles, satellite dishes and other objects.
Mervyn Street, Barcoo Stock saddle, 2017, Acrylic on leather saddle; courtesy the artist
One of the most poignant though was a dress made out of flour bags, a reminder of the need for the Referendum and how Indigenous Australians used to be paid in rations.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
When the Sky Fell: Legacies of the 1967 Referendum
2 July to 20 August
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. Perth Cultural Centre
51 James Street, Northbridge www.pica.org.au
Curator: Clothilde Bullen
Artist: Including Mervyn Street (Waringarri Arts, Fitzroy Crossing), Shirley Purdie, Lindsay Malay (Warmun Arts, Turkey Creek), Charmaine Green (Yamatji Arts, Geraldton) and Peggy Griffiths (Waringarri Arts, Kununurra).
Presented in partnership with the Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA.
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level