Blood RiverNew Works by Joanne Currie NalinguOpening Tuesday 6th of April at 6pm6th of April - 1st May 2010Blood RiverLouise Martin-Chew
Joanne Currie was born and spent her earliest childhood years at an Aboriginal mission just outside Mitchell, on the Maranoa River in Queensland. She left school in grade seven to care for her brothers and sisters and moved from her birthplace early in life. Absence from her country and the difficulty of her childhood left her feeling that her
heritage has been eroded.
Making art is the dominant force in her life, alongside the primacy of her family – children Christie (26), Jessie (25), and Steve (24) and grandchildren Jaziah (5), Malaki (4), Anequa (2), Lebron-James (9 mths) and another grandson whose birth is imminent. It has overtaken their modest suburban home; the shields curing in fiberglass on the back verandah; a white marquee used for the sanding dominating the back yard; paintings both stacked and under
production in the three bedrooms; and the walls covered with her dramatic artworks. ‘We sleep in the lounge’, Currie admits, laughing that the large plasma screen television that occupies one wall in the living room, her only indulgence after winning the Wynne Prize in 2008. Instinctively quiet, Currie prefers to let the strength of her art speak on her behalf.
Currie has strong memories of swimming and fishing in the Maranoa river as a child. However, the Yumba (mission) was bulldozed, and at a young age she moved to Mitchell with her family, then to other communities, finally settling in Brisbane, where she met Patrick, a fisherman. They have been together since Joanne was 16. After some years on North Stradbroke Island, they moved to Caloundra where they have now lived for 26 years. She began to paint after the birth of her third child, Steve, in 1988. Like other Queensland-based Indigenous artists of her generation including Judy Watson, Fiona Foley, Laurie Nilsen and Richard Bell, her art was inspired by the rise of the Aboriginal art movement. From the beginning she has created paintings in an effort to reconnect with the traditions and cultural mores she missed through the move away from the river at Mitchell.
The title of Joanne Currie’s most recent sculptural series of artwork is Senseless. This tag for a series of shiny white fiberglass shields is deliberately discomfiting. Looking it up in any dictionary provides a litany of negativity –unconscious (as in knocked senseless), lacking mental perception, stupid or foolish, nonsensical or meaningless.
However Joanne Currie is drawn to make artwork for powerfully positive reasons - the reaction against a problematic past a constant in her life. The word has clear resonance for her – the dysfunction of alcohol was part of the community in which she was raised, and senseless is a common condition in such circumstances.
Many of Brisbane’s Indigenous artists make overtly political work, and Currie, too, has made many pithy works about the dysfunction caused by alcohol in indigenous families (for example, Drowning in Alcohol, 1993 and The Ex, 2000). However, the Wynne Prize winning work (The river is calm, 2008), and most of those we find stacked around her home are river-scapes, minimal and linear works which are created from loaded brush-lines traversing the surface of the canvas, punctuated by cicatrice-like scars in contrasting colours. There is a real tension between the hand scored lines, and contrasting areas that vibrate sinuously, like their watery inspiration.
Looking from her window at the dam down the hill from the house, the late afternoon sun hits the water as the wind gusts suddenly across the valley. As the ripples catch the sun, the cicatrice-shapes that Currie creates in her river-scapes flash across the brown watery surface – it is one of those memorable moments when art changes the way in which you see the world around you.
The exhibition title, Blood River / Uma Bar-roo refers not only to Currie’s largely red and black or black and white linear paintings, but both the hard won stability in her existence since she left the Maranoa river, and a larger commentary on the difficulties in much Indigenous dysfunction in Australia. The shields developed on the back verandah were a labour of love, and Currie’s excitement about the completion of these works has been palpable. Her interest in the shield
designs of her area has been a subject of her ongoing research and has informed some of her commissions (for example, the Maranoa Shield for the Queensland University of Technology Billboard, 2005). Yet the opportunity to deliver this new series in small editions for her 2010 exhibitions has been wholeheartedly embraced. The titles and accompanying wall plaques of these five works are her native Gunggari words for Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch and Smell. The title “Senseless” describes her grief on her personal, and the broader political, removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands. She relates:
I missed the sensual experience of my country - due to the problems caused by alcohol,
it was all eroded 40 years ago
I am sightless
I don’t see my grandkids down the Maranoa river. I don’t see the old women dance, the kids play, those old time things
I am soundless
I have never heard my stories, my language. I didn’t get taught
I am tasteless
I have eaten only a little bush tucker, bush medicine from the traditional lifestyle
I don’t touch the trees, or feel the red dirt under my feet
I don’t smell my country, the land
I’m not getting the whole story
the senselessness is endless really.
For Currie, who has created her own aesthetic, artistic and family sensibility, it is a litany of loss, a grieving reflected in the brittle patina of the white surfaces loaded with the markings of her lost heritage.
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