New Sacred

‘New Sacred’ explores ritual and folklore in contemporary Australian art. Staged at Mosman Art Gallery, the exhibition showcases the work of nine mid-career artists from Parramatta Artists Studios – Adorned, Khadim Ali, Cigdem Aydemir, Keg de Souza, Mehwish Iqbal, Elena Papanikolakis, Marikit Santiago, Salote Tawale and Shireen Taweel – representing the first collaborative exchange between the two institutions. Spanning installation, performance, video, painting, photography, drawing and textiles, the joint exhibition encourages curatorial dialogue and the flow of ideas across greater Sydney.

The notion of ‘sacredness’ is fluid. Traversing vast conceptual terrain from religiosity to secularity, it can be associated with spiritual devotion, cultural practices or personal values. The artists in ‘New Sacred’ engage with personal experiences of identity, adversity, individuality and community, reflecting distinct voices that speak to far-reaching social issues.In the video installation Wisdom, Memory and Song (2017) by Adorned, we witness the personal stories of ten women who share their making skills and memories, stories and culture. This intimate revelation of personal experience is continued in MehwishIqbal’s mixed media works News Bearer (2017) and Seven Seas (2017), which are woven with the artist’s own ‘migratory story [and] life experiences of early childhood into a universal landscape of refugee migrant/diaspora’. Salote Tawale, meanwhile, creates an ode to her bubu (grandmother) and the sacred relationship they shared. Her work Veibuni (2018) features salusalu (Fijian garlands) enlarged to an extreme scale and suspended from the ceiling, symbolising the magnitude of respect andadmiration for her matriarchal figure. The sanctity of individual identityis visualised in Shireen Taweel’s installation tomorrow, InshAllah (2016–17), where punctured and manipulated copper forms emblemise the artist’s inner architecture built on reconciling the fraught reality of her Lebanese-Arabic cultural identity.

Buttressing these personal tales of sacredness and quiet spaces of private contemplation, the exhibitionspeaks to broader notions of the sacred in Australian communities. It launches cross-cultural conversations responding to Australia’s multi-faceted cultural identity through a lens of ritual, cultural traditions, narratives and folklore. In her work Plastic Histories (2014–ongoing), Cigdem Aydemir shrink-wraps several male monuments in pink plastic,spotlighting the stark absence of female statues shaping collective memory in public spaces. By ‘queering’ these monuments, the artist creates space for alternate histories, stories and cultures. This recalibration of accepted sacredness is addressed in Marikit Santiago’s paintings of herselfher family, which foster an iconoclastic engagement with Western religious imagery. Mimicking cues conventionally performed by the Madonna and child, the decontextualised figures functionto denounce the dichotomies of earthly and divine, religion and superstition. The ‘unsacredness’ of war is explored in In Khadim Ali’s tapestry Untitled, from the ‘Otherness’ series (2018), a traditional battle scene inspired by Firdausi’s epic poem Shahnama– which traces the history of Persia. Through historical figures and iconic imagery, the work presents contemporary narratives of displacement. Meanwhile, Elena Papanikolakis’ paintings excavate the personal and historical aspects of her cultural background, from the iconography and mythology of ancient Greek culture to her own experience growing up in a migrant family. Alinear history of the (d)evolution of ingredients in Australian diets is presented in Keg de Souza’s work the earth affords them no food at all…(2017) – a series of long vacuum-sealed sous-vide strips containing edibles from indigenous plants to industrially produced junk food.

‘New Sacred’is a declaration to transcend traditional ideas of sacredness and offer new sacred spaces to inhabit. The artists invite us to look beyond our nation’s privileging of cultural traditions and systems, such as Christianity, nationalism, colonialism and patriarchy, that define our sense of self and nation. When we transcend these dominant narratives, we discover a diverse Australia — a nation in motion marked by fluid systems of knowledge, acceptance and meaning.

New Sacred
14 July – 8 September
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney


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