Thursday, January 1, 2009

exhibition review - Zulai

The exhibition 'Zulai 1 - Coming of the Light' incorporates Torres Strait Islander painting, printmaking, ceremonial objects, personal photographs and literature. Exhibition curator Nancy Bamaga has put together an eclectic exhibition. Ceremonial objects used in performance and dance feature prominently as do the representation and sculptural object of the feather Dhari, the motif used on the Torres Strait Islander flag.

The celebration 'Zulai 1 – Coming of the light' is an exhibition and a series of events held at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in July. Acknowledging that July 1 or its Creole equivalent, 'Zulai 1' is no longer restricted to celebrating Christianity. The Lagaw Kodo Mir Torres Strait Islander Resource and Culture Centre NSW, with the support of the Australia Council for the Arts, have organised a week long exhibition of high profile Islander artists and performances.

Traditionally cultural exchange between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was limited to Coastal North Eastern Australia. Through visual arts many Torres Strait Islander people are finding a context to communicate with Aboriginal people, with Australia and the international community in ways that were not possible before.

The 2007 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner Dennis Nona exemplifies the artistic success stories that are arising from the Torres Strait. Dennis's incredibly intricate printmaking has been gaining popularity in the Sydney market for a few years now. His success has allowed him to work on a scale that would seem to require a steamroller to print considering the size and intricate detail that is included in such works as the six metre long 'Yarwarr' that was exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia last year. The exhibition at Boomalli included works by Dennis as well as his cousin Eddie Nona, and their similar styles create a visual narrative that is unique and informative.

The cultural information in these stories presents the history of the Torres Strait in the words of Torres Strait Islander people. Not surprisingly the sea and the oceanic geography of these islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea provide the visual content of the art of the Torres Strait. The Torres Strait being the remnants of the land bridge that once existed between Papua New Guinea and Australia provides fertile ground for artists seeking to explore the dynamic relationship between contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Another highlight is the first exhibition in Sydney of Aicey Zaro. Aicey's preferred medium is paint on silk, and his bright and bold use of colour depicts the bright sunlit oceans of the Torres Strait. Crossing the divide between fine arts and cultural souvenirs, Aicey's hand painted necklaces cannot be made quickly enough for tourist centres such as the Gub Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island.

Aicey and Bernice Zaro have established their business, the Zaro Cultural Gallery in Home Hill south of Townsville thanks to a generous benefactor. After opening in late November 2004, the Centre has grown in strength thanks to Aicey's dedication to producing fine arts and authentic cultural products based on his heritage in the Torres Strait. Many international visitors are intrigued by the diversity of Torres Strait Islander culture and Aicy and Bernice are seeking to increase their exposure in Sydney.

Other artists include David Bosun, textile artist Rosie Barkus, Lisa Sorbie Martin and Alick Tipoti. The celebrations on Friday night included a free performance by one of the Torres Straits most successful musicians Christine Anu, and on Sunday the week-long celebrations concluded with an ecumenical service in Redfern.

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