Indigenous Australian art takes center stage as Tate Modern and Sotheby’s embrace First Nations designs

From London to New York and Singapore to Paris, the global art world is taking notice of Australian Indigenous works.

The growing interest is inspiring a new generation of First Nations artists to break into the scene, including Ilona McGuire.

The contemporary artist spends her days researching and brainstorming ideas for upcoming projects.

His studio at PICA, in the heart of Perth’s Northbridge district, is accompanied by a background soundtrack of hard-hitting beats from the downstairs bar.

But McGuire says the music doesn’t bother her; she is delighted to have the space to work.

“I love coming here every day and creating a space for myself to contemplate and really research and brainstorm ideas, so I kind of have a bank of ideas,” she said.

Ilona McGuire enjoys exploring themes of cultural identity and spirituality in her work. (ABC News: Jade Barker)

The proud Whadjuk, Ballardong, Yuat and Kungarakan woman is one of the ‘Hatched’ Resident Artists of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), a program that celebrates emerging artists across Australia.

Even though she hasn’t graduated from fine arts yet, she is already starting to make a name for herself.

A piece of art depicting six spades on a wall
The Sixth Spade is one of Ilona McGuire’s works. (ABC News)

She was honored last year for creating a drone light show for the Fremantle Biennale, the first of its kind in Australia.

Called Moombaki, the Nyoongar word for “where the river meets the sky”, three different shows recreated the early stories of Whadjuk Nyoongar Country.

“It’s surreal, I was working on (Moombaki) last year in anticipation of my graduation show, and it was really overwhelming at times, but I think I really took on the challenge and enjoyed the experience because working in the arts was something I always wanted to do,” the 24-year-old said.

The shows drew thousands of people and were highly acclaimed.

Reveal more emerging artists

McGuire is one of a growing number of Aboriginal artists hitting the scene.

A lady is pictured from behind looking at artwork hanging on a wall
Three-quarters of the works in the Revealed exhibition were sold the evening of the opening.(ABC News: Jade Barker)

Across Perth, at the Fremantle Arts Centre, the Revealed exhibition showcases over 250 works by over 100 early-career artists.

The annual event has been running for several years and curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington says it’s getting easier and easier to find talent to showcase.

“Revealed is a very good platform for artists who haven’t had major exhibitions in commercial galleries and other big institutions and it’s a very important springboard for artists to get their work known” , did he declare.

People walk down a hallway looking at artwork
The exhibition celebrates the creativity, ambition and diversity of contemporary Aboriginal art. (ABC News: Jade Barker)

This year three-quarters of the work sold out on opening night, although Perth saw a spike in COVID cases at the time.

Capture global attention

But it’s not just here that Aboriginal artwork is popular.

Sotheby’s in New York recently moved its annual sale of Indigenous Australian art from the low winter season to May, with the best-selling work fetching just over A$1 million.

The Tate Modern exhibition, A Year in Art: Australia 1992, has been so successful since it opened last June that its duration has been extended until September.

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In Singapore, the National Gallery recently opened a major exhibition titled Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia, the largest exhibition of its kind to tour Asia.

“The art industry and the art trade are all closely intertwined, so when you see large public organizations having very large exhibitions, it has an effect on the confidence that people have in buying art. work,” said Iseger-Pilkington. .

Glenn smiling in front of native artwork wearing a flannel shirt
Curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington says the increased global attention is having a ripple effect, boosting the confidence of emerging artists.(ABC News: Jade Barker)

Not just a passing trend

McGuire agrees that seeing the commercial success and global attention of Indigenous art is encouraging.

“I find it really inspiring and encouraging to see my crowd come out and create beautiful, inspiring and empowering work,” she said.

Ilona squats and places stones in a circle in a studio
McGuire believes recognition of Indigenous artists will continue to grow. (ABC News: Jade Barker)

For McGuire, the impact of being given a platform has been huge.

“After last year and after being in the public eye, it was a really great opportunity for me to receive more opportunities to work more as an artist.”

McGuire and Iseger-Pilkington believe that interest in Australian Indigenous artwork is not a passing trend and that recognition will continue to grow as more artists are inspired to showcase their creations.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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