My name is Chantelle Woods; I am a Worimi woman. My
country lies in and around Port Stephens and the Great
Lakes area of northern NSW, but I was born in Katoomba
in the Blue Mountains. My family now live scattered
throughout NSW and it wasn’t until my grandmother’s 60th
birthday ten years ago that we were all reunited. As a curator
and an Aboriginal woman I have immensely enjoyed the
privilege of providing an indigenous perspective within
a realm that is so culturally important to me; Aboriginal
art is a form of storytelling and of recording our history.
Since 2003, I have been fortunate to work with some of the
country’s premier art institutions and collections, but also
have had the opportunity to work in remote Aboriginal
communities. My knowledge base is therefore eclectic and
my experiences first-hand.
When I was offered the opportunity to work with Djon
Mundine and Daniel Browning on the next issue of Artlink
Indigenous I jumped at the chance.
The role of an assistant or intern involves the usual tasks
of researching, running around, collating and finalising
details and chasing people up, as the typical gofer. But these
seemingly mundane jobs play an important role in any
organisation. It’s also the place that you really get to learn the
ins and outs of how something, like a journal, is compiled.
Having the time and space to really absorb the undercurrent
of information and themes, I’ve learnt a lot.
Artlink has sentimental value for me; it was the first place
to publish one of my articles outside the institutions and
galleries I‘d worked in. Djon, who was also working at the
Queensland Art Gallery at the time, encouraged me to write
about my experiences while living and working within the
remote Aboriginal community of Lockhart River on the
eastern peninsula of Cape York in Far North Queensland.
I moved from mainstream society into a remote land, a place
half lost in time, half out of sight. It was here that I began to
really explore my own identity and understand where I was
coming from.
At the time, I had been part of an initiative run by the
Queensland Art Gallery to undertake a traineeship while
working on an Indigenous exhibition highlighting Cape
York’s historic and contemporary artistic output. Since then,
I have worked at the National Gallery of Australia and the
Biennale of Sydney on the 19th exhibition You Imagine What
You Desire as the Aboriginal Curatorial Fellow.
This position turned just about everything I’d learned
about curating on its head. As an arts festival it was
logistically larger than anything I’d worked on, not being
restricted to the white cube or the solid sandstone gallery
space. It also provided me with my first real opportunity to
work with international artists, including Aboriginal artists
from other countries and nations. It was also the first time
that I had the experience of being an ‘outsider’.
As a curator, the importance of an Indigenous perspective
on Indigenous art is central to my practice, as experienced
through my work with communities and institutions, also
through my work on the National Indigenous Art Triennial
and the Stage One roll-out of the Indigenous galleries at the
National Gallery of Australia. All these roles, have helped me
to create an identity through my work.
I also recently made my artistic debut in the 2015
exhibition Bungaree’s Farm, an ongoing project curated by
Djon Mundine with Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney. My
mother, Sandy Woods and I were asked to sing a Biripi
woman’s lament song that was first recorded around 1830.
This was the first time my mother and I had spoken our
language. It was a special and grounding experience of
connecting with each other and our culture together.
Next week I am off to Venice to participate in the 56th
Venice Biennale All the World’s Futures as part of the
Professional Development Program for Emerging Curators
run by the Australia Council. It’s an exciting year for
Australia at the Biennale as they set to unveil the new
Australian Pavilion while highlighting the incredible oeuvre
of Fiona Hall with Wrong Way Time. This year it also marks
a milestone with the number of additional Australian artists
selected to participate in the collateral exhibitions, mostly
chosen by the Artistic Director Okwui Enwezor. Tjanpi
weavers from the APY lands of central Australia were part
of a collaborative project with Fiona Hall and some of them
will be making the long trip over there. Daniel Boyd, Michael
Cook, Reko Rennie and the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye
are just some of the artists that will also be exhibiting there.
The Venice Biennale will highlight one of the biggest crosscultural
exchanges in the art world through providing a
platform to encourage and inform people to think, feel
and act through art and material while commenting on the
precarious state of things happening globally today, and as a
result of history.