Entering ARTiculate, TAFE Queensland’s latest exhibition for the Gurambilbarra (Townsville) region, viewers were greeted by a swathe of enthusiastic artists and staff facilitating introductions, tours, and discussions. The expansive open atrium and adjoining windowed classrooms suggested an art market or fair, but unfortunately without the gallery lighting or white wall booths that help to elevate works. Indeed, the majority of artists were left without walls for hanging work. The building was thankfully acknowledged as unideal, with talk of a new arts-specific facility coming soon.
The one-night-only exhibition showcased works by a cohort of 17 graduating and continuing Diploma of Visual Arts students. It was heartening to see the quantity of works and diversity of practice showcased—from paintings and drawings to mixed-media installations and sculptures. Creative responses to the lack of wall space varied from a free-standing hills-hoist installation, in the case of Sophia Tosi, through to Stevi Dale’s human-animal hybrid sculptures on suitcase plinths, and Rosanna Kersh’s stencilled slogan canvases, hinged together as A-frames and dispersed around her floorspace in increasing size as a golden spiral.
The quality of the work was expectedly diverse too, with snippets of technical and conceptual prowess tempered by arguments for continued study. In the context of this (largely university-based) graduates review series, it is important to note that TAFE Certificate and Diploma students are not afforded the time and rigour of their university counterparts—the Diploma course is only one year of full-time study or equivalent. Unfortunately, options are dwindling for local emerging artists with the impending closure of James Cook University’s remaining creative courses.1 These challenges do however highlight the merit of the TAFE artists whose works particularly shone.
One of the few artists who benefited from an allocated room space was Minyaada Swan. The Gugu-Badhun, Kamilaroi, and Miakoodi artist’s dual installations were provocative exhibition highlights. Swan spoke about her aim to shock and subvert societal expectations of women, and particularly Indigenous women, by platforming taboo topics and imagery. Her first installation, In Between the Sheets, paid homage to ‘Condoman’, the iconic, locally-created First Nations sexual health figure. The artist recast herself as a female version of the character and used the imagery for screen-printed fabric panels. The panels were then used to create a bedspread on an installed bed, complemented by bedside tables replete with condoms, lube, and candles. Swan’s second installation was similarly tongue-in-cheek. Comprised of celestial papier-mâché vaginas on totem poles, Mookiway: A Galaxy of Vaginas references the word ‘mooki,’ used as slang for ‘vagina’ in certain urban communities. The glowing, galaxy-lit forms exuded power and humour, challenging the comfort and security of the male gaze.
Another exhibition standout was Sarah Treadwell’s Human Remains series. Treadwell’s eerie humanoid figures were comprised of CPR dummy heads, furniture, broken emergency bells, breathing apparatuses, reticulated tubes, temperature gauges, medical equipment, and a microwave. Purposefully defying waste and consumerism, Treadwell reportedly sourced all of the materials from equipment discarded by the TAFE buildings. The figures, and the failing technologies of their bodies, collectively spoke of climate change, health systems in crisis, and environmental destruction. Reminiscent of carnival clowns, the figures’ gaping mouths were both silent screams and open holes for consumption, indicative of humanity’s conscious denial and inactive responses to climate-related crises. The depicted overreliance on technology also hinted at the ironies of modern life-–that technology and sciences are prolonging our lives, but simultaneously contributing to the degradation that may eventually end all life. The series’ unattached beetle corpses (representing species extinction) were perhaps a little aesthetically incongruous and heavy-handed, but didn’t detract too greatly from the cohesion of the series.
Many of the exhibiting artists presented works exposing and processing personal traumas, and sharing stories of endurance. Of these, Martina Ah Sam’s Resilient perhaps best translated her concept of political resistance into a finished piece. Ah Sam is an Eastern Arrente and Kalkadoon woman who has exhibited locally, exploring familial connections to Country. This new work departs from her previous paintings, despite employing familiar repeated motifs of water or kwatye in Arrunta language. The artist used an existing metal frame from the TAFE building to hang Resilient: a vibrant orange, yellow, and black gelli-printed tissue paper installation, backlit by festoon lights. Inspired by the Indigenous arts collective proppaNOW, the work is a response to ongoing challenges for First Nations people and the White Australia Policy, which directly impacted the artist’s family. Ah Sam emblazoned motifs and text across the work, including ‘EXEMPT,’ (a reference to the dual privileges and challenges historically afforded to lighter-skinned Aboriginal people), and ‘WE ARE STILL HERE’ on the linoleum beneath the work. The colours and imagery imply a burning fire, or a sunset and sunrise, echoing the textual references to endurance and rising again. Witnessing viewers engaging with her and her work, it was clear that the artist succeeded in her goal to initiate conversation. Ah Sam has taken some artistic strides towards political activism, and it will be interesting to see how her work develops. Given the various contexts of the TAFE exhibition, its strength was largely grounded in the select works that transcended their setting, transporting the viewer to another place. The most successful artists capitalised on their space allocations, their materials, and their strengths to craft intriguing, aesthetically-refined, and conceptually-resolved works. This writer looks forward to seeing more from these emerging artists, and hopes that more opportunities arise for them to progress their practices locally. The North Queensland region will surely benefit from their ranging and unique perspectives.
Expanded Lemonade coverage of 2023 graduate exhibitions was kindly made possible by Lemonade’s Patreons and generous contributions from Alex Baxter, Amanda Bennetts, Kylie Harries, Lynn Hughes, Kit Kriewaldt, Pippa Macgill, Merilyn & Steve Mayhew, Doug McNeill, Annelize Mulder, Jane Orme, Alethea Richter, Monica Rohan, Adrian Smith, Gavin Smith, Leisa Turner, Hannah Williamson, and Nadya Wilson.
- Rochelle Siemienowicz, “Dismay as James Cook University proposes closure of creative arts in North Queensland,” ArtsHub, 15 September 2023. ↩︎
Daniel Qualischefski is a curator, artist, and writer based on Gurambilbarra (Townsville). He also works under the artist pseudonym of Danish Quapoor.