Cairns

"I'm not much of a public speaker," says Justin Majid with a self-deprecating grin. This is no big deal for the young Cairns resident who never fancied nightclub MC or stand-up comedian as career paths. Instead, he is emerging from the city's built-up cultural traffic zone as one of North Queensland's new wave of visual artists.
And he is not alone. Justin's partner, Brooke Foster, is on the same wave. They share an awareness of those guiding lights who make up the artistic tradition of which they are now part. For Justin, awareness came early from direct contact with master carver and printmaker Alick Tipoti whom he used to visited on Badu Island from a young age. Later they attended college together on Thursday Island. Look and learn.
All three presented works at various locations around Cairns during last month's Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), the fourth time the annual event has been staged. The nucleus of 24 art centres exhibiting at Trinity Inlet was ringed by satellite events including daily exhibition launches, sometimes several at once. Prints and paintings by Justin and Brooke were popping up at four or five locations.
The high status of the CIAF event which these young artists now benefit is a sign of a maturing indigenous arts industry Queensland. CIAF is also driving buyer recognition of North Queensland as a marketplace distinct from the long established central and western desert art movements.
"There's been a lot of attention to a couple of Torres Strait artists and now it's been spreading a bit more," said local online gallery owner Kane Brown. "So, rather than the focus being on just one or two, now there's focus on quite a variety of people."
"I think there's also more versatility there, more variety. It seems to be that collectors are looking for something different."
And they don't need to visit Queensland to find it. In May, Brown organised an exhibition of prints on paper by Cairns-based artists to be shown in Melbourne, which included works by Justin and Brooke.
Apart from his look-and-learn encounters with Alick Tipoti, Justin has also taken advantage of the infrastructure built in Cairns to support developing artists like himself. He was taken through all facets of exhibition planning and staging in a program run by UMI Arts which resulted in his first solo exhibition at the start of this year.
The current exhibition at UMI Arts Gallery shows two of his works, both linocuts. Of mixed ancestry, Justin's print designs reflect his Torres Strait upbringing on Horn Island. While dominant animal motif and totems - sharks, crocodiles, dugongs - recur in the work of linocutters, Justin says the background patterning is distinctive for each artist. On large blocks of lino, he is able to create designs where animals are hidden in this background and only under sustained gaze do they emerge, furtively, just as they do in nature.
"I stay off the traditional stories and (confine myself) to mostly what I've experienced growing up on the islands - like cultural practices, hunting and gathering," he says. Even early in his career, he has one eye on his legacy.
"Joey Laifoo [Badu Island artist] actually told me, 'do your stories, because generations from now, we'll be the storytellers and people will look up to us'."
For Brooke, Cairns seems the right place to be for emerging artists. While acknowledging that the hub is central to driving a creative economy for indigenous Queenslanders, she believes the arts community is mainly about personal achievement.
"Indigenous people really want to show their culture to the world - not in negative ways but positive ways.  With artists, I don't really think it's to do with the money."
"So with the art fairs, they really just want to show what they can achieve with their lives."
For Justin, off-shore openings are already appearing with a place in a group exhibition in Seattle in 2010.
"The only thing holding me back, I think, is talking to a big crowd. If I pass that, I reckon I'll just go from there."

rocketfrog-foster-caption"I'm not much of a public speaker," says Justin Majid with a self-deprecating grin. This is no big deal for the young Cairns resident who never fancied nightclub MC or stand-up comedian as career paths. Instead, he is emerging from the city's built-up cultural traffic zone as one of North Queensland's new wave of visual artists.

And he is not alone. Justin's partner, Brooke Foster, is on the same wave. They share an awareness of those guiding lights who make up the artistic tradition of which they are now part. For Justin, awareness came early from direct contact with master carver and printmaker Alick Tipoti whom he used to visited on Badu Island from a young age. Later they attended college together on Thursday Island. Look and learn.

All three presented works at various locations around Cairns during last month's Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), the fourth time the annual event has been staged. The nucleus of 24 art centres exhibiting at Trinity Inlet was ringed by satellite events including daily exhibition launches, sometimes several at once. Prints and paintings by Justin and Brooke were popping up at four or five locations.

The high status of the CIAF event which these young artists now benefit from is a sign of a maturing indigenous arts industry in Queensland. CIAF is also driving buyer recognition of North Queensland as a marketplace distinct from the long established central and western desert art movements.

"There's been a lot of attention to a couple of Torres Strait artists and now it's been spreading a bit more," said local online gallery owner Kane Brown. "So, rather than the focus being on just one or two, now there's focus on quite a variety of people."

"I think there's also more versatility there, more variety. It seems to be that collectors are looking for something different."

And they don't need to visit Queensland to find it. In May, Brown organised an exhibition of prints on paper by Cairns-based artists to be shown in Melbourne, which included works by Justin and Brooke.

justinbrooke-captionApart from his look-and-learn encounters with Alick Tipoti, Justin has also taken advantage of the infrastructure built in Cairns to support developing artists like himself. He was taken through all facets of exhibition planning and staging in a program run by UMI Arts which resulted in his first solo exhibition at the start of this year.

The current exhibition at UMI Arts Gallery shows two of his works, both linocuts. Of mixed ancestry, Justin's print designs reflect his Torres Strait upbringing on Horn Island. While dominant animal motifs and totems - sharks, crocodiles, dugongs - recur in the work of linocutters, Justin says the background patterning is distinctive for each artist. On large blocks of lino, he is able to create designs where animals are hidden in this background and only under sustained gaze do they emerge, furtively, just as they do in nature.

"I stay off the traditional stories and (confine myself) to mostly what I've experienced growing up on the islands - like cultural practices, hunting and gathering," he says. Even early in his career, he has one eye on his legacy.

"Joey Laifoo [Badu Island artist] actually told me, 'do your stories, because generations from now, we'll be the storytellers and people will look up to us'."

For Brooke, Cairns seems the right place to be for emerging artists. While acknowledging that the hub is central to driving a creative economy for indigenous Queenslanders, she believes the arts community is mainly about personal achievement.

"Indigenous people really want to show their culture to the world - not in negative ways but positive ways.  With artists, I don't really think it's to do with the money."

"So with the art fairs, they really just want to show what they can achieve with their lives."

For Justin, off-shore openings are already appearing with a place in a group exhibition in Seattle in 2010. 

"The only thing holding me back, I think, is talking to a big crowd. If I pass that, I reckon I'll just go from there."

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