The Indigenous Engagement portfolio oversees the numerous engagements the National Gallery has with First Nations people, artists, communities, organisations and cultures. Led by the Barbara Jean Humphreys Assistant Director, Indigenous Engagement, Bruce Johnson-McLean, Wierdi/Birri-Gubba peoples, the portfolio leads the ways in which First Nations people can be brought into decision-making processes to create more appropriate outcomes for all.
The Aboriginal Memorial In early 2021 Bruce Johnson-McLean travelled to Ramingining, in the Northern Territory, with Djon Mundine OAM, Bandjalung people, the conceptual curator and collaborating artist on The Aboriginal Memorial, to conduct essential community consultation with surviving artists and the relatives of deceased artists who collaborated on the work. Regular engagement with the community of Ramingining is crucial to building and sustaining relationships with the Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property holders of one of the National Gallery’s most important works.
A major publication for The Aboriginal Memorial is proposed for 2022–23, and this early-stage engagement and consultation was important for gaining community consent for the proposed publication, identifying potential community collaborators and to socialising the project before return which will focus more on working engagements, beginning later in 2021.
National Reconciliation Week The primary platform for audiences to engage with National Reconciliation Week was through social media, sharing works by prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists Julie Dowling, Badimaya people, Brian Robinson, Maluyligal/Wuthathi/Dayak peoples, Karla Dickens, Wiradjuri people, and Richard Bell, Kamilaroi/Kooma/Jiman/Gurang Gurang peoples, to reach over 159,906 online. Internally, staff received two e-newsletters with rich content and recommendations for learning around Reconciliation and First Nations experiences.
Other initiatives The Gallery’s primary platforms for engaging audiences with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and experiences are through social media and programming.
In addition to National Reconciliation Week, the Gallery marked the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, ANZAC day and National Sorry Day by sharing relevant and thought-provoking works by First Nations artist with audiences on social media. On 13 February, the Gallery shared Julie Dowling’s Self-portrait: in our country for the Anniversary of the National Apology which became the highest reaching social media post for the 2020–21 period, reaching 168,581 people across Instagram and Facebook.
Highlight initiatives delivered through the Learning portfolio included:
As part of the Know My Name digital season, the Gallery produced the Decolonise Your Feminism annual lecture, with First Nations women Dr Crystal McKinnon, Amangu Yamaji people, Kimberley Moulton, Yorta Yorta people and Paola Balla, Wemba-Wemba/Gunditjmara people, discussing perspectives on art, gender and power, and the influence of feminism on First Peoples practice in a global context to an online audience of more than 900 people.
The partnership with the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) saw the Gallery host four performances by Yuwaalaraay storyteller and performer Nardi Simpson, Yolgnu Songmen Daniel and David Wilfred and Muruwarri dancer Tammi Gissell in the James Fairfax Theatre.
Wesfarmers Indigenous Arts Leadership and Fellowship Program
The Indigenous Arts Leadership and Fellowship program, supported by our major partner, Wesfarmers Arts, is a significant program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the arts and culture sector. Now in its 12th year, the program has seen over 110 graduates and continues to strengthen, evolve and play a key role in the development of Indigenous professionals within the sector.
The program was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, however a makeup program was delivered across June and July 2021.
In response to recurrent feedback received from alumni, this year’s program was designed to provide a greater diversity of leadership experiences, with a particular focus on off-site and on Country cultural development. The program was offered in two week-long residentials: the first delivered off-site, working with the Wirdajuri community in Wagga Wagga and the second on–site at the National Gallery. The program brought together eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts workers from ACT and NSW for learning, dialogue, exchange and networking. Mentors for this year’s program were Juanita Kelly-Mundine, Bandjalung people, and Nathan Sentence, Wiradjuri people. For the first time the program also included an Elder-in-residence, Aunty Mary Atkinson, who provided guidance and advice to participants, as well as a vital link to the local Wiradjuri community in Wagga Wagga.
The first Residential was held in Wagga Wagga from 18 to 24 June. Community-led cultural activities included a cultural tour with Uncle James Ingram to significant Wiradjuri sites, weaving workshops with Aunty Lorraine Tye and Aunty Joyce Hampton, Wiradjuri language and singing lessons with Aunty Elaine P Lomas, and community ‘cuppas’ hosted by Aunty Cheryl Penrith with members of the Wiradjuri Community (including well-known Wiradjuri artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey, among others). Several workshops and presentations were also held featuring Program alumni Wesley Shaw, Dharawal/Ngarigo peoples, Coby Edgar, a Larrakia, English, Filipino woman, Tahjee Moar, Meriam/ Barkindji peoples, Aleshia Lonsdale, Wiradjuri people, and Aidan Hartshorn, Walgalu/Wiradjuri peoples, the National Gallery’s Wesfarmers Assistant Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art.
To ensure that this nationally-regarded First Nations program remains culturally relevant, forward facing, and future-ready, the Gallery has also embarked on a national consultation with program alumni and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders arts workers and cultural industry leaders. Meaningful consultation is considered vital in developing and maintaining trust and enabling the community to influence the future content and framework of the program, and the broader work of the National Gallery.