Ian Waldron, The Gulf (Billy Tea, CSR Sugar, Harpers Flour), 2017, Archival Ink on Aluboard, 72x59cm each
Since the genesis of the Urban Aboriginal art movement in the 1960s, dispossession, and alienation have been a common thread. Indigenous art is generally considered ‘Contemporary’ and the term ‘Urban’ has been applied to Aboriginal art created in a modernist Western style. Whether the artists have been self-taught or schooled, marginalised or indoctrinated within the mainstream, their art often deals with social and cultural issues such as the stolen generation, land rights, and reconciliation as they question identity and challenge the colonial accounts of Australian history.
Director of Cooee Art, Adrian Newstead OAM, opened Cooee Art Gallery (then the Cooee Emporium) in 1981 as urban art began to coalesce into an exciting movement. In 1984 Cooee’s curator, Chris Watson, worked on Koori Art ’84, an exhibition that was held at Contemporary Art Space in Sydney. This exhibition, and the advent of the Boomalli Urban Artist Cooperative later that year provided a focus for the movement.
Trevor Nickolls, Full Moon, 2010, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Belgian Linen, 91x91cm
Now, more than 30 years later, the founding urban artists have been followed by dozens of others.
Alien[N]ation draws upon the Cooee archives as well as featuring works by four urban artists who are currently represented, though not exclusively, through the Gallery: Helen S. Tiernan, Blak Douglas, Jacob Stengle and Ian Waldron. In Tiernan’s textured works, feminised backgrounds underlie historic first contact imagery. They are a poignant reminder of the way in which Europeans romanticised the landscape while appropriating the sites and imagery of those they colonised in the antipodes. Ian Waldron’s Carpentaria Series shows Aboriginal stockmen engaging in enterprise on their own terms, while seductive vintage advertising images for tea, flour, and sugar belie the fact that these were at one time laced with poison to dispossess Aboriginal people of their land. Jacob Stengle, brought up in an orphanage after being stolen from his family in the 1960s, harks back to the children of his youth, and the fantasy world into which they retreated.
Concurrent with this exhibition, Blak Douglas has created a mural on the seawall at Bondi Beach. Seaweed Mob (2018), a major work commissioned by Cooee Art Gallery, pays homage to the original inhabitants of Sydney’s south coast, the Gadigal. Having sourced what is reputed to be the only known photograph of a ceremony on the southern end of the beach, he incorporated it into a panoramic photograph taken on his phone when the beach was completely covered in seaweed. The image has been further enhanced using local rock carving imagery, stylised hand & footprints, and a ‘you are here’ map on left-hand edge, which traces the coastline like a ‘bloodline’.
Helen S Tiernan, As Above So Below (Triptych), 2018, Oil and Paper on Canvas, 180x180cm total