ACTease April 2014
by Courtney Symes
What is your favourite children’s book? No matter how hard I try, I can’t choose one. Now that my eldest daughter is nearly two, I have to confess that I’m enjoying rediscovering my old favourite children’s books, in addition to all the new ones that have been published since I was a kid. It is no wonder, then, that in the midst of a number of exhibitions that appeal to our playful inner child, A Little Bird Told Me at Belconnen Arts Centre (2 – 20 April) is my perfect fit this month.
I adore the illustrations in children’s books, but I often feel they are not appreciated in the same way that work from other artists is appreciated. This might be because there are often a number of illustrations in a book that is designed to be read or ‘flicked through’ quickly by children, who don’t savour the images in the same way an adult would if they were on a gallery wall. To my delight, children’s book author Mimi King and illustrator Lindy Longhurst have teamed up to present the original acrylic paintings that accompanied King’s book, A Little Bird Told Me. “Together the text and the artwork are an expression of both Mimi and Lindy’s desire to bring pleasure and to promote contemplation in both adults and children.”
Don’t miss the exhibition opening on 4 April at 5.30pm, as well as Mimi’s workshop for 5-12 year-olds on 15 April from 10am-12pm.
Deserted homesteads, shearing sheds and railway stations (many built during the mid-1800s) are the source of inspiration behind photographer Ray McJannett’s latest exhibition, The Rural Series at Belconnen Arts Centre this month. McJannett is fascinated by the hilly region of Southern NSW, in particular the districts of Yass and Gunning, as well as the small village of Jerrawa NSW where he lives. “I began photographing old buildings about four years ago. At first my interest was mainly in the architecture and the building methods used. But gradually I came to hear the history of these buildings and of the people who helped shape this district. I heard stories of the railway, pioneering families, of soldiers and shearers and men who thought little of pedalling a bicycle 200 miles over corrugated dirt tracks just to find work,” explains McJannett. Runs until 20 April 2014.
Also at Belconnen Arts Centre, artists in ‘fringe’ Canberra communities such as Uriarra, Tharwa, Hall, Pialligo, Stromlo Settlement and Oaks Estate have joined forces in Unmade Edges Legacy Exhibition. Each artist participating in this exhibition was supported “to conceive, develop and present a creative response to the exploration of the place naming and the history of their village” (an extension of Canberra’s centenary project, Portrait of a Nation, which encouraged Canberrans to research the people that their street, suburb or local parks, etc. were named after). Artists delved into the history of their local area through interviews with local residents and historians, as well as their own research. Runs from 4-20 April 2014. Don’t miss the exhibition opening on 4 April at 5.30pm, as well as a chance to meet the artists on 13 April at 3pm. belconnenartscentre.com.au
One of my favourite annual Canberra exhibitions, Behind the Lines is on again at the Museum of Australian Democracy. This is one exhibition where it’s perfectly acceptable to wander around, chuckling out loud as you look at each work. Australian cartoonists were spoilt for choice with material in 2013, as the September election provided plenty of fodder for poking fun at our Nation’s leaders. As well as works that focused on the looming election, there were works that covered the day-to-day antics of politics, such as corruption scandals, policies, cabinet reshuffles and opinion polls. Works featured in this exhibition were selected from nearly 900 submissions, and cartoons from the museum’s own collection. Many of the cartoons also include a number of fun topical themes, from Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers to Game of Thrones and Canberra’s Sky Whale. One of my personal favourite cartoons was Sean Leahy’s Budgie smuggler flag, published in the Courier Mail, 9 September 2013. This cartoon simply featured a large, red pair of budgie smugglers, hoisted from the flagpole above Parliament House to mark the election result. If you don’t read the papers, this is an excellent chance to catch up on some of the best work from Australia’s political cartoonists. Runs until November 2014 – behindthelines.moadoph.gov.au
April offers the last chance to capture a couple of National Gallery of Australia (NGA) exhibitions: Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru, and Toyshop. We know that many of the ancient South American civilisations, such as the Incas were incredibly advanced during their halcyon days. Now Australians have the opportunity to appreciate the brilliance of these ancient civilisations first-hand with a collection of over 200 objects on display at the NGA until 21 April 2014. Pieces showcased in the collection include jewellery, ornate vessels and other intricate objects made from gold, silver, precious stones, and ceramics. Elaborate textiles and woven items are also included in the collection. The collection reveals a couple of interesting facts about the ancient culture of the Peru: firstly that the creators of these pieces were highly skilled craftspeople, and secondly, the importance the natural world played in all aspects of this civilisation’s political and religious beliefs. Viewers of the exhibition will notice continuous use of animal motifs such as birds and fish, as well as gods in many of these pieces. Pieces included in the exhibition have been lent from the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú and its fraternal collections, the Fundacion Museo Amano, the Museo Larco and the Museo Oro del Perú, as well as the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
Toyshop is a concisely-curated exhibition showcasing a unique collection of toys from the past, and from different cultures, that will take viewers on a nostalgic journey back to childhood. Whilst the selection of pieces included in this exhibition is limited, I was impressed by the variety of toys presented, such as puzzles, games (like Jiggle-Joggle), blocks, and models – to name a few. The toys featured in the exhibition are also complemented with paintings, sculpture, prints and photography. This exhibition will bring a smile to the face of the young, and the young at heart. Runs until 6 April 2014.
Also at the NGA, Garden of the East: photography in Indonesia 1850s–1940s is a beautiful collection of over 200 photographs, albums and illustrated books that document last century’s colonial rule of the former Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The exhibition documents a variety of subjects, including Indonesia’s industrialisation through the creation of ports and establishment of gas, oil and tin mining operations. Various building projects, as well as the development of agriculture and cash crops (such as coffee, tobacco, and sugar) have also been visually recorded in this exhibition. By contrast, the exhibition includes striking images of the landscape, as well as the people and exotic Indonesian culture.
A personal favourite is W.R. Wallace’s Spectacular Borobudur c. 1925 (a striking temple built by the Sailendra dynasty between 750 and 842 AD). The exhibition also marks the changing trends in photography from the 1800s to the 1900s. Throughout this period, there was a shift from formal studio photography towards natural landscape images and sympathetic portraits of the indigenous people to capture cultural practices (linked to a government sponsored tourist initiative).
For me, this exhibition was a beautiful presentation of an historical era and a culture that I wasn’t previously familiar with. I’m sure other viewers will also appreciate this historical journey through these fascinating photographs. Runs until 22 June 2014 – nga.gov.au
Courtney Symes is a Canberra-based writer, small business owner, and mother. When she’s not writing, you will find her enjoying a run around one of Canberra’s beautiful parks and seeking out Canberra’s best coffee and cheesecake haunts with the family. Read more at alittlepinkbook.blogspot.com.au