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Politics Meets Art On Maori Television

Politics Meets Art On Maori Television

The year is 1990 and Australia is two years’ out from its bicentenary celebrations. For the indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia, the year 1990 marks two centuries of dispossession and maltreatment. In the midst of this highly volatile context, five Koorie artists gather in a joint exhibition in a Sydney art gallery as a vehicle for political movement and public education of contemporary and traditional Aboriginal art.

Their pioneering efforts are relayed in the international documentary BOOMALLI – FIVE KOORIE ARTISTS, screening on Maori Television on Wednesday February 16 at 10.00 PM.

The Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative was formed in 1987 by a group of ten Sydney-based artists, including Bronwyn Bancroft, Euphemia Bostock, Brenda Croft, Fiona Foley, Fernanda Martins, Arone Raymond Meeks, Tracey Moffatt, Avril Quail, Michael Riley and Jeffrey Samuels. Founded as a studio and exhibition space as a response to the lack of facilities and support for Koorie artists living in Sydney, the movement has since swollen to include an artist membership of 70.

The documentary profiles five of the co-operative’s founding members while serving as one of a handful of programmes that have ever been made about urban-based Aboriginal artists.

By including the term ‘boomalli’ in the group’s title, the artists have deliberately set about making their mark, as the meaning of the term is ‘to strike’. The half-hour documentary sees the artists exhibit their art on their terms and also touches on the reasons why the need for a communal approach was pertinent.

Says Bronwyn Bancroft : “The drive behind my work is totally to see Aboriginal people accepted for their creative ability and to be accepted for their business initiatives. I would like to see autonomy for Aboriginal people.”

Each artist discusses their influences, their own senses of identity and how their life experiences have translated into either contemporary or traditional expressions of art.

Some artists also speak of heavy senses of political duty. Fiona Foley explains how her disturbing work Annihilation of the Blacks was influenced by the historical massacres and extraction of her people from Fraser Island. Tracey Moffatt will share her experience in being arrested while in England for protesting the use of the Aboriginal flag for the re-enactment of the First Fleet arrival for the bicentenary celebrations.

Other artists reflect on their calling. For Arone Raymond Meeks, the calling to express his culture and identity through paint was innate. “I have a natural need to interpret what I feel and see. I feel it in my hands and I can do it. Aboriginal people have always had a vast, rich culture and I am part of this. There are many things which are too numerous to mention about the treatment of Aboriginals but through my art, I have identity and strength. Through my painting, I am hunting for lost pieces of myself and through my culture I have many answers.”

The documentary is directed by Boomalli founding member, film-maker Michael Riley, who employs visually stunning images that swim over the artists’ dialogue and haunting music.

BOOMALLI – FIVE KOORIE ARTISTS screens on Maori Television on Wednesday February 16 at 10.00 PM.

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