First Nation artist Julie Dowling

First Nation artist Julie Dowling
First Nation artist Julie Dowling.

First Nation artist Julie Dowling is an activist, a visionary and an artist.  Earlier this week we spoke to Julie about her current exhibition Babanyu – Friends for life showing at the Gallery as part of WA Now and what influences her work.

From the paintings shown in the exhibition, is there one in particular that resonates most with you and if so why?

I think at the moment it’s the portrait of my mother Ronnie Dowling: The neurotic. I remember the many stories she told me as I was painting it.

My mother was an artist but was stopped from pursuing a life as one because her family relied on her for financial support. She became a domestic servant from the age of 11 and finished schooling at 14. When my twin sister and I were born, she began her art again but kept it hidden from the world.

My mother is my friend and teacher. She was and still is very influential in the discipline side of my art making. She taught me how to see art as an extension of my own freedom, of it being part of myself and to talk about everything that surrounds me to the world. My Mum taught me to have a social conscience and eye for justice in all things.

Tell us about the Badimaya culture and how this influences your work?

Badimaya culture was always expressed in clandestine ways before the mid-1980s however it was following this period that my family and I  began to openly express who we were and what we felt about our culture. The Badimaya culture was kept hidden however I was able to learn many things from my grandmother. I learned how to look after the land, its creatures and about how we are all connected to the land. I also learned a smattering of the Badimaya language from my Grandmother. She did not speak it often because she was taught that the language wasn’t legal to speak when she was growing up and feared we would be taken away if we spoke it in public also.

Since the 1980’s I’ve been involved with cultural renewal in my family and within many communities. Culture is an act of empowerment as much as it is a language of being.

Badimaya culture is also land specific as it relates to a place and an environment and without those two/three things acting in unison…language/place/cultural practice then it’s very difficult to see into the universe of knowledge & understanding that still exists here. Our country is north of Dalwalinu to the south, Mt. Gibson to the west, the eastern area of Lake Moore and the land north of Mt. Magnet

What do you hope people will take away from your exhibition and from the stories conveyed through your work?

I hope they see the paintings in terms of documenting a journey or me tracking through everything as a woman, a Badimaya cultural being, someone who is interested in cultural history, decolonisation, First Nation empowerment, ending racism, ending sexism, living my life as a twin and also as a fair-skinned First Nation person. There are many multi-layered contextual meanings in the work and each plays out more in some than in others.

The main objective at present is to end racism. Everything from the cognitive dissonance and white fragility that many white people feel about First Nation people to those that don’t know about how systemic racism can rob First Nation people of many things from land, language to identity. Racism impacts every human being in some way.

What are you working on these days and can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’m working on a great number of miniatures for an exhibition at Midland Junction that is about language and the land. I’ve been contributing to a science called ethnobotany which looks into (with First Nation scientists) how language and the understanding of plants/landscape/environment are all linked. Without an intrinsic interaction with the environment, ethnobotanists have found that humans get depression and a great number of mental disorders over generations.

These miniatures will be mapping the process of moving away from language and land and also the returning to it in the form of de-colonisation and using cultural renewal of my own Badimaya language. I hope it helps people to heal.

Julie Dowling’s free exhibition is showing at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until the 13 August 2018.

Visit Julie Dowling’s official webpage.


Curator Insights with Allison Holland

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Written by Mikaela Hewett, Communications Intern


Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures is a compelling new exhibition presented by AGWA and the Western Australian Museum. Celebrating a life spent both in front of the camera and behind it, this display features photographs and personal belongings of the late Heath Ledger. I met up with curator Allison Holland to discuss what we should expect from the exhibition, currently showing at AGWA.

Hi Allison, thanks for meeting with me today. Could you tell us what we should know about Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures?

The project started in 2011 with the WA Museum. The core of this exhibition comes from Heath Ledger’s Archive. These include costumes from his films, journals Heath created as he developed several of his characters, as well as an extraordinary number of photographs and film footage taken on and off the set.  There are scripts, storyboards, and production stills all documenting the process of filmmaking.

I have also included portraits by artists who photographed Heath at various times throughout his career. These photographs were published in Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and other celebrity magazines.

On the 22 January 2018, it will be the 10th anniversary of Heath’s passing, so this exhibition is a timely celebration of his life and creativity. Heath was a local boy and started his career here, so the early section of the exhibition focusses on Perth.

How did you approach the curation of this exhibition?

When I started to work with this material and conceive of the exhibition, I considered displaying the process of filmmaking through Heath’s career to communicate to the audience the complexity of production and how it is a collaborative process. From a very young age, Heath wanted to be a director, so I also wanted to convey his enthusiasm about all aspects of filmmaking – not just being an actor.

I never knew that. Could you tell us more about Heath’s desire to be a director?

The exhibition also recreates Heath’s creative studio, based in Los Angeles, called The Masses. He and a group of friends – musicians, artists, and filmmakers – got together to collaborate on a diverse set of projects. Heath made a number of music videos, which are being screened, as well as the storyboards and treatments he created as part of the process of directing them.

There were also two films he intended to direct. One of them was The Queens Gambit, based on a novel about a young female chess master. The pre-production stage was scheduled to commence at the end of 2008, but unfortunately, he passed away. The other one, still in script development, was about the 1970s musician Nick Drake.

Heath was very passionate about Nick Drake and while completing Todd Haynes’s biopic on Bob Dylan – I’m Not There – he decided to completely change his approach from depicting the musician’s life to using Nick’s music to lead an unrelated narrative.

That’s interesting to hear. What can you tell us about Heath’s interest in photography?

There are several photographic albums on display in this exhibition, which Heath meticulously compiled by placing photographs in very considered juxtapositions. There are also thirty-two photographs from the Archive hung in a mass display. Many Heath had enlarged, or framed and displayed in his homes.

So when did Heath begin to show an interest in photography?

He’d been taking photographs since he was a teenager, but around 1998 he started to focus on how things looked through the frame, or the lens, of the camera. While on set he would take an opportunity to learn from the directors and the directors of photography. He would look at the rushes or dailies to see how things appeared through the lens, and ask questions about apertures and lighting effects. He was just fascinated by the whole image making process.

Heath sounds like he had many different talents and passions. Are there any we haven’t mentioned yet?

Heath had a passion for chess and played, on an average, ten games a day – he just adored the game.

That’s a lot of chess games! Before we wrap up, can you share what excites you about the exhibition?

I’m excited for people to see his photography and music video. I also want to convey his collaborative nature and how he nurtured younger actors and filmmakers through The Masses and on set. I hope people who visit the exhibition will appreciate the complexity of the film industry and how many people contribute to realising a director’s vision.

Our next Pursuing Your Passions guest is Managing Director of Rusty, Geoff Backshall.  Join Geoff on Friday 3 November from 5:30pm in the exhibition space at AGWA.


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Curator insights with Melissa Harpley

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Written by Mikaela Hewett, communications intern

AGWA’s next international exhibition, A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence, arrives in Perth, next February for an exclusive Australian season. Featuring a diverse selection of artwork from the Renaissance and Baroque era, this show is a must-see for lovers of Italian art and the period. I sat down with curator Melissa Harpley to gain some insight into the Collection and the experience it offers.

Thanks for taking the time to meet, Melissa. We’re here to talk about the Corsini Collection. Can you tell us what it is, and what people can expect when it arrives in Perth next February?

The Corsini Collection is a remarkable collection of artworks that are owned by an individual Florentine family. It is beautifully unified by that family connection, and the fact it has been built over centuries. Some of the works are by the great names of the Italian Renaissance – Botticelli, del Sarto, Pontormo – and Caravaggio, a name many people will be familiar with. The collection also tells an engaging story of the Corsini family themselves, so the exhibition will include a range of portraits of family members and artefacts from their home in the Palazzo Corsini.  I think for audiences it will be a beautiful insight into the family, Florence, and Italy.

That sounds exciting. Can you tell me a little more about the Corsini family?

They are a family who came into prominence in the thirteenth century and occupied a range of professions in Florence, Italy – though there were also members of the family who worked in England – an important source of wealth for many Italian families during the Renaissance. One of the Corsinis was the Pope Clement XII. Another early member of the Corsini family was canonised, so they have their own saint as well, Saint Andrea Corsini.

And what styles of art did they collect?

A lot of the art is from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, so those works reflect the popular subjects of the time. There are certainly religious paintings, such as the fabulous Madonna with Child and Six Angels by Botticelli, but also some beautiful portraits. Classical mythology was of intellectual interest in the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Italy, so there are a number of paintings of scenes from mythology, and some landscapes too.

What do you feel are some of the stand out pieces in the Corsini Collection?

The Botticelli is an absolute knock-out. However, the Caravaggio portrait of Maffeo Barberini is also a very powerful painting. The four little Giovanni Santi paintings of Apollo and the Muses are beautiful early Renaissance panel paintings, and the portrait of the family’s saint with the bullet holes in it is a very moving and powerful work because of the backstory. There is such a diverse selection of art that I’m sure everyone will be able to find something they love while visiting the Collection.

What is the story behind the family saint?

Well, towards the end of the Second World War the German army was retreating through Italy. The Corsini family were aware that the German army had been looting artworks along the way, so Princess Elena Corsini worked with some of her staff to hide as much of the collection as they could to try and preserve it. Some of it was hidden in a crypt in a church in Florence, and other pieces were loaded onto a truck, which was driven out to one of their country properties. Princess Elena Corsini instructed that a false wall was built to hide the artworks so that if the Germans passed through they wouldn’t find any paintings. The family story goes that when the artworks were put behind the wall, Donna Elena said to the portrait of the saint, “I’ve done my bit, now it’s up to you.”

The Germans did arrive, noticed the false wall, and one of the officers – possibly thinking there were people behind it – shot at the wall a number of times. Luckily, the only work damaged was the painting of Saint Andrea Corsini, so perhaps he did protect the rest of the collection! The family decided not to have the work conserved, so you can still see the bullet holes in it.

When the Corsini Collection arrives in February, what would you say to people thinking of visiting?

It’s a great opportunity to spend some time with works from a period and place that you don’t often experience in Perth.  Plus, there’s the fascinating story of the Corsini family and the city of Florence to bring many of the works to life. They’re fabulous paintings, and I think people will have a great experience since there are so many beautiful works of art to enjoy.

Thank you, Melissa. Tickets to A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence are now on sale here.