Save Boomalli art co-operative

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Boomalli, one of Australia’s longest running Aboriginal artists’ co-operatives, is threatened with closure. Based in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Leichhardt, Boomalli was set up in 1987 by Aboriginal artists to get their art recognised.

Boomalli means “to strike, to make a mark, to fight back, to light up,” in the languages of the Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri and Bundjalung peoples of New South Wales.

Lynette Riley, an Aboriginal artist and co-operative member has been campaigning to save the space, spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Rachel Evans about the value of Boomalli.

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[When Boomalli was first set up] urban Aboriginal art was not considered art — only traditional dot paintings coming out of the Northern Territory were considered “Aboriginal art”.

So Boomalli was and continues to be about supporting NSW Aboriginal artists, their cultural recognition and helping them make a living.

Bronwyn Bancroft, Tracey Moffatt, Fiona Foley, Jenny Fraser, Michael Riley, Jeffery Samuels, Frances Belle Parker are just a few Aboriginal artists who have benefited from Boomalli.

Boomalli is about giving strength to Aboriginal culture. This is very important because the custom before the successful 1967 referendum in the “protection era” was not to practice culture. There was thinking it was in the best interest of Aboriginal people to be assimilated.

My uncle spoke his own language in class and was told it was a dirty language and he got taken away for just talking his own language.

The lesson learned was: don't talk language in front of white people and don't transmit culture. Aunties didn’t want to lose kids so we were not taught the language. My parents didn't teach me. The eastern communities in Australia were the worst hit.

It’s only been in the past decade that there is confidence that you can transmit culture. Boomalli is so important because it strengthens the foundations of Aboriginal cultural identity.

Aboriginal nations are very diverse. The concept “tribe” is a white social construct and doesn't let people understand cultural and social complexities. Distinct nations have different languages and art; we represent all nations at Boomalli. For us it's about defining our culture and not having anyone else defining it for us.

We are very hopeful that we have saved Boomalli — we will find out for sure in two weeks. Boomalli is still open and we’ve already held two exhibitions this year. We want to evolve as a major artistic and cultural centre for Indigenous people.

Boomalli is run on all volunteer work at the moment — Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people together.

We are negotiating to get Boomalli gallery to be handed back to us — as it still legally belongs to someone else. We are in the process of proving we have capacity to run it with a new board of directors with me as a new chairperson.

We are calling on the community to support us in proving the benefits of having a place like Boomalli so we can keep it. People can become Friends of Boomalli. They can volunteer with us in any capacity they’re able and writing an email supporting us will help us a lot.

[Boomalli is located at 55 -59 Flood St, Leichhardt. Visit www.boomalli.com.au for more details.]

Tags: Australia Indigenous rights Boomalli art co-operative Aboriginal artists Cultural Dissent