A first for Victorian Artists Society

A first for Victorian Artists Society
Rhonda Dredge

It’s difficult getting a city gig if you’re an artist living in regional Victoria, according to a collective of First Nations artists from Bendigo.

The artists were in Melbourne for the opening of NITEL, an exhibition at the Victorian Artists Society.

“This is the first launch I’ve been to in Melbourne,” said Georgina Riley, a Palawa artist, originally from Bruny Island (pictured).

Ms Riley has been painting for 20 years and been in two shows at the Koori Heritage Trust in the CBD but sent her work down by Express Post.

The exhibition by the five Bendigo artists is the first First Nations one to be staged by the VAS since it opened 150 years ago, and the artists were candid about the political messages in their work.

An ABC News crew was present to mark the historic occasion, organised by VAS members to support the Voice referendum later this year.

Members of Reconciliation Victoria spoke about sovereignty and the artists about their approaches to work. 

Ms Riley combined aerial views of country with depictions of birds and wattle in Knowledge Source, a conceptual painting that is both original and decorative.

She does commissions for people who want to represent their own stories in terms of country.

“I do custom orders,” she said. “I can capture a story, their life through an art form. I start with the totem.”

Lorraine Brigdale, a Yorta Yorta woman, gave a demonstration of grinding pigments from ochre, charcoal and mica and mixing them with acacia gum.

“It’s just the same as watercolour,” the artist said. Her large figurative renditions of trees are in the show and her work is also in Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Janet Bromley, a Yorta Yorta artist, said the exhibition was important because it was “hard to catch the eye of someone and have your application viewed” in the city.

In her story, Country Breaks Through, the earth is represented by leaves and the past by abstract lines. 

“I went to a young girl who did cemetery work,” she said, commenting on the Western method for remembering ancestors. “Her essay was about how (headstones) are made of a big material and you can’t read the writing.” •

Ms Bromley came to the VAS as a young girl and remembered the staircase. “It was another art building you had to come to,” she said.

While some First Nations people are still finding their voice, she said that “on the subject of art we’re big talkers”.

The exhibition was organised by VAS board member Meg Davoran Honey after seeing the women’s work in Bendigo.

“This is a first for the VAS but this is what I have been working quietly at for at least two decades,” she said.

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