Edwina Green, Truwana (2017). Image supplied.

Some notes on Digging In: An Indigenous Collective

A new exhibition provides an opportunity to see artworks by three emerging Indigenous artists from the Victorian College of the Arts. 

By Sarah Hall

Digging In, an exhibition of works by three undergraduate students at the Victorian College of the Art, recently opened at the Palya Arts Centre in South Melbourne. The exhibition explores notions of Aboriginality in an urban landscape, and the way that Naarm (Melbourne) moulds the next generation of artists and their visions.

I met up with one of the contributing students, Edwina Green, an 18-year-old Palawa artist, for a guided tour of the exhibition.

“My work is about my home in Tasmania,” said Green, who grew up between Queenstown (Tasmania) and Melbourne, in reference to her paintings and photographic works, which vary considerably in style.

The first set of Green’s paintings to catch my eye portrays a woman – the same woman across the three – in various states of action.

“[The woman] in these paintings is the great-grandma on my Indigenous side, who I’m depicting engaged in some of the activities that I’ve done at home with my father – like planting potatoes and picking berries,” she said.

On the opposite wall is a series of photographs by Marley Holloway-Clarke taken at rallies for Indigenous rights in Melbourne, capturing something of the spirit of resistance and protest seen in Australia’s urban centres.

Next to those is a large-scale triptych by Sam Harrison featuring a huge banksia on a background of pixelated oranges and blues. This is the third exhibition Harrison has been involved in since attending the VCA.

He won a prize last year for curating How many dots make a dot painting, an exhibition featuring 30 staff and students from the VCA in response to Australia’s Shame, an exposé on Northern Territory youth detention by ABC’s investigative journalism program Four Corners.

“My entire Indigenous experience has been an urban one,” said Harrison, a Wurudjeri/ Kamilaroi artist who grew up in Brisbane. “That’s heavily reflected in my work.”

“I am interested in exploring the validity of the contemporary urban Indigenous voice,” he said, before explaining how this urban voice has been perceived as “less valid” than an Indigenous voice with a more “traditional” life experience.Opening night celebration of Digging In. Image by Eric Dias.Opening night celebration of Digging In. Image by Eric Dias.

“As an Aboriginal person it’s really impossible not to have this part of your identity [Aboriginality] come through in your work,” said Green. “Without that, I feel like my art would be meaningless.”

“I do see art as a means to being able to explore identity and culture, but it’s also a way to document culture, given that a lot of it has already been lost.”

Digging In, which runs until 10 December, provides an opportunity to see artworks by three emerging Indigenous artists responding to the theme of urban-ness in present-day Australia.

Exhibition details
1–10 December 2017
Palya Art Gallery, 399 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.

Banner image: Home (2017) by Edwina Green. Image supplied.