Arts Centre Melbourne’s current exhibition ‘Performative Prints from the Torres Strait’ celebrates the integral links between contemporary art and traditional performance from the Torres Strait, and is part of an ongoing annual program of exhibitions exploring the crossover between the visual and performing arts.
Over the last two decades, senior Torres Strait Islander performers and artefact makers have received widespread recognition for their magnificent headdresses, masks and dance paraphernalia, while a younger generation of artists have become leading exponents of a distinctive printmaking movement.
This exhibition showcases a selection of works by four prominent contemporary Torres Strait Islander artists – Ricardo Idagi, Ellen Jose, Brian Robinson and Alick Tipoti – including a range of media, prints, headdresses, sculptural masks and objects. Two of the artists, Ricardo Idagi and Ellen Jose are based in Melbourne, while Alick Tipoti and Brian Robinson live in Cairns, from where many of the works were shipped in the lead up to the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition refers to beautiful and highly-dramatic black-and-white linoprints by Alick Tipoti and Brian Robinson which surround the walls, while three-dimensional sculptural works by Ricardo Idagi are located in the centre of the gallery, creating a dialogue between the objects and prints. Complementing and completing the exhibition is Ellen Jose’s beautifully evocative ‘Song Journey’ film and soundtrack.
While every single work in the show is important in its own right, Tipoti’s monumental ‘Girelal’, 2011, is a true statement of artistic ambition. Not just a personal triumph, it is also a symbolic statement of the pictorial and technical mastery achieved by Torres Strait Islander printmakers over the last two decades.
‘Girelal’ is an unframed linoprint on a roll of paper measuring over 8 metres in length. It is reputedly the largest single linoprint in the world today, and occupies an entire wall in the gallery. It required eight staff and an entire day to install the work. It was so exciting for everyone involved when ‘Girelal’ was finally unrolled and hung upon the wall. It is both intricate in detail and expansive in scale, with masked and ceremonially dressed dancers taking centre stage, to the accompaniment of trumpet shells (bu) and chanting elders playing traditional drums (warup).
‘Girelal’ is a breathtaking work that should be experienced in the moment, like a theatrical performance. With that in mind Alick Tipoti and the Badu Island Zugubal Traditional Dancers are travelling from the Torres Strait and Cairns to give a public performance alongside this work over the weekend of the 14 April @ 2.00pm. To have the artist and his troupe perform in the gallery is a wonderful confirmation of the rationale behind curating the exhibition.
Dr Steven Tonkin – Curator (Contemporary & Live Art)