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.

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 .