Shades of Black, at Alliance Francais de Canberra
Tasmanian-born Aboriginal photographer Wayne Quilliam has spent most of his life living with indigenous communities across Australia.
His exhibition, Shades of Black now showing at Alliance francais, reflects this broad cultural education and offers the viewer an entry into the varied and complex spheres of contemporary Aboriginal social and spiritual society. Quilliam describes his work as simply " a fusion of traditional spirituality and comtemporary photographic processes". However, the reality of this exhibition is more complex and subtle: his subject matter, professional approach and technical methodology reflect a mix of past and present in physical, intellectual and emotional terms.
He is vigilant to acknowledge the specific traditions and customs of diverse Aboriginal groups, and emphasise their interaction with, and position in, a modern world.
Images of children embracing traditional practices, young adults comfortably melding their Aboriginal and popular cultures, elders who have adopted some European practices while preserving tradtions in the face of rapidly changing environments appear against an underlying fabric of shared belief systems.
Each image draws on one or more primary elements of Aboriginal lore: an unassailable relationship to the land, the ancestral domain, its forms and colours; art in performance, paring and paint: and, people, their kinship structures, community and personal relationships.
A subdued ethnographic element to the images exists only in the reference of subcultures within the broader community. The potential for political comment inherent in an exhibition of photographs of Aboriginal people by an Aboriginal artist is not exploited. Quilliam does not try to program or re-educate his audience with historic romanticism. Rather, what surfaces constantly is an open and gentle dignity and respect for humanity, time and place.
This exhibition is not merely a declaration or celebration of the endurance of a traditional indigenous culture, but an unqualified affirmation of the versatility, richness and vitality of comtemporary Aboriginal societies.
Quilliam, who expresses a simple desire "to share the beauty of my culture" has exhibited in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra and the National Gallery of Australia as well as in Japan and Europe.
by Myra McIntyre
By Joerg Andersch (Saturday Mercury)
Wayne Quilliam is the artist here and photography the medium
Spectacular shots. underpinned by a good sense of pictorial balance, reveal to us a range of ceremonial, leisure and daily activities of Australian Indigenous people. most of them children.
It's not the typical tourist showcase stuff that fills pretty brochures but a good, close look at what life offers an Indigenous cameraman. Sure, kids will ham it up for the camera but you know when they are comfortable with the person behind the lens. The portrait work also has a fine feel and Quilliam obviously know his technical skills are beyond watching a meter read-out or fiddling with settings. Probaly the most impressive photograph he has in the show is that of a performing older male dancer. Mostly one expects a frozen-action shots but this is still full of action, perhaps momentarily suspended; yet all the tension is there, bursting forth. It's great stuff - and just to show his versatility a fabulous nude study is included.