Featuring artworks from 22 West Australian Aboriginal Art Centres, the Revealed exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) included traditional paintings, weavings, wood sculptures, textiles and more.

I attended the opening night with my partner – who had tattooed one of the artists that had travelled to Perth for the exhibition – and found the centre crowded and bustling. A map inside the gallery entrance marked where each of the arts centres featured was located, showing how ridiculously big WA really is.

No unifying theme presented itself to me at first, as I walked through the rooms and took in the images. As I read the background for each artist, I learnt of their lives, and the communities and country they were connected to. Some had discovered their art early in life, many at a later stage, but all were proud to honour their ancestry with their works. It was this that struck me as the common thread of the exhibition – to show where the artists are situated in their physical and cultural surroundings. This was realized in a number of ways, from painting images of native flowers on a Holden Commodore hubcap, to aerial views of water sources and other landscape markers. They also made reference to the changes in remote WA due to the influences of mining.

Billy Chestnut, Jirrinkin and Dungow, 2016, atelier acrylic paint on canvas, 90 x 90cm

Billy Chestnut, Jirrinkin and Dungow, 2016, atelier acrylic paint on canvas, 90 x 90cm. Image courtesy of Mangkaja Arts

Minima Tjukurla by Andrea Giles from Tjarlirli Art in Alice Springs was my favourite piece. This 75.5cm square is made up of many smaller sections of congruent lines and repeated shapes. The paint is thick and vibrant, with black outlines giving each form a strong presence. Some of the shapes remind me of small flower caps of eucalyptus trees before they open to reveal the blossoms, or of a single cell budding and dividing through the view of a microscope. The symbols of the natural landscape reverberate through the bright eyes of this young artist.

Another stand-out was the large scale textile piece Untitled (printed fabric). Melanie Noble is part of Nagula Jarndu, the Aboriginal Women’s Art and Resource Centre in Broome. The repeated block print of a gum nut used muted shades of olive, teal, desert orange and purple. The background is made up of the subtle overlapping of a single coloured gum nut, and the foreground uses two misaligned registrations to give a third dimension to the image. A common object in the Australian natural world, the gum nut here is cherished for the simple beauty of its form.

Greg Barr is a Ballardong Nyoongar man from York, and his three pieces at the exhibition showed the highly expressive nature of his work. Maltesers was layered with sections of blended colours, solid blocks of single colour, and freely repeated curving lines. To me, it conveyed the warmth of the setting sun, with the greens and blues of a body of water and the shapes reflected in its surface. Greg works as part of As We Are, a group of artists with intellectual disabilities and is currently completing a residency at the FAC.

Fremantle Arts Centre was a great venue for the night, with the outside space available for chilled conversations after taking in the art. Families, friends and children enjoyed fire roasted pizza and drinks, and relaxed under the twinkling lights strung up around vacant stalls. These were used at the art market the following day to allow the artists to interact directly with the public and ensure 100% of the profits from sales went to the artists.

Words by Janey Hakanson

Revealed runs 9 April- 29 May at the Fremantle Arts Centre. More information available here.