ou were a carpenter before becoming an artist. What was it that made you decide to pursue art?
I decided to pursue my passion for art and became an artist, because I was unhappy being a carpenter. I don’t think it is worth doing a job your whole life that makes you unhappy.
You have a very unique cultural heritage of Nunga, Maori and European, which you explore in various ways through your photographic practice. What have you learnt or uncovered about your heritage through your work?
I have learnt a lot about my cultural heritage through my research over the years. It has been a very enriching process to learn culture and history from all my diverse backgrounds. I feel that is the best thing I have done in my life. The best thing I have learnt is Australian history is very complex, interesting and rich in stories. I think European Australians really struggle to engage with their colonial and Indigenous histories in a healthy way, and I feel this is very damaging to themselves and Aboriginal people too. It has a terrible knock on effect that has led to negative problems within our society and it has a negative impact on how we treat our environment. I think our government’s education system has failed us on developing a healthy approach to understanding our history and that we, as a nation, need to engage with the 60 000 year history of Australia. We need to learn about the local Indigenous culture, language and history where we live. We need to understand our European history in Australia and things they have done here, both the good and the bad histories. The longer we ignore the problems with our history the worst the problems will get and the harder they will take to fix. It is not hard for us to fix these problems but as a nation we need to change our mind set. We need to take responsibility as a nation by learning our history and engage with indigenous culture. As an individual it feels hard to do, but as a collective and over time it becomes easy to understand. We would definitely be better, happier, healthier and stronger for it and that is a good thing to look forward too. We definitely need to decolonise and indigenise Australia’s history and culture. I really believe this would make our a better, healthier and stronger country.
“I think European Australians really struggle to engage with their colonial and Indigenous histories in a healthy way, and I feel this is very damaging to themselves and Aboriginal people too. It has a terrible knock on effect that has led to negative problems within our society and it has a negative impact on how we treat our environment.”
From left: James Tylor, 1845 Port Pirie #2 Nukunu Nation, Daguerreotype with Scratches, 4x5inchs, 2016. James Tylor, 1836 Rapid Bay Kaurna Nation, Daguerreotype with Scratches, 4x5inchs, 2016. Images Courtesy of the Artist.
any of the photographs that exist in museum collections of Aboriginal people reinforces the stereotype of European colonisation. Am I correct in saying your photographic practice aims to subvert this narrative and provide new representations of Indigenous culture? How do you go about doing this?
Yes, There are photographs that exist in museum collections that misrepresent and reinforce stereotypes of Indigenous people that has been constructed by the political narrative of European colonisation in Australia. Historically museums have been very problematic when representing Indigenous culture. Museums are a western educational institution that has collected cultural material from many different cultures from all over the world, and they have presented the material from only a western perspective, and this largely excludes indigenous perspectives in the representation of their culture. In the context of museums in the British commonwealth, the representation of indigenous culture has been misrepresented by political agendas and darwinist theory of racial hierarchies. This is super problematic because although things have dramatically changed in museums in Australia in the last 30 years, the legacy of those ideas are still effecting the representation of Indigenous culture in museums today.
Thankfully this is changing in Australia now. Museums are opening their doors to Indigenous people. Giving opportunities for indigenous people to represent themselves, their families, communities, history and culture in their own way. Indigenous involvement in Museum provides a wealth of knowledge, new experiences and understanding of culture material and it’s presentation in educational institutions in Australia.
I’m fascinated by your CIPX Nunga project. What drove you to come up with this idea and what themes are you exploring? What has the response been like?
The original idea for the CIPX was invented by American Navajo artist Will Wilson. He asked me to do the project for him here in Tarndanyangga, Adelaide. The project is called Critical Indigenous Photographic eXchange and Nunga is the South Australian part of the project. Nunga is a local Indigenous Kriol word that means an Aboriginal people from South Australia. I have documented Nunga artists who are living and practicing in Tarndanyangga. The key idea behind the project is that an indigenous photographer documents their Indigenous community by asking members from their community to pose for the photograph as they would like to be represented. Historically in Australia, Indigenous people didn’t have much say in how they were represented in early photography when being photographed by European photographers. This projects attempts to give indigenous people the opportunity to have control over the presentation with in contemporary photography.
“Indigenous involvement in Museum provides a wealth of knowledge, new experiences and understanding of culture material and it’s presentation in educational institutions in Australia.”
our practice is a hybrid of analogue and digital photographic techniques. Could you please explain a bit more about your process and how you blend these techniques to create contemporary artworks?
Yes, I do use a hybrid of analogue and digital photographic techniques in my art practice. I really like the aesthetic of historical analogue processes for telling the history of Australia. The appearance of the analogue processes help to transport peoples imaginations to that time in history. I like to use digital process with analogue techniques to do new things with the old method.
As I write these questions it is National Sorry Day, but it seems like we have so far to go in Indigenous reconciliation. From your perspective, what are the critical actions the government needs to take on this?
The Australian Government needs to do a lot of things to achieve reconciliation between Indigenous and Non Indigenous people. Firstly, They need to set up an Indigenous congress with Indigenous community representatives for all 200+ language groups across the country, who would then inform the federal Aboriginal Affairs minister about the needs of their communities in Australia. This would give Indigenous people the social independence and political freedom within the Government of Australia that is needed to create laws for Aboriginal people. The Government would need to recognise Aboriginal people as the First Australians in the constitution and create Treaties with all the Aboriginal communities across the nation. The Treaties would have to be uniquely tailored to meet the needs of each different language group and community. The Treaties would need to cover topics such as ownership and, /or co-ownship of traditional land in Australia similar to the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ – the land agreement between Maori iwi and the British Government in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have a unique opportunity in Australia over that of New Zealand when setting up our Treaties. As the Treaty of Waitangi is only an agreement over the ownership of land, we can go one step further and better with suggesting other obligations that the government needs to hold up in the Treaties. Such as, the government needs to introduce Indigenous history, language and culture into the National education system so that Indigenous culture can become part of the mainstream culture. Also – the Government would need to improve the quality of education, health standards and living standards of Indigenous people across the country.
Favourite book? I don’t really have one favourite book but I like so many different books. A few that I like are Bruce Pascoe ‘Dark Emu’, Charlie Perkins ‘A Bastard Like Me’, Bill Gammage ‘The biggest estate on earth’, Tim Low ‘Native Foods of Australia’ and James Belich ‘Making Peoples’
Favourite film? My favourite film is Boy by Taika Waititi. It is a beautiful coming of age film about a young Māori boy and his relationship with his father. It is a hilarious comedy that highlights social issues in Aotearoa New Zealand. I really relate to the film because it reminds me of my relationship with my Māori father.
Favourite musician? I don’t have any one favourite musician, but I am currently listening to young East Coast African American rapper and producer called Oddisee. His lyrics are very politically aware and he combines it with really great sounds. My favourite song by him is “Like Really” it reminds me of the social commentary of Tu Pac’s song “Changes” but 30 years on.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be? I couldn’t see myself doing any thing else!
If you could change one thing about the world what would it be? I would love to live in a world that has social equality.