Cairns Regional Gallery
11 July – 21 September 2014
I first encountered Segar Passi's work in 2008 at the community hall on Mer, the most eastern island community in the Torres Strait. Employed as the Torres Strait arts development officer, I was invited to visit the annual community art exhibition. The Mer community hall is steeped in history having been used as a location for the landmark Mabo court case. Segar’s paintings, which are permanently displayed in the hall, illustrate the important link Meriam culture has to its land and sea.
Those memories flooded back to me as I entered Segar Passi’s first solo exhibition at Cairns Regional Gallery. Even as a senior Torres Strait Islander artist, this was his first solo exhibition, and it was an emotional debut for the 72-year-old artist who was brought to tears with gratitude during his opening speech. His works were sourced from public and private collections providing a comprehensive overview: watercolours from the State Library of Queensland’s Margaret Lawrie Collection from the 1960s, work commissioned by Queensland Art Gallery for Land, Sea and Sky: Contemporary Art of the Torres Strait Islands in 2011 and those commissioned by Cairns Regional Gallery.
Segar’s art is different to that of other artists working in the Torres Strait. He uses his chosen mediums of acrylic on canvas and paper to make works that are illustrative, bold, graphic and powerful. The paintings that are most impressive in this exhibition are those commissioned by the Cairns Regional Gallery in 2012. Stima Kor Kor, Koob, Totobem ide sis temark and Marn Edge illustrate different cloud formations, and what these formations meteorologically foretell.
Exhibition curator Janette Laver explains: 'The sunset clouds in Mam edge announce clear weather and optimum fishing conditions; Totobem ide sis temark and Stima kor kor show clouds that signal changes in wind conditions; and the storm cloud in Koob warns of monsoonal rains.’
These works are a development from the small paintings Segar uses to educate young people on Mer about clouds and predicted weather patterns. This intergenerational cultural knowledge exchange is important to Segar and is seen throughout his work and his historic representation of island life.
There is an intangible presence in all of Segar’s paintings and it is that same forceful presence that you experience when visiting Mer itself. The artist has lived and worked within his community, made up of the three islands of Mer, Dauar and Waier for the span of his life. It is this experience that makes his work so culturally valuable. The paintings hold much knowledge and history unique to the region and the artist vividly paints experiences from 50 years ago as if they happened yesterday.
Bakei, a Meriam Mer word describing a wind associated with Dauar, is one of the most culturally and artistically important Torres Strait exhibition to take place for many years. You would be hard pressed to find any other artist that could present a body of work spanning 50 years in such a humble, yet resolute way.