Exhibition Review - When the Sky Fell: Legacies Of The 1967 Referendum

Showing at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2nd July - 20th August 2017. Written by Karl Sagraab - a young writer from WA - tells Sydney based Art Pharmacy about what is happening in the Perth arts scene this NAIDOC week, and why art can address current issues of Indigenous recognition.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Federal Referendum, a catalyst point in the consideration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia, the exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, When the Sky Fell: Legacies of the 1967 Referendum, is poignant of current issues of recognition and acceptance.

Including works from artists such as Sharyn Egan, Mervyn Street, John Prince Siddon, Rammey Ramsey, and Kathy Ramsey. When the Sky Fell, explores consequences (or non-consequences) of the referendum, 50 years on. While the referendum removed discriminatory clauses from the constitution, it is often viewed as a grand failure toward Aboriginal Australians.

The works
Sharyn Egan’s work, The Nullians (2017), makes a commentary upon the diversity of Indigenous Australians - whose individual needs and rights were not considered by lawmakers. Each exquisitely sculpted piece in The Nullians is different from the others; bearing unique inscriptions, with each distinct within the mass of objects.

Sharyn Egan, The Nullians, 2017

Sharyn Egan, The Nullians, 2017

Mervyn Street’s works focuses heavily upon the droving days prior to the referendum - days hardly influenced by the referendum changes. Prior to 1967, many Aboriginal Australians worked on cattle stations and were paid not in wages but in rations of flour, sugar, and tea. Following the referendum, many Indigenous Australians lost their jobs due to the reluctance of white Australians to pay them a wage, let alone a living one. Street conveys this frustration in her works, consisting of illustrated saddles.

Mervyn Street, Barcoo Stock Saddle, 2017

Mervyn Street, Barcoo Stock Saddle, 2017

John Prince Siddon creates marvellously vivid etchings of life in Australia before the arrival of Europeans, making commentary upon the theoretical and flawed notion of the “Australian People”. Siddon’s work reflects the distinctly negative impact that the arrival of Europeans had upon the welfare of Aboriginal Australians - an impact manifest in the Referendum, despite all its good intentions.

John Prince Siddon, Australia, 2016

John Prince Siddon, Australia, 2016

Rammey Ramsey’s vibrant art speaks of connection to place. Working in ochre and acrylic pigment on linen, Ramsey’s pieces form a figurative and literal connection to the land, whereby the ochre both represents and is a part of the landscape it serves to paint. Kathy Ramsey’s work is, like Siddons’s and Ramsey’s, an incredible evocation of place. Painting her ancestral country, incorporating old Ngarranggarni stories and new tales of station life, Kathy combines country and history in canvases created with strong compositional narrative and use of negative space.

Rammey Ramsey, Untitled, 2008

Rammey Ramsey, Untitled, 2008

Kathy Ramsey, Bow River Country, 2016

Kathy Ramsey, Bow River Country, 2016

The Ceremony
The opening celebration, celebrating both the opening of the exhibition and the launch of NAIDOC week, was beautiful and moving, as befits the exhibition of this calibre. A wonderful welcome to country, performed by Nyoongar Elder Rev. Sealin Garlett, was followed by a dance performance from Moorditj Moort, and talks from the curator, Clothilde Bullen, and artists Mervyn Street, John Prince Siddon, and Charmaine Green.

In addition, Mervyn Street created a live sand-animation throughout proceedings that was projected onto the big screen in the Perth Cultural Centre to lend an air of grandeur and fascination for all to the occasion.

But perhaps the Hon. Paul Papalia MLA, Minister for Tourism; Corrective Services; Defence Issues; Gascoyne; Goldfields-Esperance, choice to suggest that the inherent value of Aboriginal Australian culture is purely for tourism benefits, was not the best addition to what was otherwise a great night.

In my view, this seemed to underline a lack of interest by the government in Indigenous affairs; marking the need for such a prescient exhibition.