Ngapartji Ngapartji one

Column: Exhibitionist   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 17 July 12   |   Author: Ben Hermann   |   4 years, 10 months ago

Cold War In The Family

Between 1955 and 1963 the British conducted a number of nuclear tests in the Maralinga Desert near Woomera, South Australia. Despite an initial 'cleanup' in 1967, in 1985 it was conceded that significant radiation hazards existed in the area. In 1994, nearly 40 years after the tests began, the Australian Government acknowledged the severe effect the tests had on the Aboriginal owners of the land and paid $13.5 million in compensation to the local Maralinga Tjarutja people.

"It was probably Australia's first worst-kept secret," says Trevor Jamieson who, in Big hART's NGAPARTJI NGAPARTJI ONE, narrates his family's history in the Maralinga area, their first encounters with non-Indigenous Australians and the religious missions, and their experiences during the Cold War and the fallout of the Maralinga testing. "It's a topic that a lot of people have never known about," he says. "Many Australians haven't even heard of the British coming here to test atomic bombs in their backyard during the Cold War."

Written by Jamieson and Big hART's Creative Director Scott Rankin, the production was awarded the 2008 Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Achievement in Film, TV and Theatre, with Jamieson also winning the 2008 Sydney Theatre Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role.

"My side was to look at the storytelling of the families out in the dessert," Jamieson says of the creative development of the production by him and Rankin. "I went out and sat down with the elders and got the testimonies of the people who actually witnessed [the nuclear testing]." The play also weaves in the parallel experience of a Japanese woman who experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the Cold War experiences of an Australian soldier. "It's written so each of the three stories reflect each other and is interwoven so people understand how nuclear testing has affected a lot of people in different parts of the world," he says.

In a style that has become popularly associated with Rankin and Jamieson, Ngapartji Ngapartji one mixes traditional storytelling, tragedy, humour, pop-culture references and direct audience participation to both entertain and educate audiences about the history of Indigenous Australians; a style Canberra audiences will recognise from Big hART's Namatjira. The use of visual artists onstage, painting in the background during Jamieson's storytelling also originated with Ngapartji Ngapartji one, Jamieson saying that despite not being actors, many of the artists love the new experience. "They always ring up and ask when we're touring the show again," he says.

Early on in the play, Jamieson teaches the audience to speak some Pitjantjatjara by taking them through a rendition of Kata, Alipiri, Muti, Tjina (Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and explaining the importance of language to Indigenous Australians and the speed at which many languages are dying.

"It's a struggle, but the only reason is modern technology," Jamieson says. "My family only came out of the dessert 50 years ago and the younger generations are still adapting to change. Technology and exposure to western culture dilutes our language and cultures, but in some ways it keeps our stories alive. We have videos and iPhones and apps to help us record our stories and ensure they continue. The language is still strong out on the land but it's a constant struggle to ensure it survives once it becomes exposed to the western world."

The production is also just one part of Big hART's Ngapartji Ngapartji project based in Alice Springs, which aims to reengage marginalised Indigenous communities.

"There's a whole many different levels to the project – engaging with young people and making small films," Jamieson explains, "but also talking to the elders about the life of the town, what happened in the old days. We're trying to join the gaps between young and old. We also go into the prison system and sit down with people and teach them music. All of it is aimed at bringing to the community a sense of culture and the ability to tell stories in a theatrical way."

Ngapartji Ngapartji one is an incredibly personal story for Jamieson. Throughout our conversation he constantly draws attention to the temporal proximity of the events of the play and the fact that they occurred in the lifetimes of a majority of the audience. Recounting, night after night, the story of his family's suffering not simply from exposure to western society, but from exposure to one of the most destructive forces ever created by humans, is clearly unlike any other performance.

"Each time I come back to it, it's always hard. To come back and read it again, you think of all those emotions and they slowly come back to you," Jamieson says; and then, "Look, it's just bloody hard," he says, sighing tiredly, as though the thought of the story itself can take the energy out of him. "There are points in the show that it's really hard for me to go back to. I've got all these old feelings – the displacement of my family; what's happened to my family. For people to be brave like my family were and to lose people like they did, they're still suffering post-trauma. These are my people. They've just got incredible strength and I don't know how they do it."

Ngapartji Ngpartji one will show at The Playhouse at Canberra Theatre Centre from Wed-Sat July 25-28. Tickets from Canberra Ticketing: (02) 6275 2700 or

Self Portrait:

The View From Inside

Sacha Jeffrey’s exhibition SELF PORTRAIT is the latest instalment in Honkytonks’ artsy home brew and it goes down well. The fortnightly exhibitions at the bar reinvent the space, lending it a growing reputation as a spot for a fresh crop of Canberrans. 2012 has seen a pop-up fashion show, the collective effort of Canberra Art School students and graphic-design-come-street-art on t-shirts, board and typography. Sacha agrees, “It’s nice to see more spaces dedicated to giving younger artists a leg up and fostering the art community… It is really important for young artists, and old, to keep exploring other work.”

Self Portrait is a collection of paintings, vignette drawings, collage and two anthropomorphic wall panels inspired by the idea that a work of art holds a mirror to the artist. What emerges is an acknowledgement of the power of art to develop artifice but express introspection. The large paintings in the show are the most successful of the group, using bold colour and snippets of appropriation to develop this conversation that – while we are included – he is ultimately having with himself.

Some recurring symbols run through the exhibition: namely, a nightmarish or exotic meeting of the male figure with an animal body, disembodied hands and bones, sharp lines and a sense of entrapment. Massive slaps of bright solid colour lend a sunny tone to their melancholic outlook. In addition to this, Sacha refers to two canons of art history, Pop and Abstraction, by appropriating some key symbols of two male artists who pushed through the status quo with their rebel aesthetic.

Sacha’s nod to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso is apparent in images of golden crowns, a truncated horse and text embedded into the images titled Exile, Temptation, Where Are We Going? and Coronation. Of these large paintings Sacha says, “I try not to overthink or plan. I like to work fairly impulsively and gouache and ink suits this immediate approach. There might be a few hits and misses but my process is one that relies heavily on my own set of symbols and motifs translated into allegorical narrative.”

Sacha explains that his works draws out the idiosyncrasies of a masculine personality – his own in particular. He draws and paints the experience of vanity, doubt, temptation, ambition, rage and reactions. With work that is concerned with impulse, it comes as little surprise when the artist admits, “I only realised that the exhibition was going to be about a kind of introspective, exploratory self-portraiture after I had completed most of the works.”

Self Portrait is showing until Wednesday July 25 at Honkytonks, Garema Place, as part of the fortnightly Wednesdays Off The Wall exhibitions. Free.

Smoke and Mirrors:

Manufacturing Perception

We see ourselves differently from how we are seen; we want to be seen in a certain way; we understand the world through other people.

These are the ideas broached by four Canberra artists in their exhibition SMOKE AND MIRRORS, an upcoming show at the ANCA Gallery about representations of the human figure in contemporary art. The group each work with different mediums: Daniel Edwards with textiles, Alexander Boynes with a combination of spray paint, etching techniques and light installation, and Annika Harding and Kate Barker with traditional paint mediums but unorthodox styles. Their common desire is to bring figurative art back into the forefront of the Canberra art scene.

“At this point in time, like we've never had in the past, we've got a real opportunity to present ourselves in the way that we want to be seen,” Boyne says. “We all have friends on Facebook that constantly put up ridiculous photos of themselves as proof, ‘My life is awesome’. It's all smoke and mirrors; it's all about how you want to represent yourself.”

Edwards uses social networking-sourced imagery in concert with nostalgic materials – flannel shirts and woollen blankets sourced from op shops. For Edwards, these fabrics are intrinsically masculine and he uses them to create portraits and silhouettes of bearded men who post their likenesses on the gay social networking site, Scruff. “It's like how they see themselves, as a portrait, not how I view them.”

“We've all had images to work with through the internet at some stage,” Harding says. “The photograph is a complete entity and it shows everything exactly as it was.” She indicates Barker's painting Sandwiches: two ‘50s-era figures in beach attire, a large empty space cut out of their legs where a sandwich tray would have rested in the original photograph. “By leaving things out, you're left with a more accurate representation of the memory, that moment in time which is now incomplete because of its distance.”

“I think figurative representation has a great deal to do with memory – whether you like it or not. There's always a strange sense of nostalgia,” says Boynes. His illuminated figures are bodies captured mid-movement, working with contemporary dancers and imagery from the London riots in 2011 as his models. “I've always been interested in capturing that movement and dynamism in the body.” The figures in Harding's work are much smaller and static; a point of focus in a vast landscape. Harding sums up the basic appeal of figurative work. “People instinctively want to associate with other people to share experiences.”

Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic exhibition about the way in which we see ourselves, how this shifts and changes with time and, in our modern lives, with an audience.

Smoke and Mirrors is showing from Wed-Sun July 18-29 at ANCA Gallery, Dickson. The exhibition is open Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm. Free.


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