The celebrated artist, curator and scholar Brenda L Croft was one of two fellowship recipients at the 2015 Australia Council’s National Indigenous Arts Awards.
In 2015 the fellowships focused on visual arts and provided financial support towards a major project.
Solid/shifting ground is an experimental, multi-media, collaborative art project building on Brenda’s research
‘I am making work from an auto-ethnographic, immersive, insider/outsider standpoint as a person of mixed heritage – Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra on my father’s side and Anglo-Australian/Irish/German heritage on my mum’s,’ says Brenda. ‘I consider myself part of a Gurindji diaspora, living away from customary homelands, like so many of our community who are descendants of the Stolen Generations.’
Brenda has been collecting audio, film and stills on local sites and personal memories associated with the journeys of her father and his contemporaries from the Stolen Generations.
‘These walking/mapping/memory-scapes are being created through performative, embodied sound/visual time/space representations,’ she adds.
Solid/shifting ground extends Brenda’s Phd work since 2012 as an ARC Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts at UNSW Art & Design. She will stage a collaborative exhibition with Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation at the UNSW Galleries in September 2016 followed by a national tour to select university art museums. A solo exhibition of her photo-media work was hosted by Sydney’s Stills Gallery late last year, while an exhibition of her mixed media work is due at the Niagara Galleries in Melbourne in 2017.
Brenda credits this Fellowship as one of the highlights of her career.
‘It is an acknowledgement of my work over the past three decades which has led me to what I am doing now and will provide me with much appreciated creative freedom over the next two years.’
Another career highlight was receiving the 2013 Deadly Award for Visual Artists of the Year, because ‘it came from the community’. She regrets the Deadlies are no more and remembers fondly that the first were held at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative two decades ago. Brenda was one of 10 Indigenous artists who founded that influential Co-operative and was its general manager from 1990-1996.
She went on to be curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (1999-2001) where she staged a major survey of Indigenous art from south Western Australia. Later, as senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia (2002-2009), she established the National Indigenous Art Triennial. The inaugural NIAT Culture Warriors was held in 2007 before travelling widely, including to Washington.
She has also lectured at Tranby Aboriginal Co-operative College in Sydney, Canberra School of Art and the University of South Australia.
One of her happiest moments was ‘being awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Visual Arts from the University of Sydney in 2009, which my darling mum attended – miss her every day.’
Indeed, what Brenda Croft would most like to leave behind is ‘to write my father’s story for his grandchildren, so they know who they are as contemporary Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra and Anglo-Australian young people who are following in the footsteps of those who fought for equal rights for all of us.’
Brenda also has plans to continue her long collaboration with Dr Nancy Mithlo an Art History Associate Professor in American Indian Studies at the Auty National Center Institute. She will also spend research time at the Auty Museum, which houses one of America’s largest photographic repositories of Indigenous peoples.
This year has already been a big one for Brenda Croft: she has received the University of Western Australia’s Berndt Foundation Postgraduate Award and a UNSW Art & Design Postgraduate Award.
But she acknowledges the ‘sad/bad times’ which are part of the difficult life of being an artist. And so, what’s her advice to younger artists?
‘Make your vision distinctive and not like anyone else’s, believe in yourself, listen to others even if you don’t agree with them, be willing to work really hard for little benefit, find good mentors, help other people and demand high standards of yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t happen as quickly as you want. And if all else fails, walk, as the rhythm of walking resets your body and mind and lets you think.’