In the 1967 Federal Referendum, 90.77% of Australians said ‘yes’ to removing two clauses from the Constitution that were discriminatory towards Indigenous Australians. When the Sky Fell considers the impact of this vote 50 years on, exploring what has changed since then and what still needs to be done.

That an overwhelming majority voted ‘yes’ suggests there should have been real improvements in the representation and inclusion of Indigenous Australians. While there has undoubtedly been progress since then, there has also been failure in the expectation of what it promised to deliver.

When the Sky Fell showcases a variety of traditional and contemporary Indigenous artworks, using each distinctive piece to form a unique narrative based on the perspective of each artist. There is a running theme throughout the exhibition that the referendum ultimately failed to recognise Indigenous communities as multiple, diverse and complex.

Sharyn Egan, a Wadjuk Nyoongar artist, uses her work to express her disappointment with the referendum’s one-size-fits-all approach, which failed to recognise each Indigenous community as unique. Her statement piece incorporates over 200 wooden objects made from Grasstree and groups them in a way that conveys both their unity and individuality. It is through this that Sharyn challenges the assumption that a single vote would provide one sweeping solution for the many Indigenous communities in Australia.

A recent collaboration between PICA and Perth Science Week saw a free event held on Saturday 12 August where Sharyn led a weaving workshop. Weaving, in this instance, wasn’t the physical artistic technique, but a methodical process of intertwining different stories together to create a collective piece moulded by each individual creator. At the event, children and adults came together to weave their own strands and add them to the communal Grasstree. Participants were also invited to write down their personal stories about a significant event in their lifetime and add it to a shared timeline. Sitting on that timeline, of course, is the 1967 Referendum.

When the Sky Fell is an important and challenging exhibition that recognises the significance of this historical event, while emphasising the need for a deeper understanding of Aboriginal communities, their culture and their place in the Australian nation.

When the Sky Fell is at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts from July 2 – August 20. Find out more.


Image courtesy of PICA: Mignonette Jamin – Jamin Byanimby, Goormbidja & Bulyunga

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