I’m going to get lost was my first thought when invited to review the MALI DHARNGURR PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION: Celebrating the Stories of Strong Indigenous Women at International Towers. What a pleasure I would have missed out on had my first instincts prevailed. This is a superb exhibition of faces that carry the pride and power of indigenous women. Currently showing in the foyer of Tower 3 and soon to be expanded to Tower 2, there are 37 pieces of work from renowned photographer Professor Wayne Quillam.
Prof Quilliam is a photographer, artist, film-maker, writer and cultural adviser with 30 years’ experience working in community. He has been the official photographer for NAIDOC for 15 years and was awarded the National NAIDOC Artist of the Year. For Prof Quilliam, the exhibition is the culmination of telling of Indigenous women’s stories to an international audience. “When asked to collect and curate an exhibition by the United Nations (UN) just over four years ago, I was very conscious of philosophising a prescribed, culturally-gendered perspective. My first duty was to reach out to several highly respected women to seek permission and guidance on how these stories should be told,” he said.
Striking images greet one as you travel into the foyer. At eye level and sized to allow distant or close up viewing, there are two black and white photographs either side of the passageway through which I entered. Images contrasting past and future. Three elder women look into the camera with complete openness. There’s a lack of artifice here, these are women who have no need of posing as they turn their worn and intriguing gaze toward the photographer. On the other side, a young woman with the Aboriginal flag on her cheek is in profile as she looks out to the future with a captured concern.
Superbly chosen and sequenced, the images are glass mounted and accessible. One can stand back and admire a ranger in a khaki uniform, shot from below standing on red dirt and a dancer in ballet white, with the gum grey of a dark sky behind. There’s an excitable group at the footy or stare into the face of old woman who can inspire by simply looking your way. There are so many moments captured that speak directly to me of the ancient land which my 6th generation ancestors were jailed to and completely failed to understood.
The exhibition is unencumbered by details and annoying plaques instead one can simply walk the length to revel in the delightful images. But there are several concierges in the foyer, distinguished by their orange women’s jackets and dark blue men’s suits and they have a considerable knowledge of the photographs. I had the luxury of being accompanied by Head Concierge John-Paul but a quick look on Professor Quillam’s website gives you a self-guided tour of sorts. John-Paul tells me that a great many Indigenous people have come to the exhibition to take selfies and have their photos taken with relatives and friends.
And not difficult to find. Out of Wynyard Station and down an escalator or if driving punch in 300 Barangaroo Avenue for a walk from one of the numerous parking stations. International Towers is a commercial building with a community focus and the exhibition is open and free from 8:30 am – 6:30 pm. It’s perfect time to get to know a precinct that has culture on its mind. Bangarra Dance Theatre is there with a purpose-built studio and the towers hosted the Yes Equality Campaign and recently the Sea of Hands, ANTaR displays in recognition of Reconciliation week.
And if, like me, you need a bit of thinking time after viewing the exhibition, I recommend a good coffee and a sit by the water.
MALI DHARNGURR PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION: Celebrating the Stories of Strong Indigenous Women is at Tower 3, International Towers until August 18. To learn more about Professor Wayne Quilliam and his inspirational work, visit his website.