Review: Naomi Hobson, Adolescent Wonderland, Cairns Art Gallery (QLD)

A creative chameleon, Naomi Hobson is a surprising talent and her new photographic series flutters between that awkward and deadly space of finding blak teen identity.
Review: Naomi Hobson, Adolescent Wonderland, Cairns Art Gallery (QLD)

Naomi Hobson, Road Play: “She told mum she was taking me for a ride down the road but she not.” Laine 2019, digital print (detail), 81 x 110cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Naomi Hobson was a hit at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. Her incredibly accomplished ceramic sculptures and brightly hued paintings caught the eye of collectors at the fair with a sell-out presentation, however, it was a new body of photographs at Cairns Art Gallery that caught our interest.

With the title Adolescent Wonderland, Hobson turned the lens on Coen, a remote Indigenous community in Cape York (QLD) where she lives and works.


The exhibition sits adjacent to a much more heady, deeply researched, consultative exhibition Queen’s Land Blak Portraiture, and could easily be mistaken as part of it. But the tone of Hobson’s works – while also a very astute read on contemporary Indigenous identity and gender – is very different.

Presenting a suite of 22 images that totally punch off the walls with spunk and attitude, this is an exhibition that takes viewers from a range of emotions, from a simple connection through humour to a recognition of teen vulnerability and rawness of remote contemporaneity.

Installation view of Naomi Hobson: Adolescent Wonderland, Cairns Art Gallery (2019). Photo: ArtsHub.

Hobson writes: ‘Our young people are also immersed in global social media, so they have a much broader sense of a global culture than every generation before them.

‘There is a constant and persistent search in Coen by young people of “how to be” in this world. What this series explores is how pop culture and Indigenous culture are fusing and allowing the inherent energy and youth of our young people to express their individuality.’

Hobson has an incredible eye in capturing that moment – a moment caught not only between global culture and cultural tradition, but one teetering at that fragile moment between teen culture and adulthood. We are all a bit awkward and all hoping to be deadly.

One is easily drawn in by her blur of humour and humanity. The extended title accompanying the image The Good Sister and Road Play (2019), where sisters Katama and “super bunny” Laine stage selfies, reads: ‘She told mum she was taking me for a ride down the road but she not.’ A further image adds that Laine is still too small for her bike so her sister takes her for rides around the block.

These title complete the images.


Kid Next Door: ‘I’m just chillin and hiding from Mum. She asked me to cut the grass but I don’t feel like cutting the grass right now so I came next door.’ Chastyn, 2019, courtesy of the artist.

Daley’s Bike: ‘Ms. Daley, the kindergarten teacher has a flash black bike, it’s them olden-style one. Every time I drop Erica off at kindy, I always check it out. Kayla, 2019, courtesy of the artist.

UDL 007 White Holden: ‘Yea take the photo I’m all good... wait, can you get my drinks in it too please? And how my hair look? Should I put my cap back on or not? Maybe not.’ Trey, 2019, courtesy of the artist.

While we might see echoes of Tracey Moffatt’s early portraits of young males draped on Toranas, or Michael Cook’s monotone portraits of young women punched out with spot colour, Hobson’s work is less dark or complicated in their narrative. It is not pulling upon or trying to reconcile past histories, but rather uses humour as a bridge to rethinking the contemporary body in the landscape.

Hobson’s lighter touch offers a reprieve within the adjacent show at Cairns Art Gallery, where other Queensland artists have brokered that frontier of Blak portraiture as an activist voice.  

Both approaches have their vulnerabilities worn on their sleeve, but with Hobson’s extended narrative, these images pull the viewer out of the realm of voyeur and into participant – that is, you find an affinity and a shared moment in some of these pictures.

Installation view of Naomi Hobson at 2019 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. Photo: ArtsHub.

Hobson is a fresh and dynamic talent. She has proven that she is equally adept behind the camera as she is as a ceramicist and painter. That is remarkable for any artist, but I think the ease with which she does it so proficiently is indicative of many artists working in remote Queensland – who use what is at hand, what is at their doorstep and the narratives of their living culture, now.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Naomi Hobson: Adolescent Wonderland
Cairns Art Gallery
17 May-11 August 2019

The writer travelled to Cairns as a guest of CIAF Visiting Journalist Program

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Gina Fairley

Tuesday 16 July, 2019

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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