I am not the type of woman that enjoys going places on my own, I would prefer to share an experience with family or friends. However, if I am at a book store, art gallery or museum please don’t come near me or talk to me. Leave me be in my own world, let me sink in to the emotions of the work, the beauty or the ugliness. I had to make the trek to Brisbane to pick up goodies for the Brisbane festival that I am a citizen reviewer for, so while I was in town I made the most of the opportunity and visited QAG.
A city dwelling friend knows my love for a bit of culture and recommended I have a look at the Tony Albert ‘Visible’ installation.
I illegally parked at the office of PR company Aruga to pick up my food and wine vouchers, t-shirt and lanyard for the Brisbane Festival, I raced out of there before I got towed. Paid the $17 for parking at the cultural centre and bought a burnt, too strong coffee from the museum cafe, forcing it down at an outside table watching the rain clean the city trying to remember the floor I parked my car on.
My city dwelling friend and I always pick a favourite piece whenever we visit a gallery together, the pieces I have chosen as favourites for the Tony Albert work were not visually beautiful, but emotionally moving. The “Moving Targets” 2015 is a stripped back shell of a car with the bonnet and boot popped open, TV screens fill the inside of the car with images of young indigenous males. The blacked out space is intensified with the walls covered in wallpaper. The wallpaper being digital images of bare chested aboriginal males with a target positioned over the centre of their chest, these images made up the award winning series “Brothers” 2013, the brothers are young men from the Kirinari Hostel in King’s Cross. The dark space, the stripped car, the stares of the indigenous men lining the walls was intense. I had a sense of fear, intimidation, and darkness a feeling of wanting to flee from the dark back into the light airy open space of the gallery. The red targets on the chests of the young men plastered on the walls signifys the men as targets of society. However, I was drawn to their chests, to the targets and thought of the hearts that beat there, the history, the ancestral wisdom that pumps in their blood.
On the outside wall of the “Moving targets”, The “Aboriginalia” wall hung. A white wall covered in kitsch household items popular for the 50’s and 60’s coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, tea towels, ash trays and souvenirs, commemorative tea spoons, wall hangings, figurines and a pinball machine decorated with images and caricatures of indigenous people, in the colour pallet and textures of the time green, orange, brown a bit of velvet, plastic and wood. The Aboriginalia wall was equally racist, fascinating and disturbing. I didn’t spend much time in front of the wall, but the piece stayed in my mind. It made me sad- these items are so recent in our cultural history. It made me want to spend time with works that celebrate the indigenous culture. I do love that the work hasn’t left me, that it has raised awareness, thought and conversation.
Like I said not beautiful pieces but thoughtful conversation starters. My favourite.
Sandi and I meet at a local coffee shop, we get settled at our table with chai latte each and I ask the first question and am taken away, this is why I love doing this, I get lost in the conversation, her story flows. Sandi is incredibly open, honest, and generous, at some moments in the conversation the expressions on her face are of remembrance, fond and forgotten moments and achievement’s getting a voice. She is candid in sharing so much of her life experience, I get goose bumps.
Sandi from the age of 4 has had a love and passion for art, one of her first essays at school Sandi wrote that she dreamed of being either an artist or a pilot. She recounts to me an experience from her favourite class of the week at school. Art class.
“We were tasked with painting fire cracker night. I got my brushes and splayed them out to get the rippling effect and it was coming together and looking like I had found fire cracker night at the Nambour showgrounds. I was made an example of, I was told to put my brushes down, and stand in the corner of the class room for all art classes for the rest of the year, because, “look what this girl has done. That is not how you paint.”
Those teachers that terrified that little girl during Friday art class, didn’t squash her desire to make art, she refused to let their harsh voice define her passion for art.
“It doesn’t just block creativity when you have a person treat you like that. It blocks you in so many other ways, always second guessing”.
Sandi never did second guess her decision to chase her dream of being involved in the art world. Sandi’s parents worried that their daughter wouldn’t be able to make living from her creativity, and encouraged her to become a teacher. Studying initially in fine arts, leading Sandi to post-graduate studies in dress history and combining that with Queensland history.
“That allowed me with my post graduate studies to curate a dress historical exhibition. That was called “Dressed to kill, the impact of World War 2 on Queensland women’s dress 1935-1950”.
Sandi’s experience has allowed her to be offered multiple roles. Her work has taken her to approximately 5 different universities in an art capacity as a curator, director or freelancer. She has also worked with various local government authorities in the same capacity.
“I really just want to be around the arts. I think being a curator, it is a vicarious way of being involved. It’s voyeuristic. It’s like, ok I can work with artists, and I can still make a living. So I went into that field”.
She has travelled far and wide and held respected positions. Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide, is all indigenous owned and operated, and Sandi found this an interesting and privileged position to hold. She was in public relations at Central Queensland University answering directly to the vice chancellor, this position serviced a number of different campuses. Growth in her professional life, forced her to develop and move outside of some personal fears. Sandi, at the time didn’t hold a drivers licence as she feared she wouldn’t be a good driver. Within the first month in Rockhampton, Sandi as a passenger was involved in a car accident that nearly killed her. She decided during her recovery, she was no longer comfortable with someone else taking control of her transport. She was getting her license.
Intercultural activity has been critical, and central to Sandi’s professional career. While working as the PR person in Rockhampton, Sandi discovered the university held an art collection that was not being cared for or utilised in any way. Taking advantage of this art work Sandi set up in conjunction with the indigenous unit at the university at satellite gallery and launched this as part of NAIDOC week, this was the first indigenous exhibition and drew record crowds. It was called Colour my world.
“It was absolutely amazing, we had Archie Roach come up, where he performed a free concert. We bought people in from Woorabinda, and we went out and filmed some of Archie’s music”.
Sandi had the opportunity to work with Fred Hollows in Central Queensland.
“I mean he worked in Eritrea, but he also worked in our indigenous communities. He always spoke of “going away, to come back”.
Sandi’s whole being lights up, she sits straighter in her chair and her laugh is infectious with excitement when she speaks of some of the people that she has worked and flourished with, or has been influenced by.
“I remember my boss at Tandanya was Francesca Cubillo, she is now Senior Curator of: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia. She is a Larrakia woman from up Darwin way. I remember her talking about particular works in the gallery space at Tandanya and how rich that desert area is, how rich with Indigenous heritage and culture Australia is. I mean she could look at an art work and tell you down to a fine hair exactly what it was, she would explain how rich the area was under all that red dirt. How it can sustain us, but, we don’t look beyond and we don’t have that cultural knowledge”.
“I am fascinated with the gender specific approach to making art, and find time and time again if you find a pairing of artists male and female, the male career takes off and the female is the supporter. Irrespective of if there is a parity or not with their particular talent. This is what was great about spending my week with Wendy Whiteley. Her visit was such a privilege. She is a strong beautiful woman. She is so articulate and has such wisdom in terms of the global art scene. She a wonderful thinker. I am fascinated by the role of the muse within the public and private life, but also like the power in front of the throne. I mean she is carrying that legacy so beautifully. I mean, Whiteley himself used to talk about the fact that she was possibly a better drawer than him. She was going to art school when she met him. I am a lover art that represents social change. Not all art is that. But, I think the power of art, and the momentous occasions when you step back and or when you’re standing in front of a canvas and you just get that feeling of; oh wow that has changed my way of thinking. I remember standing in the art gallery of New South Wales in front of a painting by Lloyd Rees, called Road to Berry and it had a line. It is referred to as an angelic line of sorts. I think that particular work/line changed Whiteley’s or impacted his thinking, I mean he made comment about it impacting him. You can look at his work, and think what would he have been without the drugs? But, he had the capacity to be receptive to other artists work. So I think it is the collaboration, the sharing of ideas in a healthy fashion that starts the world talking, thinking, changing”.
“Gauguin is my absolute favourite. Te Rerioa (The Dream), 1897. That painting sang to me. I am a deep, deep fan of Rosalie Gascoigne she came to art quiet late in life via Ikebana. I am fascinated by her story. She to me is like a bower bird, working with found objects and making meaning of them. My favourite author is Drusilla Modjeska, I got to meet her years ago and why she is so important to me is that I found my first love of reading through her when I was in my thirties. I remember discovering this book called Stravinsky’s Lunch. It is quite a weighty tome, and I remember getting up of a night and I would read for hours in the middle of the night, it was the only time I had to read. I couldn’t get enough of that book. That book was actually analyzing two female non-fictional artists who had lead very different lives. One who stayed in Australia and the other one who went overseas to find her calling”.
“I completely identify with Georgia O’Keefe, with being scared of everything in your life, I mean maybe it stems from that early start of always being anxious about everything and thinking you’re not good enough.
I also identify with her and just going ahead, and making a decision to just do it and the nay-sayers can say what they like, but this is really important to me, I am driven to do this. So make art – not war”.
Sandi held her own solo art exhibition at the age of 40. After spending time in Darwin and central Queensland visiting crocodile farms and being impacted by them, she became fascinated with the areas of environment and animals. It was called Sweet, skin, Suite and it was looking at crocodiles and body marking.
Sandi’s latest exhibition at the Logan regional gallery is, Bee-mindful. Focusing on bees, being human, empathy, how we all work together.
“I am always interested how art educates and the bees have been awareness raising. Yes it’s an environmental thing, certainly in terms of no bees, no me. The stingless native bees are so fascinating to me in terms of the intercultural aspects of that as well. Learn more wisdom, empathy. Yes, I am incredibly interested in what it means to be human, and where young people see where they fit into the world in regards to that.”
Sandi campaigns her eARTh e-mag, and how it was born from her realization that there was no platform for creatives to be recognized for their creative work, either working with, or for the environment.
“Social change can be made through art definitely. It can be person to person or it can be greater”.
“I suppose that is why the eARTh e-mag came into being. I was conscious that there were artists all over the world, who were working with, or for the environment and I want to give them air time and that is my way of contributing to the environment. I mean it is pretty hard for creatives, well not all, to get exposure, in the day and age of social media it’s a bit easier. But usually you are not the best advocate of your own work, so, that is where as a global platform we provide somewhere to talk about these artists who are changing the world and are inspiring others to do so. Its awareness and exposure. I see myself as a match maker in the art world. I love matching artists up to other creatives. I was talking to an artist recently and I automatically thought; oh, you need to meet this other person that I mentored years ago. Oh, I love making those things happen. It’s seeing the opportunities and facilitating it. I love that, for me there is such joy in that. Community focussed projects are so important to me”.
At the close of our time together I asked Sandi what she was most proud of and what the word woman means to her.
“I have never been self-congratulatory. I always have this thought that I need to do better. So when there may have been markers in my life, say the dressed to kill exhibition or the solo exhibition. I never thought “oh I did it” it was always ok, on to the next thing. I haven’t had one of those moments. I just have so many more things to do”.
“Woman means invincible, we are here to stay”.
This interview was timed out at 55 minutes, there were no customers left sitting in what was an overflowing court yard, our coffee cups had been collected, and at the time it felt as though we only chatted for 10 minutes. Sandi is colourful and vibrant in her passion for creativity and the art world. This lady is a database of knowledge, depth and understanding. Indigenous art, the environment and animals will forever have a platform to be displayed creatively if Sandra Conte is involved, and it was such a pleasure to be an audience to her story.
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I turned off my phone last night. I had a mixed response from the 8 people that I told. I text Mum, Dad, my sister and my best friend. I told Scott and the boys.
Scott said I won’t last until Sunday
Dad text me back “ok, love”.
My best friend sent a text within 2.5 seconds of me telling her I would not have a phone until Sunday. Why? Ok?
My sister: Why? Is everything ok? Enjoy the peace and quiet.
Scott and T went fishing this morning at 4.00am. One undersized dart was caught in the 3.5 hours, but they had a great time together.
J asked for the day off school as it was cross country, he was complaining about it and that he hates to run. When I told him that he could have the day off, only if he went fishing at 4.00am and then went to the art gallery with me at 10.00am, he had his school uniform on in record time. His brother, however, jumped at the chance to have the day off. My first thought was shit – I have to find the email address to let the school know. Our school seems to have gone digital – if that’s a thing. We now need to email when our kid has a day off, it’s annoying. Why can I just ring the office! (Which I suppose worked in my favour today as I don’t have a phone)
T and I went to the art gallery after dropping J at school. We sat for an hour and listened to the artist speak about his contribution to the installation at The Hub at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery. He spoke of the breast plate that he created and the story of his nanna that inspired it. The breast plate was made from lead, it is heavy, toxic to the nervous system and it’s cold. The other element to the piece was old fencing wire to represent his nanna’s living conditions as a young child. (read the post here)
I took my camera with me and asked permission to take some photos, it was awkward walking around with a digital camera instead of my phone. We had errands to run after the gallery and headed to the local shopping centre. I wanted to print some photos for my sister and frame them for her birthday, we were having an afternoon tea for her special day – I hadn’t wished her happy birthday yet, no phone. We got to the shop and I couldn’t print the photo of her gorgeous girls because – no phone, the photo that I wanted was tucked away on my phone in my cupboard. So we had to think so something else for her birthday, while at the shopping centre I had to get my watch battery replaced as I usually use my phone to tell the time, I tried to call my husband to find out what he wanted for dinner and I also tried to check my account balance, again no phone.
We had afternoon tea with my family celebrating my sister’s birthday and I am usually the one snapping pictures but – no phone. My family couldn’t get over how weird it was that I was not using my phone, apparently there was a back and forth texting session the night before when I had told everyone I was going phone free for a couple of days, between my mum and sisters who were concerned about me and why I would want to have no phone. I think they all think I am mad.
( you will notice that this has taken me a couple of days to publish – keep reading my future posts to find out why)
They were in a concentration camp, they were enclosed within the perimeter of a wire fence, they lived in dormitories and their clothes were not suitable for the climate. Their language was taken away from them and if they spoke it they would be punished severely, their culture, their traditions were prohibited from being practiced or spoken of. They were afforded no dignity. They were malnourished not only physically as the food was not sufficient to sustain them, but mentally and emotionally. They were forbidden to use their names and they were assigned an alpha numeric identity. Nanna was W38.
W38 was stamped into a lead breast plate worn around the neck. Elements that created the breast plate were lead, and old fencing wire. Lead is heavy, it is toxic to the nervous system, and cold. Lead in the breast plate represented the deadly way of life forced on these people. Fencing wire represented the boundaries for living as a young child.
We took a seat in the arranged seating and with five other women of varying ages, leaving half of the chairs empty. Emotive art works from Michael Cook lined the walls and Wilma Walker’s baskets were displayed on pedestals, down lighting lit the space and the polished wooden floors added another earth element. Listening to this world renowned artist verbalize the atrocities of his family and country, I had tears tracking down my cheeks. I was ashamed, and embarrassed that within the hour spent with this generous, honest man, I learnt more about Indigenous Australian history than when I was at school or at any time since. I was uncomfortable as a white woman in this setting, that, I had to be educated to the outrageous history of the state that we live in. History that is so new. As Dale said, while World War I and II were raging in Europe and atrocities were changing their culture and history. There were atrocities happening in our own country. In our state of Queensland. He opened up and told us that this history lesson had also skipped a generation in his family. That his mother never knew the extent of her mother’s and his nanna’s tragedy. It wasn’t until Dale started to ask about the story of his nanna that it came to light. Dale worried about asking appropriate questions to his ancestor, he was mindful in seeking her permission to share her story, he is very cultured and educated on the strict protocols for sharing women’s and men’s stories.
As T and I left the gallery after taking a few photos. I was grateful that T had the opportunity to have that experience and to learn some history from such an authentic source and to view the Exhibition: My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Queensland.
I meet up with Marina this morning at her friends store/coffee shop Gallery B on Enoggera Road, Newmarket. We were seated on the decking for a couple of hours at the back of the building, drinking Turkish tea, talking and throwing around ideas, thoughts and details for a little project that we are going to do together. Excited to start the research for the project.
It was an incredibly warm spring day today, not sure what I was thinking this morning when I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans, but by the time that I left Marina and drove the 45 minutes home I pretty much ran into my house and was ripping the denim off as fast as I could. I replaced denim jeans for denim cut offs and a really comfy cotton singlet that I only wear around the house. My brain was exhausted with so many ideas swirling around, so I curled up on my bed and fell into a glorious nanna nap, only to be woken by my phone ringing next to my head. It was my dear husband who was doing school pick-up on his way home from work. The times was 2.55pm and he was calling to tell me that he was still about 35 minutes away and to see what I was doing. In my half sleepy state, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he was only calling 5 minutes before boy 1 had to be picked up, boy 2 was riding so he was fine. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing, even when I am on night duty or have plans, school pickup is always on my mind and making sure that I will be at the school when the boys finish. I wanted to say “what the bloody hell?” “Why didn’t you call me earlier?”, “you know it takes longer than 5 minutes to get to the school!” But pick your battles and all that. So I flew down the stairs and just as I was starting the car boy 2 rode in to the yard. Anyway all was well got boy 1, and when my husband finally got home her brought me marvellous creations chocolate.
End of day 58
The feature photo is of my unfortunate school pick up outfit that I forgot to change out of because I was in a hurry to get to my kid at school and didn’t think of my clothes.
Went for a long walk this afternoon with boy 2, my husband and our dog. Again we were stopped every 5 minutes with people admiring our big dog.