Indigenous Art, Here and Now: South East Aboriginal Arts Market

Photography Olivia Repaci

Photography Olivia Repaci

On October 6 and 7, Carriageworks will play host to the wide diversity of Indigenous artistic practice that stretches from the north coast of New South Wales, to the Murray-Darling River basin and Tasmania. Entitled South East, the market materialises the lived and ongoing creativity of Indigenous artists in Australia’s most densely populated region.

The curatorial team of established Indigenous artists Hetti Perkins and Jonathan Jones were joined by Emily Johnson, program producer at Carriageworks, to create a space for artists from the region to show their work to a broad audience. While what is often thought of as Indigenous art are the dot paintings of the Western Desert or bark work from Arnhem Land, the focus on the South East acknowledges the history of Indigenous art making in the urban centres of Australia, while also stretching the range of materials and practices that are associated with Indigenous art. As Johnson noted, the market aims to focus “on the craftsmanship of wood carving, textiles, and kind of the symbols and imagery of the south east coast of Australia.”

With Australian art history segmenting off Indigenous art making from the cultural history of the rest of the nation, Johnson hopes the markets will serve as a reminder that Indigenous artists have been deeply involved in contemporary art, while also drawing upon their own cultural heritage in a way that is idiosyncratic to each artist.

“A lot of artists especially in urban or contemporary settings want to branch out and express their own culture in the way they have developed it individually,” highlighted Johnson. “I think that it really needs to be supported and included in the idea of what Aboriginal art is and looks like.”

To do this, Carriageworks has enabled each artist to come to Sydney and show their work without a stall holder fee, and the price of artworks bought at the market will not include a commission for the venue. For Johnson, this supports both the artistic and financial side of creative practice.

“This market is a rare opportunity to really lift [artists] up with an opportunity not just for cultural integrity, but for their own future, their own investment in their businesses.”

While the markets aim to be a financial success for those involved, there is also a focus on knowledge sharing between artists and with the audience. Johnson encouraged attendees to engage with the works that are on display, as many of the artists will be there to share their experiences.

“We wanted our guests to come and chat to all the different artists,” Johnson said. “Where they've come from, where do they source the materials, what's the story behind it, how did they learn how to make some of these goods?”

Within the curatorial team there is a depth of artistic talent. While Perkins has curated some of Australia’s most significant cultural institutions, Jones is recognised internationally and is widely known for his site specific works using fluorescent tubes. Johnson herself has recently been involved in creating the concept art for the Sydney Theatre Company production Blackie Blackie Brown. All artists have their own experiences of working within the South East, however Johnson recalled how she has personally engaged with the stereotypes of what is Indigenous art.

“The confines of what Aboriginal art is in itself is something I've challenged and I think a lot of artists do. I think most artists just view themselves as Aboriginal and making Aboriginal art and it's not until they try to market it and try to put themselves out there that people put them in the box - like you're a sculptor or you work with metal - and they wouldn't categorise [your work] as Aboriginal art.”

Johnson’s work as a graphic artist integrates visual styles and narrative tropes from comic books while also including Indigenous cultural knowledge and political critiques, as Johnson described, “With Blackie Blackie Brown, it's a superhero and it's ridiculous and she's running around on stage, but it's really serious issues.”

This experience on its own highlights how diverse contemporary practices of art making within one region are. Artists who will be showing work at South East employ techniques such as Tasmanian artist Nanette Shaw’s practice of using kelp to weave vessels, while Helena Geiger uses a batik technique to dye fabrics inspired by the deep colours of the Australian outback.

To see the full list of artists head over to: