Badu Art Centre – Bringing Back the Big Print

Sageraw Thonar – Stories from the Southeasterly Season: Contemporary Expressions of Cultural Knowledge from Badu Art Centre
KickArts Contemporary Arts, Cairns

‘Reflecting our strong cultural traditions and our beautiful relationships with our world we carefully express our love and dedication to the ocean, to our Island and all of its creatures and animals. We show our relationships with the wind, rain, earth, the skies, stars and the sun.’1 The Badu Art Centre exhibition Sageraw Thonar at KickArts Contemporary Arts embodies this philosophy.

The Badu Art Centre, situated in the Western Island cluster of the Torres Strait, has been in operation for eight years. It is an Indigenous owned and governed centre that offers its fifteen artists a place to create work, share their cultural stories and build an enterprise. Badu Art Centre is relatively new in the history of Australian Indigenous art centres. It has a membership of both emerging and established artists including Alick Tipoti, Laurie Nona who is also the Manager of the centre, and Joseph Au who is also the Chair.

In the past eighteen months the centre has developed a new level of competency, evidenced by the acclaim they received when they exhibited at Sydney Contemporary in September 2015 in partnership with KickArts. The follow up exhibition at KickArts during the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Sageraw Thonar – Stories from the Southeasterly Season: Contemporary Expressions of Cultural Knowledge from Badu Art Centre is equally impressive. What sets this particular exhibition apart is the scale of the work. Presenting ten two-metre lino (linoleum) prints is an ambitious undertaking, but it is one that has been successfully achieved. Justin Bishop, Director of KickArts says ‘this exhibition took over twelve months to plan – it was about bringing back the big print’.2

Works on paper appear to be fragile, however they are borne from two very physical processes. The first is the carving out of the design. Laurie Nona explains when speaking about his key work Badhu Habaka

…it took about six months to carve this work, it has large areas where I used the very detailed carving tool. Carving wood has an ancient tradition in the Torres Strait, and carving lino is a contemporary expression of this tradition. I will go back and do some wood carving and then go back to carve a lino design, it’s a continual cycle.3

The second stage in creating these works is the printing, a strenuous effort due to their size. Printing two-metre prints involves a team of people; someone to roll the press, people to feed the paper through evenly, and people to pull the print out at the other end. For this exhibition Badu Art Centre used the expertise of David Jones of Colvine Printer Studio and Dian Darmansjah from Firefox Print Studios. ‘We like to have control of the entire process,’ explains Nona, ‘when we engage professional printers we always have the artists present, that way we can keep artistic and quality control from carving through to the final print.’4

This exhibition features works from seven artists – Joseph Au, Aiona Tala Gaidan, Edmund Laza, Michael Nona, Laurie Nona and Alick Tipoti. And for the first time a female artist is contributing to the large-scale works, Matilda Malujewel Nona. Matilda’s work has a different ambiance to that of her fellow artists, and her work Sawur (wild yam) is simple and enchanting. The art centre believes that Matilda may be the first Indigenous woman to carve such large lino prints. Nona says Matilda is a diligent and intelligent emerging artist; she speaks language fluently which lends to accurate cultural translation in her works.5

Language is a key aspect to Badu Art Centre’s works and the exhibition Sageraw Thonar is bilingual. The accompanying catalogue has been translated into the Western Torres Strait island language of Kala Lagaw Ya by Alick Tipoti. This is an acknowledgement of the importance language plays in Badu’s past and also living culture.

Highlights from this exhibition include Joseph Au’s Pelican work Awiyal, which captures the character and stance of the pelican perfectly; Alick Tipoti’s Dhangalaw Kulba Girel (ancient dugong ritual), a carefully balanced work that utilises negative space, and Laurie Nona’s Malunga Apaz Sager Gimiya with his exceptional detailed imagery explaining the season of Sageraw Thonar.

Sageraw Thonar has positioned Badu Art Centre as the leader in the medium of lino printing within the Indigenous art industry. These large impressive works allow for complex layering of imagery and cultural story telling. The quality and confidence of the works give evidence to a thriving art centre with intelligent leadership. It is clear they are pushing the limits of scale, language and depth of cultural story telling through this medium.

Laurie Nona, Malungu Apaz Sager Gimiya, 2016. Linocut on paper. Images courtesy Badu Art Centre and KickArts, Cairns.

Laurie Nona, Badhu Habaka, 2016. Linocut on paper. Images courtesy Badu Art Centre and KickArts, Cairns.

Joseph Au, Awiyal, 2016. Linocut on paper. Photographs Jon Linkins. Images courtesy Badu Art Centre and KickArts, Cairns.

Matilda Malujewel Nona, Sawur, 2016. Linocut on paper. Image Jon Linkins. Coutesy Badu Art Centre and KickArts.

notes: 

1. Introduction to Badu Art Centre, www.baduartcentre.com.au.
2. Justin Bishop, Opening Speech, KickArts.
3. Interview with Laurie Nona, KickArts, 17 July 2016.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.