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Art and culture in the frame for NAIDOC exhibition


Brisbane’s Birrunga Gallery has recruited a new artist for its three-year Cultural Development Residency program, with Stevie O’Chin showcasing a series of her works alongside Kane Brunjes and owner and principal artist Birrunga Wiradjuri in a NAIDOC Week exhibition that opens today.

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As part of the exhibition, which is comprised of 21 pieces, each artist has developed interconnected works based around the themes “Always Was Always Will Be”, ”Because of Her We Can”, “Truth”, “Treaty”, “Voice”, “The Last 250 years”, and a topic of their own choosing.

Wiradujri said he was excited O’Chin had accepted the offer to be a part of the gallery’s Cultural Development Program.

“Stevie has been painting for some time and has had success in her own right and the thing about her now coming along with us is we’ve had long conversations about it, I’ve said to her, ‘I don’t think we’ve actually seen what you can do when you just paint for yourself and you’re not painting for other reasons’,” Wiradjuri told InQueensland.

“She agreed and let us know there’s actually a whole heap of paintings that no one’s ever seen and now she’s taking some risks, and painting unlike she ever has before.”

O’Chin, a descendant of Kabi Kabi, Waka Waka, Koa and Yuen Nations, said she has had an interest in art since she was a small child but has only been painting for a few years.

“My dad came home with paint and canvas one day and said ‘why don’t you just try out painting?’ I gave it a go and never really went back to drawing again,” she told InQueensland.

“I grew up watching my aunties paint and I guess that kind of helped me a lot as well.

“I have an Aunty, Glenny, that lives in Coffs Harbour and we would visit her every holiday and I would always be down in the shed just watching her paint – my aunties are really happy that I’ve come this far.”

O’Chin, who is currently in the second year of a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Visual Arts), at University of Canberra, which is run through a partnership with South Bank TAFE, said she decided to apply for the program in order to further develop some of the cultural learnings that underpin her practice.

“Birrunga’s a good mentor and I knew could learn a lot of things from him. Talking with Birrunga and Kane about my art has kind of made me paint differently and use new themes instead of the same things over and over again – I guess I’m painting for myself in my own way and I’ve really enjoyed that.”

The NAIDOC exhibition also marks the one-year anniversary of Brunjes’ involvement in the Cultural Residency program and he has taken on more of a leadership role for this exhibition.

Kane Brunjes and Birrunga Wiradjuri. (Photo: AJ Reaño)

“It’s been exciting working with Stevie and Birrunga and it’s always great coming in and catching up with everyone,” Brunjes said.

“I feel I’m going to be learning as much as anyone,” he said of collaborating with Wiradjuri and O’Chin. “I think we all kind of bounce off each other and it kind of works in that way, so that’s something I’m excited for and obviously I want to contribute to that as best as I can.

“There’s heaps that goes into it, with the story and connection with Country and with our Ancestors and all of those elements coming together and the stories being produced for that and honouring those stories in a strong and respectful way.”

In addition to further honing her own skills, O’Chin said she hoped to pursue a career as an art teacher when she completed her studies and said working with Brunjes and Wiradjuri had already taught her a lot about the collaborative process.

“It’s taught me a lot and it’s giving me a lot of confidence,” she said.

O’Chin and Brunjes said the NAIDOC exhibition would provide an excellent opportunity for those interested in gaining insights into First Nations culture and history.

“NAIDOC Week is there to remind us and not forget about the past,” O’Chin said. “I definitely think this is a good place to ask some questions.”

“I think it’s a place for honest truth-telling, but with respect,” Brunjes added.

The NAIDOC exhibition will run from today until the end of the month, with guided tours available for a small fee.  Visit the gallery’s website for more information.

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