Blog Archives

150ZK: Truth Telling and the Coming of the Light

Two new exhibitions at Gab Titui Cultural Centre, THURSDAY ISLAND

Nancy Kiwat’s artwork ‘Papa Dabad’, 2016.

On June 17, Gab Titui Cultural Centre opened two new exhibitions to commemorate 150 Years of Coming of the Light. One explores the history and impact of Christianity on the community through an historic timeline. In the other, artists from three Torres Strait Art Centres have created works that represent truth telling: their understanding and response to this particular topic.

EXHIBITION PLANNING

MDOs Jo Wills and Ewen Mcphee worked with staff in March and then again in June to ensure the project was ready for opening. Exhibition training workshops in March included research, object analysis, interpretation and conservation, and ensured that new staff understood and contributed to the exhibition development process. There are multiple perspectives within the TSI community about what ‘Coming of the Light’ has meant, and continues to mean. By using the topic as the basis for the workshop, we were able to deliver applied training and help shape an exhibition plan.

Prior to the MDO workshops, lead curator, Leitha Assan, had already run engagement workshops with the three participating art centre communities (Erub Ewer Meta – Erub Arts; Moa Arts – Ngalmun Lagau Minaral Torres Strait Islander Corporation; Badu Art Centre | Torres Strait Islander Art from Badu Island). Her challenge was to bring all the components together and curate displays that creatively honored diverse viewpoints. Not an easy task, or in such a compressed time frame.

Between March and June, Gab Titui staff were busy with research, planning, community engagement, and content preparation. This included liaising with AIATIS, travelling to the islands to record interviews and collect items from the community for the displays. Staff also had to coordinate the transportation of artworks and production and printing of all material (labels, text panels, decals) back to Thursday Island – no mean feat when you’re living a remote community! MDOs assisted with ongoing advice and purchasing of materials and equipment.

Hands on installation training

When Ewen and Jo returned in June to assist with the installation, they were joined by freelance photographer and exhibition designer, Michael Marzik. Leitha was also keen for artists Jimmy K Thaiday (Erub), Fiona Mosby and Paula Savage (Moa) and Matilda Nona (Badu) to get some exhibition installation experience. With two large projects to install, it was all hands on deck, and wonderful to have additional people working across the two galleries.

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Each artist bought their own skills, understanding of materials and expertise to the process, and oversaw the installation of their own works, their colleagues’ works as well as other exhibition components. It was all hands on deck for the installation of decal signage, mannequin dressing and one of the large charcoal pieces from Erub Island.

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Opening night at Gab Titui

Exhibition openings at Gab Titui are a special, community event. This year was the first opening for a few years, and people from around the region, and state, were in attendance. This included QM’s Head of Cultures and Histories, Christopher Salter. Openings comprise a curated outdoor program of prayer, speaches, dance and song. After that, the galleries are opened to the community. This year, the Saibai Island Dancers performed took the stage, accompanied by a choir.

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More than just tea towels: the migrants, makers and merchandise of Reef Productions

Reef Productions Exhibition, Cairns Museum, 2021

A new exhibition for Cairns Museum

On Friday 28 May, Cairns Museum opened a new temporary exhibition called Reef Productions: migrants, makers and merchandise.  Timed to coincide with Reconciliation Week, the exhibition explores the story of a Cairns-based screen printing company that began in the 1970s. Running for almost 20 years, the owners hand printed and manufactured souvenirs using licenced designs from established Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. The result is an extraordinary array of works on linen and paper, and a multilayered story that has been a pleasure to explore.

The exhibition showcases only a small selection of works due to the size of the gallery. Featured, however, are items from each era of ownership, and works by as many artists as possible. Also included is a recreated trade stand, based around photographs from the Sydney Trade Fair, and a screen printing interactive based around a previously unseen work by Rosyln Serico (Kemp). The opening was a chance for owners and artists to reconnect.

A chance meeting Leads to ACQUISITION

I first came across the name ‘Reef Productions – Made in Cairns’ on a tea towel in 2015 when I was curating one of the galleries for Cairns Museum’s redevelopment. I can remember being curios but at the time was too busy to delve deeper.

Fast forward four years, however, and it’s a different story. Whilst viewing the Thancoupie “A Legacy of Cultural Power” exhibition at CIAF in 2019 I was introduced to Andy and Joan Csorba while standing in front of a large screen print on fabric. ‘Have you ever heard of a company called Reef Productions’, I asked? ‘Yes’, grinned Andy, ‘we used to own it.’ And so began my, and Cairns Museum’s, Reef Productions journey.

Jo with Andy Csorba in 2019.

After visiting the Csorba’s farm to view the material, I discussed the collection with Cairns Museum. Museum Manager, Suzanne Gibson, sought funds to undertake a significance assessment and I, along with Indigenous cultural worker, Nerelle Nicol, began a period of detailed research and analysis. As part of the project, I was required to mentor Nerelle and suppport and undertake research. Nerelle worked closely with the Indigenous artists and this was critical to building an understanding of the content, context and personal stories within the artworks and company history. At the same time, I met with former owners and the artists who had worked with them to create designs.

From its beginnings in the front room of a house in Cairns’ northern beaches, Reef Productions produced portable souvenirs that illustrated the tropical charm of Far North Queensland. It also worked on commission, creating items for organisations or special events and anniversaries. When the company changed hands in the mid-1980s, the designs evolved to include Indigenous culture and stories. Andy worked with a range of artists, including Thancoupie, Jenuarrie, Roslyn Serico (Kemp), Connie Rovina (Barker) Heather Walker, Ludij Peden and Joan Boissevain.

Our research uncovered a story and collection with multiple layers and threads. All participants had some sort of migration story to tell – they had all moved to Cairns, be it from areas within Queensland, Australia or from overseas. The Indigenous artists bought a cultural dimension to the business – through their design style, working for Queensland Aboriginal Creations or through their personal experience of mission life an search for identity. Embedded too, were stories of environmental change, tourism and lost heritage places. We found out about the different artists, their work and inspiration, and their relationship with Reef Productions.

Research into other collections showed that some of these works are held by Queensland Museum and many by the State Library of Queensland in the Glenn R. Cooke Souvenir Textiles Collection. Our work contributes detailed provenance knowledge to these collections, and to understandings of souvenir production at this time.

These findings, as well as the extraordinary aesthetics of the collection, are just some of the reasons Cairns Museum decided to acquire it. They then applied for funding to support Nerelle and I to co-curate the Reef Productions Exhibition.

Curating Reef Productions

From the outset we knew we did not have the space to do everything we wanted. We chose to focus on the evolution of the company, in particular the works produced by artists working during the Csorba ownership period. Community engagement continued throughout the production of the exhibition. Artists and owners reviewed all text, and choice of artwork – with the right of veto. 

Generous donations by former owner, Georgie Zeiger, and items by Charters Towers’ artist Jim Arena, and Daintree’s Betty Hinton, were included in the early section of the exhibition. Sadly, we had to leave out one of Jim’s original ‘pencil roughs’ created for his design of Freshwater Station. However, he has generously agree to donate it, and the tea towel, to Cairns Museum.

Staff and volunteers at Cairns Museum worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support the preparation of materials for display. This included doing framing workshops, sewing supports and creating backing boards for the textile works. The exhibition was installed by Michael Marzik.

Although only a small selection of pieces are on show, this project celebrates the work of these artists and entrepreneurs. From a museum perspective, it illustrates the value of contemporary collection, the importance of community engagement, the need for copyright vigilence and the joy of research and discovery. And, as a story, it represents the importance of relationships – for those who were part of Reef Productions and those involved in putting this research and exhibition together.

The exhibition is on at Cairns Museum for three months from 29 May 2021.

 

Reinvigorating FNQ’s museum workers and volunteers

Museum workers and volunteers from a range of FNQ museums have been involved in three different workshops over the past six weeks. Workshops offer participants an opportunity to acquire new skills so that they can care for and promote their collections and museums. But it’s important not to overlook the social value of these training sessions and to acknowledge how they reinvigorate the region’s industry and the people who work in it.

The three workshops held were designed to improve museum skills in exhibitions planning, collection management software and timber conservation. Each workshop has been a stand alone event that has been delivered by a different presenter or company.

FNQ MDO Dr Jo Wills delivered the exhibitions planning workshop through Heritage North in Cairns. Representatives from eight different groups from around the Tablelands, Cairns and Innisfail region participated.  Innisfail Historical Society members and Douglas Shire Historical Society representatives, for example, discovered that their collections both hold material related to the Low Isles expedition, and so can share knowledge and resources.

Collections management training for organisations using MOSAiC software was run by the MOSAiC team, Rew and Sally-Anne Whittington, in Cairns. There is now a local network of organisations using this software that can help each other out if they get into difficulties, including two Aboriginal collecting organisations at Kowanyama and Yarrabah.

Adam Godijn, Senior Paintings Conservator at ICS, demonstrates during a timber conservation workshop held at the Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc.

Adam Godijn, Senior Paintings Conservator at ICS, demonstrates during a timber conservation workshop held at the Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc.

Timber conservation workshops were held at CADCAI to conserve some of the nationally significant Lit Sung Goong Temple collection. The workshops were funded through the National Library of Australia’s Community Heritage Grant stream and included bringing two professional conservators from International Conservation Services, Adam Godijn and Oliver Hull, to work on the collection and run a timber preservation workshop. By opening up this training to other collecting groups, CADCAI have offered another workshop and networking opportunity for museum workers in the far north, including Cairns Museum and James Cook Museum in Cooktown.