In response to the impacts of the current COVID-19 crisis on our community, KINGS Artist-Run and un Projects are collaborating with Bus Projects, TCB Art Inc. and SEVENTH to profile a range of artistic projects that have been impacted by the temporary closure of their physical spaces. By collaborating with these organisations to publish interviews, artist previews and texts, we seek to maintain the important dialogue generated by their rich programs and projects. Now as much as ever, artistic and cultural discourse is vital in keeping us connected and engaged.
‘I plan to create a space where artists are confident that their voices are heard,' says curator, producer and visual artist Marley Holloway-Clarke. She’s developing an exhibition for June 2021 at SEVENTH Gallery, which will build an alliance between emerging First Nations artists and artists of colour.
Marley belongs to the Njamal people, holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and has recently graduated from a Master of Arts and Cultural Management at University of Melbourne. This will be the second exhibition that she’s curated, following her 2019 debut This Place is Old, a group exhibition adapted out of a poetry program at University of Melbourne’s The Living Pavilion.
Marley and I met COVID-style; physically distanced over the internet in a Google Doc, me typing questions from my bedroom and Marley responding from hers. Chatting with Marley, although intermittently in this online format, was refreshing as I got to hear another young First Nations curator’s thoughts on centring care through curatorial practice.
Sis, firstly congratulations on your exhibition at SEVENTH! What a wild time to be beginning your career in anything, but especially as a curator. What concerns do you have when you look into the near future?
As a curator/producer who is just starting out within the arts and culture industry, I hold a lot of my concern for the cultural safety and wellbeing of Blak people. This stems from things I have experienced as a Blak artist, and the way those experiences have negatively impacted my mental health. It took me a long time to be able to stand up for myself in a situation that was culturally unsafe which ultimately affected the art I was producing, or lack thereof. I am still learning and finding my voice, but I want to help create spaces where Blak creatives feel welcomed and culturally safe.
I feel that. As Blak curators, I think it’s really natural for us to create spaces of care that centre the safety and wellbeing of our community. How do you plan to do this with the exhibition you’re preparing?
For the planning of this exhibition, I want all the artists to have an understanding of each other by engaging in collective conversations. I plan to bring together three to five artists who share similarities in the ideas and mediums that they work in. I have previously exhibited at SEVENTH, and I only met one of the other artists in the show while we were installing. The other artists I didn’t even meet at the opening! I want to use this opportunity to strengthen the relationships between artists. We are already isolated enough, so I’m thinking of ways to bring people together. I love working with other emerging artists as I like to be collaborative in every aspect of a project. I see my role as a curator as being more of a facilitator for young artists to gain gallery experience. I want the collaborators to be able to use me as a sounding board for ideas if they wish to develop their work and for them to be engaged in the entire process, to gain experience and knowledge if they don’t already have it.
Bringing people together to really get to know each other is one of the most important things that we can do. COVID-19 not only poses a huge health threat to Aboriginal communities, it’s also shifting the way that we meet and communicate. Online communities are more important than ever, with families separated across imposed borders, and the new way of protecting our Elders is by staying at a distance from them. So we’re all turning to our electronic devices as meeting places. If you can’t physically bring people together to meet and yarn, how will you facilitate collaboration and discussion between artists involved?
Ideally we would meet IRL, but I’m just about to head back to Tasmania where my family is, to spend the rest of the quarantine period with them. The last time I saw them was in January so I’m really looking forward to being back there. Also, who knows when we will actually be able to physically exist in the same spaces together again. I plan to form online groups on social media, and chat through video calls to develop the show. It is empowering to meet other artists, talk about your experience and understand why you’ve been curated into the same show. To discover the purpose behind each other's work and how the ideas intertwine. Even if it’s just so that the artists feel comfortable enough to lend their drill during install, I think it’s more important now than ever to feel connected to people. I’ve been thinking a lot about social media, especially considering I’ll be temporarily moving back to Tassie and will need to reach out to artists and communicate with people from across the ocean. I’m interested in how creatives are using their platforms to present themselves to the public. Looking into ideas of a persona and what that can look like. I plan to work with artists that explore sensory experiences within their art practice. I love tactile work that can be described for accessibility, for a broader audience to interact with; artists that create experiences within their practice that go beyond the visual and become more inclusive. I want to centre ideas of intersectionality, whether that be from ethnicity, ability, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Persona, intersectionality and agency are all themes that are coming through strongly for me when I read that. Why is that so important to you?
I started boarding school at eleven years old and was extremely shy growing up. Being so shy, I regularly had my siblings talk on my behalf which made it hard to make friends. I learnt how to communicate and connect with people from my family, which instilled in me the importance of relationships and communication. I will always be learning new ways to communicate as language is extremely important to me and I want to express myself the best I can, now that I have the words to do so. So, when curating and producing exhibitions, I want to make sure people that I work with are represented the way they like. I, myself, have used my art practice to respond to the reality that I am faced with as a way of understanding the situation. I have created works that speak to identity politics and being Indigenous in this country. When I create work that is about my identity, I draw from my entire family and ancestors. Our cultures and histories are rich and complex so we can create and respond to things that non-Indigenous people can’t. Trauma is interwoven in my identity which has made me resilient and stronger than I had ever hoped to be. Intergenerational and personal trauma has shaped my perspective of my surroundings and therefore the art I create. I see my art and writing as a way to work through challenging thoughts and experiences, to break the cycle of constantly responding to trauma. I like to draw on my own varied experiences which have heavily influenced my pathway to curate and produce exhibitions.
How do you think social media and self-representation is specifically important right now, while many people are going through a whole plethora of new feelings, challenges and experiences?
As galleries and festivals close, and the future of the arts seems more and more uncertain, it’s uplifting to see the way that artists are responding by taking control of their image and their persona online. People are self-publishing their portfolios on their Instagram, sharing the work of artists they like, creating branding and doing their own marketing. It’s pushed people to be really resourceful and smart about how they present themselves to the world. And in terms of activism, people are using their platforms to share causes and actions that need attention. Communities have been rallying behind movements like we’ve never seen before. The Black Lives Matter movement, in the response to the murder of George Floyd, and the awareness it has brought to Indigenous Lives Matter here in Australia, is one thing that has brought a lot of hope to me during this time.
Agency over voice and how we’re represented. It’s important that more First Nations curators do this! I’m interested to know which artists you’ll be working with!
One creative I’m really interested in based on the way they use social media is Claire Bostock who is a QTPoC (queer or trans person of colour) desperate to find out how much ice cream is too much ice cream. A multidisciplinary Pisces that you can find blending eyeshadows into oblivion if they’re not lost in a self-created dreamland. Claire and I have worked together on different projects, but this will be our first adventure exhibiting together in a gallery. The next couple of months will be the time where I will be approaching artists for the show, which makes me very excited for the conversations to come.
What can the audience expect to experience in this show?
I hope to provide a space for artists to tell their story through their work. So broadly speaking, the audience can expect to be told a story of Blak-ness and its many intersectionalities. I believe that art is a reflection of your reality, and I hope this exhibition will reflect the new communities that are being formed, the momentum that social media can bring to a cause, as well as look at the way artists are using this time to reflect on themselves, their knowledge of the world and how it impacts them as people. I’m excited to see the artists create new works that will be installed over the whole of SEVENTH’s galleries, speaking to each other and challenging the audience.
Marley Holloway-Clarke belongs to the Njamal people of the Pilbara region, working as an emerging artist, curator and producer.
Kate ten Buuren is a Taungurung filmmaker, writer, artist and producer.