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Art and soul: The connection between culture and the canvas


After recruiting Kane Brunjes for its inaugural Cultural Development Residency last year, Brisbane’s Birrunga Gallery is calling for expressions of interest from First Nations visual artists interested in taking part in the three-year mentoring program.

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The gallery’s principal artist and co-founder Birrunga Wiradyuri said the program was born out of a desire to fulfill his cultural responsibilities and help emerging artists develop their skills.

“My cultural responsibilities are laden with the ethics of custodianship and of stewardship,” Wiradjuri told InQueensland, “so it’s really the responsibility of platform and honouring and acknowledging that through good fortune – and hard work – something good has come my way.

“The program came around because we’re about developing emerging artists; the thing that really got up my nose was seeing young artists with talent getting swooped on by galleries or whoever.

“They’ll put some work up – it’s not necessarily considered, it’s not necessarily story-based – and they’ll make a fuss, there’s cheese and wine, handshakes and backslaps and then the kid just sort of goes, you know, ‘what the f— happened then?’

“Then you see things happen where they’ll get some iconography from their work and slap it on the skin of the bus but the reality is that’s not what moving into being a professional artist is about.”

Wiradjuri said he had been contemplating starting a cultural mentorship scheme for some time but credits meeting Gunggari/Kabi Kabi man Brunjes during an event at last year’s Brisbane Street Art Festival with giving him the motivation to put the plan into action.

“Kane’s a cultural man and his work’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, there just isn’t anything else like it, so I’m always interested in and attracted to that,” he said.

“It was a bit ‘chicken and egg’ and if I hadn’t come across Kane, we would have started the program at some point, but Kane was an obvious choice because he presented the way he did – as a young man of integrity, work ethic and consideration and commitment to truth-telling.”

Brunjes said Wiradjuri’s guidance over the past year had helped him better understand the intrinsic connection between his cultural history and artistic practice.

“Being here has offered this guidance and friendship – solid friendship – and I think the connections, they come first, and then the art, that’s just a part of it all,” Brunjes said.

“It’s not a matter of [Wiradjuri] saying ‘do this’, it’s more about experiencing a lot of guidance and it’s all based on connections and strong showing.”

Wiradjuri said that part of the Cultural Development Program consisted of Brunjes completing a series of works that responded to three pieces he had already completed, with both artists’ works being displayed alongside each other’s last year.

“Culturally, it means when we engage with our young ones and we walk alongside them and go on a journey together and it’s all story-based, so when you’ve got two artists telling the same stories you adhere to the content of the story because we’ve got two very different representations.”

Brunjes’ most recent work involved telling two stories by creating 19 separate but interconnected depictions of native bees as part of an installation at West Village, in Brisbane’s West End.

All of the pieces sold over the weekend and Wiradjuri said it had been exciting to witness the 21-year-old’s personal and artistic growth and success over the past year.

“It’s very much a two-way street and the exciting part at the moment is besides having him on board and watching that progress, which has been kind of astounding, the 12-month mark means that we are looking for the next person.

Wiradjuri said he had developed the mentorship as a three-year program so it could continue in perpetuity.

“Like the seasons, it’s a cycle, and this time around we’ll have three artists, and that’ll be whoever comes in and they will produce a significant number of works to tell three shared stories with Kane and I – Kane produced 13 for his first one – and the idea is that next year, I will drop out and Kane will take the lead.

“Because it’s a three-year contract that we offer, next year, once we get that full house, I’ll drop out, and then a year after that, Kane will drop out but we’ll remain involved, because we all grow out of it.”

Brunjes said his involvement in the program had helped him think positively about the impact he could have on others in the future.

“It’s not so much my future within the arts, it’s more so my thoughts always go back to my community and how I can be a positive influence. I’ve got responsibilities to my community and to my family and Birrunga upholds those responsibilities strongly with his mentorship.

“If you’re speaking in truth and you’re holding yourself in truth – and Birrunga does that and you see it when you speak to him and you see it in the work – I think that’s what it’s all about, you know?”

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