Tahjee Moar — A New Wave
Posted on January 28, 2015
Tahjee Moar is leading the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Tahjee Moar is a descendant of the Meriam/Barkindji/Malyangapa people. She has recently completed a Bachelor of Art Theory at the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales. Tahjee is based in Sydney as a Gallery Educator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and an Indigenous Art Consultant at the University of Technology, Sydney Gallery.
For the past two years I have worked at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a Gallery Educator, teaching audiences about Indigenous culture, history and identity. To me, working in the arts sector is an important way to ensure the continuity of art as a tool for cultural and political empowerment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; to ensure our stories continue to be shared and to facilitate a dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.
My mother’s family is from the Meriam people of the eastern region of the Torres Strait Islands, and my father’s family is from the Barkindji and Malyangapa people of western New South Wales. My heritage also extends to Scotland, Ireland and England. I became drawn to pursuing a career in the arts when I was in high school. My visual arts teacher would often take my class on excursions to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I can still recall the experience of standing in the Yiribana Gallery, absorbing the personal narratives that sounded from the walls as if they were my own.
Sharing and exchange have always been central to the continuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. For countless generations, the passing down of knowledge for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has occurred through oral, visual and performative forms of expression. Today, this tradition is embodied through art. I first started in the Indigenous arts sector when I was eighteen years old. After completing my first year at art school, I received a placement in the Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Leadership Program at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The program gave me early insight into one of the core issues of the Indigenous arts sector, which is that much of the dialogue surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultural practice is still largely controlled by non-Indigenous people. Participating in the program alongside Indigenous arts workers and professionals from all over Australia was a valuable opportunity to be part of a conversation with a community of people who were committed to building a strong network of Indigenous leaders in the arts. Most importantly, it taught me the value of a having a support group of peers and mentors, and the difference that mentorship makes between working in isolation and contributing to a discussion.
One of my earliest mentors was Jonathan Jones. I met Jonathan when he was Curator of Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). When I started as a trainee at the Gallery in 2011, Jonathan became a colleague and then mentor. As I became interested in researching into the Gallery’s collection of Torres Strait Islander art and resources, Jonathan played a huge part in helping me to forge connections with Torres Strait Islander artists around the country. One artist that I felt particularly privileged to meet was Ken Thaiday Snr, whose sculptures I have always admired through the ways in which they beautifully combine the practice of traditional Islander headdress-making with the evocativeness of lived experience and personal memory. By interviewing Ken, I began to see him as not only an artist, but also as a senior custodian of cultural knowledge for the Torres Strait Islander community whose practice is important in contributing to the ongoing cultural heritage of the Torres Strait Islands. Having the experience of being mentored at the Gallery, which gave me the opportunity to work with artists like Ken Thaiday, reinforced my understanding of the important role our artists have as cultural leaders, storytellers and vessels for knowledge, and also how vital it is, as a young Indigenous person in the arts sector, to engage in intergenerational dialogues to learn from senior members of the community.
Another important mentor has been Tess Allas. I met Tess while I was a student of her course, ‘Right Here Right Now: Aboriginal Art Since 1984’ at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Since completing my degree, Tess has remained a friend, a mentor and a collaborator, and we have developed a close bond from working alongside each other. We have been developing a project in connection with the community at COFA’s Cicada Press, which hosts printmaking workshops for local, interstate and international artists. In consultation with COFA’s Head of Printmaking and Director of Cicada Press, Michael Kempson, the workshops are usually scheduled to take place over the course of a week and at a time when all the participating artists are visiting Sydney. Some of the artists that have been a part of Cicada Press that I have had the opportunity to work with have included Dale Harding, Jason Wing and Darrell Sibosado. Because the workshops take place in an environment where Indigenous artists who are at different stages of their career are developing and sharing ideas for their works in a space together, naturally there is a sense of camaraderie and reciprocity where people are learning from each other. Being part of this type of community reflects the concept of sharing and exchange that has been central to the continuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
One of my proudest achievements has been working on Next Wave Festival’s 2014 keynote initiative, Blak Wave. The project aimed to explore the current personal, political and artistic agenda for emerging and established Indigenous artists. As a young person, I was particularly passionate about being involved in producing a publication that promoted a dialogue between emerging and established Indigenous artists and arts practitioners in the community. Collaborating with Emily Sexton and Meg Hale from Next Wave Festival to achieve this was a very positive experience that embodied what I feel the arts sector often lacks, which is pulling Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to have an open conversation. What was also important about the project was that it connected the voices of Indigenous artists to the domain of contemporary artistic expression and did not necessarily follow a familiar agenda in doing so, such as including Indigenous artists as a tokenistic add-on. It intended to focus on the voices of Indigenous artists as individuals responding to the here and now, and challenge people’s perceptions of what it means to be an Indigenous person. What was also important about the publication was that it focused on the diversity of contemporary Indigenous identity, and brought forward issues that are not often addressed from an Indigenous Australian perspective, such as Indigenous identity, feminist discourse and queer identity. Ultimately, I am proud that Blak Wave set a benchmark for the future of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural expression taking a more experimental approach and opening up a dialogue as a starting point for a new journey in the Indigenous arts sector.
The next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists is emerging, and they continue to take pride in the rich traditions of Indigenous Australian cultures, and use new and diverse ways to explore Indigenous identity. I am optimistic that there will be more Indigenous leaders, curators, and behind-the-scenes-people in the arts if Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and arts practitioners continue learning, sharing knowledge and working together. As a young Indigenous person in the sector, one of the most valuable pieces of advice that I have been given is to try not to know everything at once, or to aim for a direct outcome, but to be willing to start any project or interaction with a discussion, and then go from there. The more we take the time to listen to each other as well as share stories and ideas, the more we can continue to achieve positive and exciting things.
Tahjee Moar studied at the University of New South Wales.