SALA winner keen to continue artistic impact

Written by Lili Rose.

This year’s winner of the SALA Don Dunstan Foundation Award is inspiring textile artist, Makeda Duong, who says winning the award came as a shock.

‘I was a little bit surprised. I felt like the other two finalists were strong contenders as well,’ Duong said.

The winning piece, Duong’s Mixed Race Sweater, is a layered, intimate piece displaying and examining the questions made to her about her identity and her musings on the complexities of being a mixed race, Vietnamese-Australian woman.

‘It’s partly about how I’m perceived as a mixed race, half Asian person, but there’s also a lot of stuff going on behind it to do with my father’s past coming from Vietnam, a country that suffered a lot of invasion, war and trauma,’ said Duong.

The sweater, which is split evenly displaying the colours of the Australian flag on the front and the South Vietnamese flag on the back, is a manifestation of her own heritage and the curiosity it inspires in other people. 

As part of her exhibition Mixed Race Female, the sweater asks its audience to reflect upon themselves and the powerful social positions in which questions like ‘Where are you from’ and ‘Am I Australian’ come from.

Each of these questions, which make assumptions about identity based on name or appearance, have been asked to Makeda, an experience known to many other people of colour in Australia.

‘Firstly, there’s something about being a person of colour, it’s very visible, it’s a fact that’s right there, the colour of your skin, colour of your eyes, colour of your hair…it sets you apart,’ Duong said.

Additionally, the sweater’s colours comment on the duality in views on communism, comparing the difference between her father’s experience in Vietnam, which led to his migration to Australia, to the ideals of Western youth.

‘I was thinking that a lot of young Western people have this really positive view of communist ideals now, they see it as a positive alternative to capitalism. Whereas, people like my dad, who came from Vietnam, have had oppressive communist rule and see it as a negative thing. This intrigued me and I might be thinking about that in future works,’ said Duong.

Winning the DDF SALA Festival Award hasn’t been the only response Makeda has had for her work. The exhibition has been featured in a number of local publications, further demonstrating the profound impact it’s had on the public.

‘I think it’s made me realise these kinds of works on these topics has really resonated with a lot of people, probably more than I thought it would,’

‘A lot of things that aggravate me tend to make me want to make artwork as a reaction to it.’ Duong said.

The initial inspirations for the sweater began with Duong’s first piece from 2015, the Cursed Boyfriend Sweater, a manifestation of the unhealthy things couples say to each other knitted into a wearable sweater.

Duong plans to save the $1000 prize money to continue creating artwork on topics of mental health, migration, race, and gender.

‘I think it’s emboldened me to make work if I feel I have something to say about it, not feel like I can’t or that it’s a topic that I’m going to be attacked or perceived negatively for,’ said Duong.

With a specialisation in textiles, Duong says she won’t be moving away from the medium any time soon. Instead, she’s considered creating more sculptural works like those currently featured in her exhibition.

Although having a break after this exhibition, Duong will continue to contemplate conceptual avenues, further focusing on ideas of communism and the funding cuts within the arts sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mixed Race Female is showing at Nexus Arts Gallery until September 17th.

SA’s creative thinkers stick together amid pandemic.

Written by Edward McLeish

Socially, culturally, politically and economically, it’s been a tough time for South Australia’s arts industry.

But the state’s COVID-free circumstances would place it better against other states’ creative sectors as it sings, dances, paints and plays its way out of a pandemic.

That’s according to a panel headlined by the Don Dunstan Foundation’s (DDF) first Thinker in Residence Martin Elbourne – as he joined the who’s who of SA’s arts industry for a webinar discussing the pandemic’s impacts on cultural institutions.

Adelaide Fringe CEO and Artistic Director Heather Croall facilitated the discussion – which featured Mr Elbourne, Adelaide UNESCO City of Music Director Beck Pearce, Adelaide Festival Artistic Director Rachel Healy and Art Gallery of South Australia Director Rhana Devenport.

Miss Pearce said the coronavirus had a ‘huge impact’ on creative industries – especially in the form of live music.

‘The main challenges were the restrictions to venues and music businesses,’ she said.

‘In terms of capacities and the ability to present live music, live performances have been hugely impacted.

‘The SA music industry contributes over $375 million – it’s a huge contributor to the economy.’

Attracting audiences to venues to dance to and interpret music has gone to a standstill; the inability for the tourism industry to thrive and lure local audiences to venues has dented SA’s economy.

So SA’s music industry and its crusading musicians face sustainability issues as they are constrained to paths of innovation, according to Miss Pearce.

‘Some musicians implement income via hospitality and teaching, which are industries that have also been impacted,’ she said.

Ms Healy said international workers were a big part of the Adelaide Festival; historically, the festival had attracted companies of up to 100 artists from around the world.

‘It’s a time-limited international arts festival – and in the middle of a pandemic, there are issues in programming,’ she said.

‘We’re seeing a bit of work locked in for the 2021 festival, but the majority of work for 2022; what we can’t fit in 2021 will impact how we program our ‘22 and ’23 years.’

Some of the other issues Ms Healy raised included getting visas for international artists through border control, an unwillingness for artists to travel and quarantine, agencies unwilling to offer insurance for incoming artists, the artists’ running costs mid and post-quarantine, and mental health issues.

‘Bureaucracy and anxiety are the main challenges for artists,’ she said.

‘You have to commit to taking one step at a time and keep going until someone tells you that you can’t keep going; everyone globally is in the same boat.

‘Most arts workers are trying to figure out a situation where they’re not sleeping out of their car.’

Ms Devenport said while the visual artists were doing it tough, it didn’t compare to live performers.

‘I really feel for the live arts; the nature of the live art form is about people being together,’ she said.

‘Without artists, everything disappears.’

To support some struggling visual artists, the Art Gallery of South Australia provided six $10,000 bursaries for artists – not something galleries typically do.

But Ms Devenport said the gallery’s annual appeal had more support than ever.

‘We’ve had lots of people deeply concerned about artists,’ she said.

Although community funding was pleasing for the gallery, Ms Devenport hoped there would be more financial support from the government for Australia’s creative industries.

‘In the UK, The Arts contributes seven per cent to its gross domestic product (GDP), and gets one per cent of government support, whereas Australia’s creative industries contribute 6.4 per cent to its GDP and only gets 0.25 per cent of support,’ she said.

While pandemic-specific challenges have impacted the arts industry, the COVID-19 crisis has provided opportunities for innovation among artists.

Mr Elbourne – who joined the webinar from The UK – has ensured successes in the music industry: booking artists at Glastonbury, co-founding WOMAD Festival and promoting festivals globally.

As the DDF’s first Thinker in Residence (2013), Mr Elbourne has evolved SA’s music industry; he said the residency inspired his career’s path over the past seven years.

One of the recommendations he made in the position was bringing the UNESCO City of Music office to Adelaide – currently headed by Miss Pearce.

Mr Elbourne said there opportunities to thrive included utilising its warm climate and rethinking the positioning of night clubs.

‘We might see the end of Hindley St – that’s the worst street in Australia and it ought to be the best street in Adelaide,’ he said.

‘What I’d like to see is large indoor night clubs moved to the outskirts of the city rather than the CBD – like Amsterdam and its super clubs.

‘The last thing opening up will be those night clubs, when people are at an indoors venue and singing and talking loudly – that’s a big no-no for quite some time.

‘But Adelaide’s climate means even in winter, you can go out and do things.’

Ms Healy said her team had been excited by opportunities for more outdoor festivals.

‘There’s always interesting opportunities to create works in non-traditional spaces that will be safer and create an event opportunity,’ she said.

Other ideas Ms Healy thought would bring masses together in a safe way included drive-in concerts, Perspex barriers separating seats in theatres, contract tracing and patron temperature checks.

Ms Croall said transitioning to digital opportunities (including Zoom plays, livestreaming and NEO Online) would meet the needs of some people unable to attend events for health reasons.

‘We’ve found ways to integrate innovations that we’ve got to roll out in the future,’ she said.

Miss Pearce said online platforms for a concert series would ‘break down accessibility barriers’.

‘It’s an opportunity to develop audiences over time,’ she said.

When it came to whether SA was better or worse placed than other states and countries, Ms Devenport said we were better placed as the majority of our industry’s audiences are local.

‘Last year, we had around a million visitors in a town of 1.3 million,’ she said.

Ms Croall said punters within the SA bubble have an opportunity to “crack in” to save the arts industry.  

‘In other galleries, 70 per cent of tickets come from out of town,’ she said.

“At the Adelaide Fringe this year, we sold 850k tickets, and although there were 30,000 tourists, nearly a million tickets sold with most of them local.’

Moving forward, the panel agreed more government funding to The Arts in SA was vital in its revival, and there was an important story to be told about what creative sectors provide households.

For example, Miss Pearce said music was key for many areas of learning.

“Music teaches literacy, social cohesion, empathy and many other things; music makes society better people and there’s a really important story to be told,’ she said.

Don Dunstan Executive Director Ritchie Hollands closed the webinar by quoting Don Dunstan:

The arts are an all-pervading part of our everyday lives. They intrude on us without our realising it, so subtle is their influence and so unrecognised their presence.

The DDF hosts Art For Good, harnessing opportunities in the arts for South Australians.

This includes the South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Award and the Our Mob Emerging Artist Award.

Previous initiatives have included the Social Change Guide, which offers an overview of Adelaide Fringe Festival events with a social change theme, and the Dunstan Film Club, a quarterly movie event with a strong social justice message at its core.

Weaving Her Way To Success

This year’s Don Dunstan Foundation Our Mob Emerging Artist Prize was awarded to Ngarrindjeri, Nurungga, Ngadjuri artist Sonya Rankine, at the opening of the Our Mob exhibition, for her exceptional weaving baskets artwork.

On Thursday 22 August, the 49-year-old Moonta Bay resident was announced as the $5,000 recipient for her remarkable artwork, which has given her the financial support necessary to help boost her business, Lakun Mara – translating to Weaving Hand.

Rankine described winning the Don Dunstan Foundation Our Mob Emerging Artist Prize as an “opportunity to make a career” as she has seen from the previous recipients that are a source of motivation and inspiration to her.

Whether she uses it to renovate her shed into a workspace exclusively for her artwork or to buy a trailer to help her collect her weaving materials, Rankine said the prize money will be invested into her business.

Rankine’s business is centred on reviving and recognising the traditional Ngarrindjeri weaving techniques and cultural practice.

Similar to her artwork, Rankine believes the Our Mob exhibition is the combination of professional practice with cultural connection.

“Recognition, support and opening doors to new spaces… that is what comes from the Our Mob exhibition, in particular the Don Dunstan Foundation award,” Rankine said.

The award-winning baskets expanded on her traditional Ngarrindjeri weaving methods and incorporated new techniques she learnt from her time at the 2019 National Basketry Gathering.

Jacaranda stalks, beach stone from Stansbury, waxed linen thread, palm inflorescence, and emu feathers were weaved together to create the two pieces, ‘Lakun Mara 13 – Pinyali Pempandawi (Emu Basket)’ and ‘Lakun Mara 14 – Partar Pempandawi (Rock Basket)’.

“They were created using materials that would usually be thrown away,” Rankine said.

Since she was 10-months-old, Rankine was raised in the foster care system. However, she was taught weaving by her Aunty Ellen Trevorrow, a renowned Ngarrindjeri weaver and Elder.

Rankine has been mastering the art of weaving for 25 years as a way of “acknowledging being aboriginal,” she said.

“Weaving is in my blood, there is a hereditary connection,” she said.

The Don Dunstan Foundation is passionate about giving recognition and support to South Australia’s Aboriginal artists to help develop their careers in the arts. Through programs such as the Our Mob exhibition and award, we offer these talented artists a platform for their work to be exposed to a wider audience.

Contributed by Lisa Cooper.

SALA Winners Pay It Forward

Following in the spirit of their installation Safe Harbour, the winners of the 2019 Don Dunstan Foundation SALA Festival Award, Deborah Baldassi and Sue Webb, have generously donated their prize to help asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru Islands.

Baldassi and Webb donated their $2,500 win to Gifts for Manus and Nauru charity, which will provide asylum seekers and refugees with mobile phone credit, enabling them to contact family and friends in Australia and overseas.

The duo were announced as the winners on Saturday 31 August for their installation which featured over a thousand hand-painted balsa wood boats and 800 origami boats, which filled the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church in Beulah Park.

Winning the award not only felt like a recognition of their work but also of the issue.

“Things like the award make it seem worthwhile,” Baldassi said.

“From the outset it was an idea of reclaiming the image of the boat as something of salvation, the idea of an ark or something carrying to safety which has been completely demonised by the government over the past few years. We tried to turn that around a bit and reclaim that image. The prize made us feel like we had achieved it to a certain degree,” she said.

Their long standing passion for asylum seeker and refugee rights was an obvious issue for them to address, and to donate to.

“These completely disenfranchised individuals are languishing offshore, they’re out of sight and out of mind. It’s really important to keep a link with them and the only way to do that is through mobile phones,” Baldassi said.

The piece not only reflected the values of the Don Dunstan Foundation, but the artistic process was based on community engagement, a key priority for the Foundation.

The boats were painted by volunteers from the community, both artists and non-artists, aging from two-years-old to 90-years-old.

Due to the popularity of the installations, more workshops where community members could paint the boats on site were created, while the origami boats were made in people’s homes and during congregations at the Church.

“Even if it is not getting through to the upper echelons, at least people are taking notice of it along the way,” Baldassi said.

Baldassi and Webb commenced work on Safe Harbour last September, with the final piece being a culmination of nearly nine months work.

“We thought about how to get a political message across in a way that people could relate to, contribute to and get something out of it without it being threatening. And the obvious way of doing that is through art,” Baldassi said.

The origami boats hung in the church to symbolise the lives of asylum seekers and refugees that are currently hanging in suspension, while figures of people were placed in the church to tell the stories of those who have died in detention.

Since the closing of the SALA Festival, the success of the installation has accelerated, with it going on to the Migration Museum for a weekend, while Baldassi and Webb visited two schools in Yorketown to educate students on asylum seekers and refugees.

“It was an awareness campaign and it has been successful in that respect,” Webb said.

The Foundation is committed to continuing the support for the SALA Don Dunstan Foundation Award in 2020, and to inspire action for a fairer world through art, as this year’s winners have done.

Contributed by Lisa Cooper.

2019 SALA Don Dunstan Foundation Award Winner Announced

The 2019 SALA Festival has held another successful statewide festival of Visual Art in South Australia. As part of the Festival, the Foundation provides the Don Dunstan Foundation Award for For artists whose work explores social justice themes which align with the objectives and priorities of the Foundation. Congratulations to all of the finalists for our award, the panel found the decision very difficult.

This year’s winner was announced at the Awards Night on Saturday 31 August.

Congratulations to Deborah Baldassi and Sue Webb on winning the Don Dunstan Foundation SALA Festival Award for 2019.

Their piece, ‘Safe Harbour’, was a moving example of the power of art to inspire action for a fairer world. It was a very impactful, inclusive experience that drove direct outcomes. The clear concepts had great longevity and was community crafted to show symbolism of boat people’s plight.

We are so pleased to present the $2,500 cash prize to Deborah Baldassi and Sue Webb for the 2019 Don Dunstan Foundation Award.

You can find more information about their piece on Facebook:  Safe Harbour Australia .

Sonya Rankine | Our Mob Emerging Artist 2019

Ngarrindjeri, Nurungga, Ngadjuri woman Sonya Rankine was announced the winner of the $5,000 Don Dunstan Foundation Our Mob Emerging Artist Prize during the 2019 OUR MOB opening at Adelaide Festival Centre on Thursday 22 August.

“My weaving is about reviving and maintaining culture and the tradition of Ngarrindjeri weaving through creating contemporary Aboriginal art.”

Sonya Rankine

Pictured: DDF Board member, Sonia Waters, and prize winner, Sonya Rankine (Photo credit: Ron Searcy)

Our Mob Art Prize – 2019 Winner

2019 Emerging Artist prize winner announced

Ngarrindjeri, Nurungga, Ngadjuri woman Sonya Rankine was announced the winner of the $5,000 Don Dunstan Foundation Our Mob Emerging Artist Prize during the 2019 OUR MOB opening at Adelaide Festival Centre this evening.

The prize win will allow the 49 year old Moonta Bay resident to invest in her business, Lakun Mara (meaning Weaving Hand), which focuses on the revival and maintenance of traditional Ngarrindjeri weaving techniques and cultural practice.

Sonya impressed the judges with her sculptures, titled ‘Lakun Mara 13 – Pinyali Pempandawi (Emu Basket)’ and ‘Lakun Mara 14 – Partar Pempandawi (Rock Basket)’ made from jacaranda stalks, beach stone, waxed linen thread, palm inflorescence, and emu feathers.

Sonya Rankine: “I’ve been weaving for 25 years. I first learnt from Aunty Ellen Trevorrow, the traditional Ngarrindjeri technique using reeds from the Coorong. Since then I have continued to have a strong cultural interest and passion for weaving. This was strengthened by attending the 2019 National Basketry Gathering delivering a workshop and learning many more styles to incorporate.

“My weaving is about reviving and maintaining culture and the tradition of Ngarrindjeri weaving through creating contemporary Aboriginal art.”
Two other prizes were awarded on the night: the Country Arts SA Professional Development Initiative Award, won by 42 year old Rowena Williams of Coober Pedy; and the Ku Arts OUR YOUNG MOB Award, won by 18 year old Leshaye Swan of Adelaide.

The 2019 OUR MOB program features three free exhibitions: OUR MOB, works by South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists; OUR YOUNG MOB, works by Aboriginal artists 18 years and under and the Don Dunstan Foundation Prize Showcase, produced by last year’s Emerging Artist Award recipient Tony Wilson.

Douglas Gautier AM, Adelaide Festival Centre CEO & Artistic Director: “For fourteen years, OUR MOB has supported art practices of numerous First Nations artists throughout South Australia.

“What began as a survey of visual art is now one of our most important annual programs, bringing artists, industry partners, and arts organisations from all over the state together in a celebration of art and community.

“We congratulate this year’s winners and look forward to celebrating their success for years to come.”

Adelaide Festival Centre gratefully acknowledges ongoing partnerships with Ku Arts and Culture Aboriginal Corporation and SICAD; Country Arts SA; The Don Dunstan Foundation; TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture centre managers and coordinators across South Australia.

Prize winning artworks can be seen here.