Reas artistic practice is based on digital photography and installation. In the ten years since she began making work, she has also sat on numerous boards and committees at the national level, where she has had to learn the special skill of representing her people to the dominant society.
In Reas first room is the image of a young boy wearing a feather headdress, repeated four times. It is the digital photo she took in 1997 of a dancer at the LORA festival, a cultural dance festival which takes place every two years in July in the far north of Queensland on the opposite end of the continent from her own people, the Gamilaroi and the Walwian. Over the three days of the festival, with its dancing from morning to night, Rea came to the understanding that dance represents all the most important aspects of tribal life: ceremony, gathering, food, initiation, body and a connection to the earth. The realization had a profound effect on Rea, and its placement in her first room sets the stage for what is to come.
The central image in "rea_room3" is a snapshot of three Indigenous women. They are wearing earrings and necklaces and look like they might be at a party. Below them is the word "yinarr". The background is made up of a single photo of her maternal greatgrandfather, repeated numerous times and tinted the colours --black, yellow, and red-- of the flag of Indigenous Australia.
A series of thought balloons randomly appear, answering questions even as they start to form in your mind:
"Who are ?"
"This is my Aunty, Grandmother and Mother"
"What does ?"
"YINARR - means Aboriginal Women"
"Do you ?"
"I don't speak Gamilaroi or Walwian language!" It is the answer to a question Indigenous people are asked all the time. Sometimes it feels like it is a gauge to measure our Aboriginality: the speakers of a traditional language are considered to be more authentic than the non-speakers.
After a pause, there is more information, this time you werent asking the question: "Our body parts are collected and exhibited by Museums". The present tense is confusing and worrying. Did she make a mistake? Can that be for real? Suddenly this strange conversation has taken a direction you hadnt anticipated. Yet, that statement is a continuation of the answer to the language question. The harsh reality of the collective sentiments that lead to the collection of Aboriginal bodies, the measuring of skulls, the debate over our very humanity, is bundled tightly with the multitude of reasons why so many Indigenous people do not speak their own language.
The last room contains a story which might give an idea of how Indigenous children get information about their history which supplements their school education.
John Glover was a famous painter from Britain who came to live in Tasmania 1831. He was known for his landscapes, which ususally included Natives. When young Rea asked her mother who the people were in the Glover painting, her mom told her they were her ancestors. Had Rea asked her school teacher, she probably would have received a different answer, not one which connected her to her past and which accorded her ancestors an important part in art history, as the subjects of these famous paintings.
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