AGWA Reading Room Now Live

The AGWA Blog has a new home – the AGWA Reading Room. Find all past blog posts at this link, with many more to come! Click on the artwork below to enter the Reading Room.

Norma MacDonald Spirit drawn 2008 (detail).
Norma MacDonald Spirit drawn 2008 (detail). Oil on Belgian linen, 80 x 120 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Sir Claude Hotchin Art Foundation, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2008. © Norma MacDonald, 2008.

Curating in Australia

Excerpt from Becoming Our Future: Global Indigenous Curatorial Practice (ARP Books)

By Carly Lane, AGWA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art 

AGWA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Carly Lane is one of the editors behind the publication Becoming Our Future: Global Indigenous Curatorial Practice. This book investigates international Indigenous methodologies in curatorial practice from the geographic spaces of Canada, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Australia. We’re delighted to share this excerpt from the book, outlining curatorial practices specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Becoming Our Future is due to be published in Australia this August.

The Pound, Wirrimanu (Balgo).

Who We Are

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curators working in Australia are a small band of passionate advocates and lovers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, art, and culture. We are fully aware of the power of curating to express ourselves, our mob, our culture(s). We use our curatorial spheres of influence as arenas for cultural expression, renewal, and survival. We write and create exhibitions that define and present us as we individually and collectively know ourselves. We work tirelessly alongside artists to hear and see ourselves in the public domain and to educate the wider public about the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Our art holds significant value as a form of cultural and political expression, as well as being the first arts of Australia, a fact that is gaining traction in narratives of nationhood. And, sandwiched into all of this activity is our agenda to ensure that Aboriginal and Islander people, as human beings, are seen as inherently deserving of equality and respect, as much for our differences as for the things we have in common with wider (white) Australia. Too often Australia operates as a binary society of mainstream/marginal, male/female, black/white, which inevitably categorizes one group as lesser than the other and completely overlooks the various third spaces of coexistence. It is within this social context that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curators, and other First Nations curators working in Australia such as Léuli Eshrāghi (Sāmoa, Pārs), attempt to secure a better position for our peoples, both now and into the future.

Six Seasons gallery, AGWA installation view, 2020. (L-R) Vernon Ah Kee born in this skin 2008. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Friends of the Art Gallery, 2008. © Vernon Ah Kee. Courtesy Milani Gallery, Brisbane. Vernon Ah Kee therewasafall 2015. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2016. © Vernon Ah Kee, 2015.

In Becoming our Future, authors and curators Freja Carmichael, Nici Cumpston, Carly Lane, and Kimberley Moulton present just some of the projects that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curators have initiated or helped to shape. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we differ in age, gender, and language group, many of us hailing from one or more of the 250 (plus dialects) language groups across Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. We use various names to refer to ourselves, including Indigenous, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and First Nations, as well as the names of the language groups to which we belong. As curators, we span at least three generations of professionals, with each generation bringing its own passion, knowledge, and sensibility to the ever-growing field of Indigenous curatorial practice.

Where We Work

While many of us work in public institutions, such as museums, art galleries, and at festivals, which are mostly located in capital cities, there is a growing cohort of curators working independently or as curatorial fellows within major private collections. There are others still in regional and remote community art centres whose curatorial practices are beginning to be recognized as an important part of their working lives. This recognition is a recent phenomenon, representing a conscious shift in how we define a curator and curatorial practice today. The sites of culture we work in are almost everywhere: whether an Aboriginal owned and operated art centre, a university, private collection, or at all levels of government—local, regional, state, national, and sometimes international. Indigenous curators actively advocate for the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and material culture, and we do so with the implicit support of our institutions and colleagues. To varying degrees of success, we each reshape our curatorial roles beyond the standard remit of researching, collecting, and communicating art in society, to one that also incorporates social justice and self-determination.

Fiona Foley HHH #1 2004 (detail). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia⁣⁣⁣⁣. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2009⁣. © Fiona Foley, 2004.


In my experience, and with the exception of curator and scholar Stephen Gilchrist, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curators only occasionally examine our own curatorial practices. We are so busy storytelling, writing, and buying and exhibiting works of art that we do not take the time (or cannot afford it) to critically review the methodologies we bring to our daily work. If we did take the time, I wonder if we would categorize our curatorial practices as both conventional in structure and organic with undetermined rules. More often than not, we make our own way on the job, observing and taking in the practices and skills of those around us. We intuitively build our practice by doing what feels right, guided by our Aboriginal world views. Our curatorial methodology is an extension of our cultural ways of seeing, doing, and being in the world. But this may not be the full story of Indigenous curatorial practice in Australia. While culture offers curators a lens through which to see and protocols for how to engage, there are likely other factors that forge and fuel our individual methodologies and practice. When reading the essays by Carmichael, Cumpston, Lane, Moulton, and Eshrāghi, we ask the reader to consider the roles of passion, place, and people, and also the present as a marker of both the time and the activity the curator is engrossed in. 

What do I mean when I talk about passion, place, and people? By place, I mean geographical location, the site of culture and the micro and macro environment a curator works in. By passion, I mean the specific purpose or mission that drives a curator’s practice. By people, I mean the subgroups the curator speaks in and out to. Where is their focus? I suspect these factors are essential to understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curatorial methodology today.

Note: Australian territory stretches across the traditional lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s). Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture are distinct from one another, we jointly share the position of being the Indigenous/First Nations people of Australia. Together, we make up 3.3 per cent of the Australian population. Furthermore, according to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies there were over 250 Aboriginal languages and 800 dialects once spoken across Australia.

AGWA Six Seasons: Confronting Contested Histories

Kedela wer kalyakoorl ngalak Wadjak boodjak yaak.

Today and always, we stand on the traditional land of the Whadjuk Noongar people.

The current Six Seasons exhibition Outside: Matters of the heart in Indigenous art explores among a number of subjects the history and experiences of being an outsider in white Australian society. Curated by Carly Lane, AGWA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, it represents a space for multiple voices and shared narratives, where contested histories are confronted and cultural stories celebrated. At a time when the injustices of racism and inequality are magnified, this exhibition signals our commitment to ensure that all voices and stories are heard, and to stand up against racism in any form. As AGWA Director Colin Walker affirms, “we stand in solidarity with those fighting to end systemic racism and the violence that racism inflicts on the Black community.” Below is a selection of works from the exhibition Outside: Matters of the heart in Indigenous art.

Vernon Ah Kee therewasafall 2015

Vernon Ah Kee therewasafall 2015. Synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen, 180 x 240 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2016. © Vernon Ah Kee, 2015.

The words in therewasafall are taken from the Queensland Coroner’s report into the death of Cameron Doomadgee, who died in police custody on Palm Island in 2004. Doomadgee died one hour after being arrested for causing a public nuisance. On its release, the report was read out by the then-mayor of Palm Island to the local Aboriginal residents who gathered in the town square. Upon learning of these horrific injuries, Lex Wotton and others expressed their grief and anger. The police station, courthouse and home of the officer-in-charge were set on fire. Lex Wotton was convicted for inciting a riot and sentenced to seven years in prison. Sergeant Chris Hurley, the police officer charged with Doomadgee’s death, was found not guilty of manslaughter.

Sandra Hill Dear Mr Neville 1996

Sandra Hill Dear Mr Neville 1996. Solvent transfer print, watercolour, mixed media on paper, 79.1 x 93.5 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1997.

“My work is a way of reclaiming my heritage, of telling my story and that of other Aboriginal people… At six years old I was taken from my family and fostered by a white family. Twenty-nine years later, I was reunited with my mother and father. The years I spent researching my family history, policies and legislation and my Aboriginal heritage have resulted in the artworks I create. The imagery relates to different elements of life as an Aboriginal person. It tells stories about identity, spirituality, shared grief, struggle and the profound sense of loss that has been experienced by many of my people.”

Sandra Hill, 1997

Julie Dowling Birthday girl 1996

Julie Dowling Birthday girl 1996. Synthetic polymer paint, red ochre and blood on canvas, 91.5 x 61 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1996. © Julie Dowling / Copyright Agency.

“At Mogumber Mission the authorities separate the babies and children from their parents. Birthdays were seldom celebrated within the many missions and orphanages in Western Australia for First Nations children. I painted this picture to represent the possibility of a young child being given bread and butter pudding (at the very least) on her birthday. I imagined that she could have two of her friends with her to celebrate. The sad thing is that this story is true. Such a story was told by my Great Aunt Dorothy Nannup to my Nana. Birthdays are creations of another culture anyway. In our culture, a child is celebrated every day of its young life. They are never hit or spoken harshly to. They are surrounded by family and learn from older children and elders until they reach maturity. It is then that a ceremony marks the move from childhood to adulthood. It provides a clear transition. We also believe that elders and children are closer to the Dreaming.”

Julie Dowling, 2018

Michael Riley Sacrifice 1992

Michael Riley Sacrifice 1992. Silver gelatin print, 30.5 x 40.5 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2013. © Michael Riley, 1992.

“The Sacrifice series, really what I was exploring there was how Aboriginal people were put on to reserves and missions like in the 1940s and earlier and regimented and told not to speak language, not to act as culture and you would have different tribal groups thrown in together. Some of the images in Sacrifice, like with the spoons, that’s symbolic of addiction, like heroin addiction. The row of sardine, the fish, it’s like how on reserves people were lined up and regimented and everyone have their place and everything.”

Michael Riley, 2006

Dianne Jones The Great Heads 2017

Dianne Jones The Great Heads 2017. Ink jet print on paper, 53 x 80 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through The Leah Jane Cohen Bequest, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2018. © Dianne Jones / Copyright Agency.

As a Noongar artist invited to spend time in Parliament House I was taken on tours of the building, its many rooms, halls and artworks. I learnt about the many symbols and traditions that evoke how a culture creates a sense of grandeur befitting the gravitas of ‘founding a nation’ the historical ties with Britain, the solemn rituals required for power to make laws impacting us, every day. The height, the arches, the statues and the leather-bound books are crafted to induce awe, to speak of some divine right to possess and govern. I am not a tourist here on Noongar land.”

Dianne Jones, 2017

Norma MacDonald Spirit Drawn 2008

Norma MacDonald Spirit drawn 2008. Oil on Belgian linen, 80 x 120 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Sir Claude Hotchin Art Foundation, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2008. © Norma MacDonald, 2008.

Four young boys at Carrolup Mission stand proudly with their landscape drawings of their traditional land in the Great Southern. Noongar / Yamitji artist Norma MacDonald merges and expands the landscapes depicted in each of the scrapbooks into the foreground of the painting, and perhaps more importantly, across the bodies of the four boys holding their art. Such a union speaks to the relationship and understanding each child has to their land – their boodja. The painting is a contemporary reflection upon an important time in Western Australian history and captures the origins of the Carrolup landscape tradition – founded by Noongar children, and its resurgence among contemporary Noongar artists today.

Outside: Matters of the heart in Indigenous art is currently on display in our Six Seasons gallery. Read more about this exhibition and access our online collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at

Beneath the Surface: Conservation Stories at AGWA

1908-P3 DT after cleaning 20 Oct2012
During treatment: After Canaletto Church of S Giorgio Maggiore, Venice c 1720-c 1760. Oil on canvas, 74.3 x 106.6 x 6cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Gift of H C Prinsep, 1908

In 2012, conservation of a historical work from the State Collection led to an unexpected discovery. Whilst treating Church of S Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, AGWA’s Painting Conservator, Dr Maria Kubik, was able to fully analyse the painting for the first time since it was acquired in 1908. This process uncovered a striking layer beneath the painting’s surface.

The painting itself depicts San Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th century Benedictine church on the islands of Venice. Designed by Andrea Palladio in the classical renaissance style, the church has been a popular subject for many well-known artists, including JMW Turner, Claude Monet and Arthur Streeton. Though the artist of this particular painting is unknown, its composition is the same as a view of this church by Canaletto, the renowned landscape painter of Venice.

Initial investigation of this work began by thoroughly documenting its condition and examining the painting under different light sources. This is one of the first analytical techniques available to the conservator and involves the use of different wavelengths to gather information about the various layers present. Visible light is used to document the painting before treatment.  This inspection highlighted the discoloured retouchings present in the work, as well as a slightly darkened and soiled varnish layer.  Ultraviolet (UV) light causes aged varnish layers to fluoresce, and can detect any missing areas as well as later overpaint. In this case, purple patches in the sky revealed the extent of previous restorations.

1908-BT ultraviolet light - damage and retouching
Painting under UV light, showing fluorescent varnish layer with losses and old retouchings

Following these discoveries, Infrared Reflectography (IRR) was undertaken. IRR is a similar process to UV analysis, but penetrates below the paint surface and requires a special camera to capture the reflected details.  An Indium-Gallium-Arsenide (InGaAs) detector within a camera array is attached to a laptop for live capture. This technology is able to detect the presence of carbon beneath paint layers and can thus make underlying images visible.

1908_P3 infrared detail of face
Infrared reflectography detail of the church and belltower

In this case, beneath the Venetian landscape, the outline of a face could be seen below the left-hand side of the church. To get higher resolution details of the whole painting, it was decided that the work be taken off-site to X-ray facilities at Royal Perth Hospital radiology department where a surprise awaited.


1908-P3 Xray from RPH
X-ray from Royal Perth Hospital, revealing the underlying stretcher and nails, as well as the faint image of a lady and parrot.

The X-rays reveal a portrait, cropped just over chest height. Though unconfirmed, the underlying image closely resembles the portrait and parrot, as well as their relative positions, in Girl in Green Dress with Parrot by an unknown artist (1725 – 1735) in the York Museums Trust collection.

Woman with parrot overlaid
Details from Girl in Green Dress with Parrot overlaid over the painting. Unknown artist Girl in Green Dress with Parrot 1725–1735 (detail). York Art Gallery.

Using this additional information, the painting could be suitably cleaned and restored to its former appearance, and is now available for viewing in the Art Gallery of WA’s Historical display. Next time you visit, see if you too can find the lady and her parrot hiding in the church!

“Although it’s not the only one in our collection, it’s always exciting to discover overpainted artworks, particularly as complete and extensively reworked as this one.” Maria Kubik

AGWA Historical Installation View


WA Now Artists Select State Collection Works for WA Day

WA Day is a chance to celebrate everything that makes this state unique: our people, our lifestyle, our culture and our potential. Reflecting on our Aboriginal history and the diverse community that makes up this state, WA Day emphasises inclusion for everyone who has made, and continues to make, Western Australia their home.

In this spirit, we’ve reached out to artists featured in AGWA’s WA Now series for a special selection of works from the State Art Collection. Since 2015, the Gallery’s WA Now space has showcased the diverse voices that comprise this State’s vibrant contemporary art scene. Together these artworks offer a thoughtful and wide-ranging view on what it means to live, and create art, in this part of the world.

Thomas Jeppe Door To A Farce, Farce To Adore 2010

Thomas Jeppe Door To A Farce, Farce To Adore 2010. Gouache on paper (diptych), 123.2 x 83.1 x 6.5 cm (each) (framed). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2011.

“The play on the title symmetry and paired back graphic representation I love about this work. Besides resonating with my personal practice, Jeppe’s works have humour and a sense of the lighthearted, despite appearing stark and austere, they pick up on subtle messaging and deliver immediate visual punch. Disruptive, refreshing and clever are three adjectives that capture the intent behind Jeppe’s imagery.”

Tom Mùller
2020 WA Now featured artist: MONOLITH SCORES

Nyaparu (William) Gardiner Jamu (Grandfather) 2017

“Nyaparu’s haunting paintings depict memories of his early life working on pastoral stations following the 1946 Pilbara Aboriginal Strike – a turning point for First Nations’ rights in this country. They therefore provide a powerful visual link to one of the most significant events in modern Western Australian history, but one with very little photographic documentation. In the context of WA Day, this portrait of his grandfather functions as a contemporary icon of heroic Western Australian Aboriginal masculinity.”

Andrew Nicholls
2018 WA Now featured artistHyperkulturemia

Nathan Beard Rampai/Samniang/Ratana/Pornjit 2017

Nathan Beard Rampai/Samniang/Ratana/Pornjit 2017. Digital print on Canson Baryta, Swarovski Elements, 35.5 x 48.0 cm image 51.0 x 38.5 cm framed. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2017. © Nathan Beard.

“This work by Nathan Beard has always felt like shards in my heart for the stories of homesickness and isolation felt by migrant mothers who left their families and everything familiar to begin new lives in Australia. There is love and there is happiness here, a home but not home. As time goes on the phone calls announce more funerals than birthdays. She is Nathan’s mum, she is my mum, she is the mother of so many. This work is both sadness and joy.”

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah
2015 WA Now featured artist 

Peter (Bagingin) Newry Moonoomoorrem 2010

Peter (Bagingin) Newry Moonoomoorrem 2010Natural ochre and pigments on canvas, 100.0 x 280.0 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the TomorrowFund, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation 2010.

“To be working as an artist in this part of the world is an immense privilege and learning experience. Moonoomoorrem by Peter Windarrwing Newry is redolent with deep time and knowledge of the land.”

Gregory Pryor
2017 WA Now featured artistLooking Glass

Pilar Mata Dupont The Embrace (이상적인 포옹) 2013

Pilar Mata DupontThe Embrace (이상적인 포옹) 2013. Single channel, high definition digital video, sound, colour, 5:04 minutes. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2014.

“With The Embrace Pilar Mata Dupont animates Korean reuinification monuments through a rich tapestry of contemporary cultural influences (the melodramatic over-expression of K-Drama, the heightened confectionary of K-Pop visuals), and in doing so effortlessly subverts politically timely narratives of nationalism and myth-making. The work showcases a West Australian artist operating internationally with a conceptual and technical precision that makes me feel envious and overjoyed in equal measure.”

Nathan Beard
2017 WA Now featured artist

Abdul Abdullah The disaffected by product of the colonies 2014

Abdul Abdullah The disaffected by product of the colonies 2014. C-type print, 155.0 x 110.0 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2015.

“Abdul Abdullah’s body of works that deal with the depiction of the other within us shine a mirror back on the (Western) Australian ideas of our own identity; by choosing the mask from the Planet of the Apes it transcends (in our eyes) beyond notions of ethnicity and human-centric ideas of otherness and opens up a larger and universal conversation around personhood and identity.” 

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr
2018 WA Now featured artists: Biomess: The Tissue Culture & Art Project

Trevor Vickers Untitled 2012

Trevor Vickers Untitled 2012.  Synthetic polymer on canvas, 75.5 x 106.5 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Sir Claude Hotchin Art Foundation, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2014.

“Much like his character, Trevor Vicker’s work has a quietly sustaining presence. There is no pressing need to show what it’s about or to seek approval. As I trust his expression of pure emotion, sensation and aesthetic intelligence, his work appears undisturbed by notions of time, place or meaning. And, just as one might experience music, it makes room for the mind to wander freely.”

Eveline Kotai
2019 WA Now featured artist: Breathing Pattern

Tom Gibbons The End c 1972

Tom Gibbons The End c 1972. Synthetic polymer paint on panel, 114.0 cm (diameter). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1993.

“I love Tom Gibbon’s work The End, 1972. Part of the intrigue of the work is its ambiguity. Is it a West Australian sun setting into the Indian Ocean or a nuclear rising sun? Is it a zig-zag yellow river or a road? I choose to think of it as a road. Of the long drives up north to Karijini and Ningaloo Reef or down south to Denmark and Margaret River. Tom shared my love of cinema and literature to inform his work. His use of the text and font, reminiscent of the final credits of old movies, evokes all those Westerns I watched as a child. When it was painted in 1972 the Aboriginal flag was in its infancy, and not familiar as it is now. Tom actually based the colour scheme on his mum’s best Art Deco tea set. Today however, whether intentionally or not, the red, yellow and black colours imbue the work as a powerful statement of reconciliation. What is it the end of? The cessation of mistreatment and injustice of the indigenous peoples and a future that is inclusive and hopeful.”

Graham Miller
2016 WA Now featured artist

Thank you to all of our WA Now artists who took the time to reflect on these works from the State Collection. You can take a virtual tour of Tom Mùller’s current WA Now exhibition, MONOLITH SCORES on the exhibition page.

Uncertain Claims for Uncertain Times: Iris Francis’s and Ian Burn’s No-Face Face-Off

By Robert Cook, Curator of 20th Century Art

Breaking with the convention of depicting a physical self, Iris Francis’s Self Portrait 1940 is an arrangement of objects that represent various aspects of the artist’s everyday life.  Golf clubs, pressure cooker, frame, palette, ‘cello, speak of household labour/duty, leisure and creative activity. While the eye that peers directly out of the thumb hole of the palette might suggest visual art unifies these elements, it equally might indicate that art and its symbols are a mask.

Like many self-portraits, therefore, Francis’s painting is a declaration of individuality and an evasion of its revelation, or even a refusal to tell the “whole story”. With this, the reverberating lines in the background could suggest an energetic extension of self (an amalgam of mind and matter, spirit and body, perhaps) that is larger than the sum of the parts…of a lifestyle, a social role, a gender.

Here, as AGWA Curator Melissa Harpley has pointed out, “experiential reality is collapsed into depicted realities”[1], and if the work could talk it might say something like this: “I am in this space; these items say something about me; but I am not only here; these items do not say everything”. And so, there is a safeguarding, and self-care impulse at play, a shielding of the secret self.


It is worth noting that the work was painted by a female artist during the Second World War. Perhaps, then, Francis’s wavy background captures a sense of the energy of life starting to change for women on the one hand, and it becoming more generally provisional. This idea, of course, brings to mind W.B Yeats famous line from his 1919 poem The Second Coming, written in response to the devastation of the first world war, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. But in Francis’s work, she holds the centre tight: though for how long and at what cost?; it’s the not knowing that makes the work engaging and oddly satisfying.

A similar pleasure is to be found in Ian Burn’s text and mirror piece No object implies the existence of any other 1967. Like Francis’s work, it was made in a time of global unrest (the Vietnam War being just one element) and snares the viewer in its space.

Burn was an Australian conceptual artist, writer and art historian, whose work questioned the political, economic and philosophical status of the art object and claims for the art experience. This piece was made just after he had moved to America and takes its title from a passage in Scottish philosopher David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739-1740:

There is no object, which implies the existence of any other if we consider these objects in themselves, and never look beyond the ideas which we form of them. Such an inference wou’d amount to knowledge, and wou’d imply the absolute contradiction and impossibility of conceiving any thing different. But as all distinct ideas are separable, ‘tis evident there can be no impossibility of that kind. When we pass from a present impression to the idea of any object, we might possibly have separated the idea from the impression, and have substituted any other idea in its room. [2]


Hume, as this quote implies, was known as a sceptical philosopher concerned with defining the limits of knowledge and, thereby, the grounds by which we understand our world. In response, Burn makes this line of inquiry personal and art historical.  As Michiel Dolk has noted of Burn’s mirror works (of which this is just one): “The business of positioning oneself in front of a mirror, as if it were a painting, recalls those efforts to position the observer in front of a painting as if it were a mirror”.[3]  Through this tactic, Burn seems to ask us to question the basis on which we know ourselves to ourselves, as well as whether it is us or the artist who made the work. After all, if it is our reflection that we see, are we not, momentarily, the subject and the maker of the art work? And if so, where does this leave the artist, whose own reflection was once “within” the work as he assembled it and looked it over afterwards…especially if, to follow the logic of the title, our reflection does not imply that his being as an artist existed?

Well, it depends on our cast of mind, and your inclination about where to take the proposal. In my mind, it’s an opening, a provocation. But I am logically and philosophically lazy, and more inclined to the psychological. And in relation to that, my own take would be that

there is something to be drawn from these works in an awareness of the power of irresolution, and the importance of sometimes stepping around definite meaning. 

See, there might be an aesthetic, intellectual and emotional power in a cleanly phrased or depicted problem that artfully resonates within, not just to destabilise or befuddle for its own sake, but to bring our pre-existing inner doubts into a kind of open and surprising conversation with the world.

Which is to say, doubt and uncertainty, the two key elements of the global situation right now, are the qualities that encourage us to connect differently with ourselves, and others. [5]


1] Melissa Harpley, Beyond the Image: Western Australian Women Artists 1920 – 1960, University of Western Australia Department of Fine Arts: WA, 1990. p.16

2] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739-1740, Book 1, Part 3, Section 6: “Of the inference from the impression to the idea: accessed 1 May 2020

3] Michiel Dolk, “It’s only art Conceptually: a consideration of the work of Ian Burn 1965 – 1970 in Ian Burn: Minimal-Conceptual Work 1965-1970, Art Gallery of Western Australia: WA, 1992, p.33.

4]  We can also think about the work as a self-portrait by Burn via a representation of his labour (akin to Francis’s work): he worked as a picture framer in America as he had in London previously. In relation the status of the mirror works, Burn remarked in a letter in November 1968: “it is strange how such perfectly simple things, completely normal, no tricky stuff, such ordinary things [like mirrors] can cause so many problems for people looking at them… I don’t see why people don’t look at my mirror pieces in the same way that they look into a bathroom mirror, something with our ordinary existence, not outside of it, isolated, remote, museum-ised”. Given the art world location he was working in and for, such a query is a provocation and a statement of the dual (material and intellectual) nature of his work. ibid., p.73.

5] Yet…. If No object implies the existence of any other, we can also see this neat little story as being exactly that: a fiction made between objects, and signs and symbols and time and place, made between artists and projecting intentions into them.

AGWA Gently: Small Ideas for BIG IMAGINATIONS

By Lilly Blue, AGWA Learning and Creativity Research Manager

AGWA Gently is a creative play project for young children (and for all of us needing gentle ways of being with the world right now).

s l o w    p l a y

s h a r e d   l a u g h t e r

d r a w i n g   b r e a t h

q u i e t    c o l l a b o r a t i o n s

d e e p    l i s t e n i n g

l e a r n i n g    s o f t l y

small ideas for BIG IMAGINATIONS


AGWA Gently was born in a moment of overwhelm as an artist, educator and parent navigating the early days of COVID-19. In my role as Manager of Learning and Creativity Research at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, like many, I felt an enormous pressure to respond, to create online content and to transition much of what the gallery offers in immediate, face to face experiences to remote online resources and digital workshops. I found myself grappling with questions:

How do we now offer children opportunities for slow connected practice, embodied presence and contemplative moments without immediate live arts experiences in the Gallery’s shared communal spaces? How can we bring the sensorial open-ended explorations that are central to AGWA Learning into a digital world, while also offering a visual online pause that might provide a moment of rest in a fast-growing world of content, content, and ever more content?

AGWA Gently aims to offer creative inspirations and ideas that might spark children and families to leave their screens and play with the world for a while.* The suggestions are heartfelt, while knowing that for some families this time might not be gentle at all, that there is enormous loss for some, and time to play is a luxury for many. Our hope is that for those families who are spending time online, these thoughts, words and images might act as a breath.

Each week a new idea will be posted on Art Gallery of WA Facebook and Instagram pages, with an invitation for you to share your creations with us via #agwagently, or in the comments on Facebook. The activities are grouped loosely into themes that offer gentle explorations into the elements and principles of art and design, and some additional sensorial and poetic frames. The ideas are really invitations to carve pockets of time in the day to slow down and tune in to sounds, textures, colours, shadows, shapes and rhythms. There are no downloads or videos to watch. No links to follow, No worksheets to complete. Each idea draws on a simple invitation for genuine connection, presence, listening and play. Even if the ideas don’t lead to actual play, the images and words might allow for a moment of quiet wonder. A reminder to breathe, to feel, to listen, and to go gently with the world.


As an artist and educator my role is to create environments where the natural energetic states of children can thrive unencumbered, they can follow beyond innate curiosity and learn to trust their existing embodied knowledges. The physical experience of shared experimentation, collaboration, and open-ended conversations lead not only to unexpected creative outcomes but also emotional experiences that impact learning. These are not things that translate easily to online spaces. They are subtle, nuanced and improvised ways of navigating the complex dynamics of groups and curating environments that are conducive to experimentation and discovery. They rely on the development of relationships, real connections and the opportunity to be together.

So, at a time when we cannot gather in real time and space, we go slowly into this digital world reaching though screens to the spaces where children are actually living and playing. We offer a few small seeds that might spark some shared discoveries in being with the world, a reminder that less can be more, and an invitation to slow down and go gently for a few moments.

Take care in these new days.


Lilly Blue

Learning and Creativity Research


* This work is born of many years research and practice, the methodologies drawn from an ongoing collaboration with Dr Jo Pollitt beginning with BIG Kids Magazine, and more recently a partnership with ECU School of Education, Conversations with Rain, exploring young children’s innate relationship with the environment as a way of revisioning climate futures.

Lesley Murray’s ‘Black Soldier’ – Remembering Indigenous Military Service on ANZAC Day

Lesley Murray Black soldier 1994. Linocut, 55 x 105 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2001.

Lesley Murray’s Black Soldier is a commemorative work which has both personal and public resonance. A heartfelt tribute to the artist’s grandfather, the work has also assumed broader significance as a symbol of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ role in the Australian Defence Force, as well as in the early frontier wars.

Presenting the archetypal image of the Australian Digger in full uniform and slouch hat, the words ‘Black Soldier’ underscore how Indigenous military service has been marked by patterns of anonymity and under-recognition.

While Indigenous servicemen often experienced a sense of equality and camaraderie among the troops at war, they did not receive the same recognition and support as their counterparts upon their return.

Special platoon consisting of volunteer Aboriginal soldiers, Number 9 camp at Wangaratta, December 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial)



As Leslie Murray noted when exhibiting the work in 2001, it was in recent decades that “the RSL and the Australian Government came to recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Indigenous servicemen’s names were excluded from Australian War Memorials and unlike non-Aboriginal veterans, they were not given land once back in Australia. Murray’s own grandfather, promoted to Lance Corporal during the Second World War, only received his medal in 1989.


Alice Springs, December 1942 (Source: Australian War Memorial)

“I always wanted to tell his story.” Lesley Murray’s ‘Grandfather series’ celebrates the life of her grandfather William Murray


Black Soldier forms part of a series of linocut prints celebrating the life of her grandfather William Murray. While the works hold great personal meaning for Murray, having helped her grieve his death in 1994, she also intended to make a broader statement about Aboriginal experience and their role in defending Australia over the years.



“Many fought and lost their lives fighting in alien lands, for not only their country, but in the hope of making their situation in Australia better for their families.” Lesley Murray

Hear more about Lesley Murray’s ‘Grandfather series’ in this AGWA TV interview:

Tom Malone Prize Winner Mel Douglas and “Three-Dimensional Drawing”

Now in its eighteenth year, the annual Tom Malone Prize showcases the skill and ingenuity of some of Australia’s most accomplished glass artists. Canberra artist Mel Douglas was awarded the Prize this year for her five-part piece Tonal Value, a complex work which demonstrates her ongoing interest in a kind of “three-dimensional drawing.” The work’s elegant gradation from white to black explores how the intersection of objects and drawing can create a new form of mark-making. We caught up with Mel to hear more about the work and how her practice has developed since first winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014.

Tell us about your ‘drawing with glass’ approach and what this involves on a technical level?

Over the past six years, my practice has investigated how and if studio glass can be understood through the aesthetics of drawing. I began this investigation to test how studio glass could become a drawing or expand the field of drawing, particularly as objects and drawings are often thought of as two separate entities.

The technique draws on traditional screen-printing processes – instead of printing with ink onto paper, I am printing with glass powder directly onto a kiln shelf, and firing the glass. The glass is then transferred onto and adhered to paper. Each glass drawing is taken from an original drawing, each work is individual, and these works are not made in editions.

Click through the images for an snapshot of Mel Douglas’ technique

How does incorporating drawing into glass art offer new creative possibilities?

Investigating how and what ‘drawing with glass’ could be, I applied theories of line, conventions of contemporary drawing alongside ideas and rules of geometry to the distinctive material quality of glass. By combining the unique qualities of the glass with the rich potential of mark making, I have developed techniques to consider how line can inform, define and enable an object as a drawing.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach to developing work that looks beyond the disciplinary confines of one material, I have combined ideas and theories from the wider fields of the visual arts, anthropology and the sciences,  extending the potential of glass to be understood as drawing. I have taken the approach, that to better understand a material, I needed to push its limits to see where it crossed over with other materials.

What do you think glass can offer that’s different to any other medium?

Glass may be an unforgiving medium, but it’s extremely versatile. It can be blown, cut, cast, flameworked, kiln formed, filled with neon gas, and illuminated. Artists’ approaches to working with the medium have become increasingly multifaceted—combining glass with video, exploring 3D printing and other emerging technologies.

Glass as a means for exploring lines spatially offers abundant and unique avenues. Being an amorphous material that changes viscosity depending on temperature, a line can be drawn out freely into space and immediately sets into a drawn form, it can hide and conceal line, it can cast shadow lines which move through and in to the substrate.

What was the intention or concept behind your work Tonal Value and how did this develop as the piece took shape?

Tonal Value contemplates how objects occupy space. The space that surrounds an object has the ability to hold and suspend, by tilting these objects in space and changing the orientation, each work holds on to that last moment of silence and stillness before it spills over. This sets up an ambiguous tension, a sense of anticipation and movement within a still frame.

This work also looks at the different values of line that can be achieved through exploring the viscosity of glass, and how the changes in tone or colour change the quality and gauge of line. By moving this image through a series of tonal changes, from a stiff white, which gives a tight, thin and pronounced line, through to black which melts at a lower temperature, the line becomes softer and bleeds into the substrate making a thicker, more painterly line.

Mel Douglas Tonal Value 2019. Glass on paper, 5 units: 71 x 71 cm each. Courtesy the artist. © Mel Douglas. Photo: David Patterson.

How does the physical positioning of a glass work change how it is perceived?

There are so many physical changes that occur when you move an artwork from the studio into a gallery setting. Private to public, it transforms a playful idea into something more defined and absolute and the transformation of glass that occurs under different lighting conditions can be extreme.

Sometimes taking a work from the studio into a gallery setting removes the intimacy: the viewer loses the ability to take in all of the subtleties. However, in opposition, displaying work in a gallery removes all of the mechanics behind the work. It provides a clean defined space for the work to be seen and interpreted.

Mel Douglas Tonal Value 2019 (detail)

How do you feel your practice has evolved since previously winning the Tom Malone Prize in 2014?

Towards the end of 2014, I began looking for new ways to integrate line and surface, I wanted to find ways to animate and subvert surfaces through line. I was seeking to find a connective purpose between my forms and their surfaces to explore space; I wanted the lines to be active and directive.

My practice has also developed by my need to extend the potential of thinking about glass within a conceptual framework. Until recently my work has been viewed primarily within the studio glass discipline. Through a critical examination of the potential for glass to be understood as drawing this research has led me to reconsider how my new work might be received outside of a studio glass perspective.

Where do you feel glass art sits in contemporary art practice?

The modern movement of studio glass began in America in the 1960s and is still recognised within visual art and craft disciplines. When a number of artists in the USA [such as Harvey Littleton and Martin Lipofsky] began to work with glass as a creative medium it created a significant shift between designer and maker. Disciplines, like ‘studio glass’ have been highly focused on understanding the material, and in doing so have made it possible to delve deeply into one subject, to learn everything possible from one set of tools and to develop new tools based on discoveries.

While my practice has developed from this modern history of studio glass, I am looking for a different kind of pathway as a contemporary practitioner. Just as craft theorist Glenn Adamson has observed, “in the last fifteen years contemporary studio glass has begun to expand its horizons, focusing less on technique and more on the artistic expression of ideas.’


Read more about the Tom Malone Prize and view this year’s catalogue on our website.

To find out more about Mel Douglas’ work, go to

For the Joy of It: WA Women’s Hall of Fame Honouree Dorothea Hansen-Knarhoi on her Long Career as an AGWA Guide

In a special ceremony on International Women’s Day this month, long-serving AGWA Gallery Guide Dorothea Hansen-Knarhoi was inducted into the Western Australian Women’s Hall of Fame for her extensive contribution to arts and culture in this state.

Instrumental in launching the Voluntary Gallery Guides in 1977, Dorothea has played a vital role in making the Gallery’s rich collection and exhibitions accessible to the varied audiences that attend each year.

We caught up with Dorothea to hear more about her career as a guide and how the Voluntary Gallery Guides association – and the Gallery – have evolved over the years.

A favourite work in the AGWA Collection. G F Watts. Una and the Red Cross Knight 1869 (detail). Oil on canvas. 167.3 x 184.7 cm (framed) 134.6 x 152.4 cm (sight). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1959.

You were one of the original guides who came together to form the Voluntary Gallery Guides association. Could you tell us a bit more about how it all came together?

Well, my job in life was as a physiotherapist. And when my children were little, I decided I didn’t want to work, but I needed something to keep my brain going. I enrolled in a fine art course at Claremont Technical School and it opened a whole new world to me. When a couple of friends said that they’d been doing some research here at the Gallery and suggested starting the Guides, I said, wonderful. I just love being around works of art. We started off with about twenty people who loved art, who were artists or people who’d done this course (at Claremont Technical School).


How do you think the guiding philosophy has changed over the years? 

I think it’s evolved in different ways. Everyone does it differently. But I really like to get the public talking with me. People enjoy it so much more if they can be involved. We don’t really want people just giving a lecture.

When I started, we didn’t have an official training course – we virtually trained ourselves. Now we have this training course and the emphasis is on ways to guide. When we do tours, we think it’s important to have links so that you have a reason to move from one painting to another and you’ve got a theme to take you through.

1982Dorothea and Friends copy
Dorothea in 1982

Do you have any particular stories that come to mind about tours you’ve done or people you’ve met along the way?

Once when I had a children’s tour, there was this little fellow who didn’t seem to be very interested and then gradually came out of himself and started talking. In the end, he said, “I’m going to go home and get my mum and dad to come into this Gallery!” He would have been about nine or 10. It was so rewarding because you don’t often get feedback like that.

And one of the funny ones, this is the Sidney Nolan exhibition (Landscapes and Legends, 1987) – I had a huge crowd of around 50 people. At the end of the tour I said, “if you’ve got any questions, I’ll try to answer them.” A hand went up; and this woman said “could you tell me where you get your hair cut?” (laughs)


How do you feel the Gallery’s collection or exhibitions have changed since you’ve been a Guide?

When we first started guiding, there was hardly any Aboriginal Art and we kept saying: when people come from overseas, they want to see something that’s different; that is not other European artists, but our own works of art that are quite different from anywhere else. The first Aboriginal Art exhibition we had was the Art of the Western Desert exhibition (1979). Now, of course, we have plenty of Aboriginal Art and that’s great. But it took a long time to build up the collection and to build up the understanding that there was an audience for it. I feel that’s a great progression that has happened.


What does being a guide at AGWA mean to you?

What I think a guide should do is enrich people’s understanding of our own work, our own history and our own culture; but also the history and culture of other countries. 

I just love being around works of art and I loved communicating it to the public, especially if they would join in. I loved being able to open their eyes, when I could. And because I was also a physiotherapist, which is a very practical and scientific based thing, it was a lovely balance. I just found it a joy to do.


Guided tours bring the State Art Collection to life and offer visitors unexpected ways to engage deeply with artworks, exhibitions and their connections to West Australian history.

Experience how a guided tour can enrich your visit to the Gallery by attending a free Wesfarmers Arts guided tour of the State Collection and special exhibitions, running Wednesday – Monday. Free private tours can also be booked for small groups by contacting (four weeks’ notice required).