25 Oct 2016


For its inaugural Big Picture Summer Series, ACCA is proud to present Sovereignty, a major new exhibition focusing on the contemporary art of First Nations peoples of South East Australia, to celebrate the culturally and linguistically diverse narratives of self-determination, identity, sovereignty and resistance.

Taking the example of Ngurungaeta (Elder) and Wurundjeri leader William Barak as a model – in particular Barak’s role as artist, activist, leader, diplomat and translator – the exhibition presents vibrant and diverse visual art and culture of the continuous and distinct nations, language groups and communities of Victoria’s Indigenous sovereign peoples.

Sovereignty is curated by Paola Balla (Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara) and ACCA’s Artistic Director Max Delany. It brings together new commissions, recent and historical works by over 30 artists, celebrating the continuing vitality of First Nations’ communities, and the resilience and ingenuity of Indigenous cultures.

Based on a consultative, collaborative curatorial model, Sovereignty is conceived as a platform for Indigenous community expression. An ambitious program of talks, forums, screenings, performances, workshops and events will accompany the exhibition.

As Paola Balla notes: ‘The sovereignty of First Nations peoples is embodied culturally, historically and politically, and has never been ceded. The artists represented in Sovereignty demonstrate deep knowledge of culture, connections, and diverse understandings of self and identity. This voice is one of resistance, always, forever stating that we are ever present, and articulating that survival through re-enacted and re-recreated practice, and in making new work and languages to respond to the world around us.’

‘The exhibition is structured around a set of practices and relationships in which art and society, community, family, history and politics are inextricably connected’, says ACCA’s Artistic Director Max Delany.

‘Presenting some of the most interesting artistic practices developed over the past decade, and earlier across generations, Sovereignty provides an opportunity to engage with critical historical and contemporary issues in Australian society.’

A diverse range of discursive and thematic contexts are elaborated through the exhibition: the celebration and assertion of cultural identity and resistance; the significance and inter-connectedness of Land, Country, People and Place; the renewal and re-inscription of cultural languages and practices; the importance of matriarchal culture and wisdom; the dynamic relations between activism and aesthetics; and a playfulness with language and signs in contemporary society.

Sovereignty will include:

New commissions and major projects by:

Brook Andrew, Jim Berg, Maree Clark, Vicki Couzens, Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, Gary Foley, Kent Morris, Steaphan Paton, Rekko Rennie, Steven Rhall, among others
Key historical works including:

William Barak’s painting of Ceremony c.1880-90, and a carved parrying shield and club from 1897
Rarely seen super 8 films from Bill Onus’ home movie collection, c.1964. The films capture everyday life and activities at Bill Onus’ Aboriginal Enterprises; special events and celebrations; a family road trip across the Nullabor; Bill’s son, artist Lin Onus painting a mural; Bill throwing a boomerang with Harry Belafonte and Pastor Doug Nicholls; along with a range of personalities and community figures.

Contemporary engagement with and renewal of long-standing, unbroken artistic traditions:

Newly woven eel traps by Bronwyn Razem; Possum skin cloaks and memorial pouches by Vicki Couzens; and woven cloaks and fishnets by Glenda Nicholls; among others…

Hip-Hop, Film and Digital Story-Telling:

Sovereignty will include the music videos of celebrated Shepparton Hip Hop artist Briggs, through his Bad Apples label; Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s award-winning film Bastardy, focusing on the life and times of Uncle Jack Charles; and videos on Indigenous identity produced by young people involved in the Youth Leadership programs developed by the Korin Gamidji Institute, in association with the Richmond Football Club and University of Melbourne.

Photographs, video works, sculptures and protest banners by Lisa Bellear and Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, among others, reflecting key moments of political activism and resistance across generations.


An extensive, illustrated publication will be produced, featuring essays by Curator Paola Balla, celebrated author Tony Birch, and Kimberley Moulton, Senior Curator, South Eastern Australia Aboriginal Collections, Melbourne Museum

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
17 December 2016 – 26 March 2017

Featuring works by over 30 artists including Brook Andrew, William Barak, Lisa Bellear, Jim Berg, Briggs, Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown, Maree Clark, Amiel Courtin-Wilson & Uncle Jack Charles, Megan Cope, Vicki Couzens, Destiny Deacon & Virginia Fraser, Marlene Gilson, Korin Gamidji Institute, Brian Martin, Bruce McGuinness, Kent Morris, Bill Onus, Steaphan Paton, Bronwyn Razem, Reko Rennie, Steven Rhall, Yhonnie Scarce, Peter Waples-Crowe, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, Lucy Williams-Connelly, among others. Curated by Paola Balla (Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara) and Max Delany

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
111 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia
10am – 5pm Tuesday to Friday;
12-5pm weekends and public holidays

Monday by appointment
Tel: 03 9697 9999. Admission: Free

ACCA is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.

For further media information:

Katrina Hall or 0421153046