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Editions
August 09 Edition Cover

No Turning Back: “The Torch” at Downtown

28 May 2018

No Turning Back: “The Torch” at Downtown Image

Deakin Downtown is hosting a new exhibition: “No Turning Back – Artworks from The Torch”, until July 13.

The Torch is a not-for-profit organisation seeking to achieve two objectives through the Indigenous Arts in Prisons & Community program:

Through art, cultural and arts vocation, providing a form for cultural exploration, expression and strengthening for members of the indigenous community who are incarcerated; and

Through supporting creative skills and connection to culture, work with participants to find a new way forward on their return to community and reduce recidivism.

The program connects with artists incarcerated and post-release. When artworks are sold and the artist is in prison, the proceeds go directly into a trust for them to access upon release, with interest going to support victims of crime.

If the artist has already been released, they receive the full amount of the selling price immediately.

There are 15 prisons in Victoria, and the latest state budget allocated funding for number 16. Paul McCann is the state wide Indigenous arts officer in prisons at The Torch, responsible for entering the prisons and “connecting men and women with their traditional art, depending on what region they’re from”.

“There’s about 14 main tribes in Victoria, and there’s not a whole lot of information about each individual tribe– there’s more information about some than others,” Mr McCann said.

That means that there is currently one more prison in Victoria than there are tribes that remain definable today. This is starkly indicative of the disproportionate representation of Indigenous people in incarceration across the country.

Maps of language groups across the state, compiled with data and research from different points in time since colonisation, show that there were once many more distinct Indigenous groups in Victoria.

Despite this level of cultural destruction, there is still a wealth of Indigenous artistic traditions continuing today that differ significantly from region to region.

The well-known dot work, for example, is a broad but distinctly northern technique, while southern tribes used much more line work.

The Torch aims to provide guidance and information for its participants tailored to the specific styles of their regions and ancestors.

“When I visit the prisons, I will generally go on their art day and engage with the men and women,” Mr McCann said.

“I try and explain this is traditionally what your mob did. I go in and engage and then its up to them if they want to join the program.”

The feature work at Deakin Downtown’s exhibition (pictured) is by Ray Traplin, a Kuku Yalanji artist from the Port Douglas/Daintree area of North Queensland.

His art is rooted in the tropical region’s Indigenous culture, invoking practices and stories handed down to him from elders.

The feature work, River Dreaming #1, reflects the creation story of the water spirit in the form of a giant snake carving its way across the country.

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