Inspired by the welcome garlands found in many traditional island cultures, jeweller and curator Belinda Newick shares how she developed the exhibition Island Welcome opening at ADC on 11 April.
ADC: Tell us how the project Island Welcome came about?
The idea for the exhibition arose from a family holiday in Fiji in 2016, where each moment of arrival was acknowledged with a sense of ceremony and the gifting of shell and fresh plant and flower salu salu (Fijian lei). We had travelled to visit Australian friends working there and to experience this near-neighbouring set of islands of the Pacific. Our arrival as tourists was one of generous and joyous welcome. A singing and ukulele greeting before we even reached the passport check point.
I was struck by the open heartedness, the sense of acknowledgement and ceremony to the moment of arrival, for everyone.
What was beautiful in these fresh lei was the making process the preparation by the villagers, the gesture of welcome at arrival the ephemeral nature of tropical flowers and plants and the continuity in the practice of making fresh lei for each new arrival. Returning to Australia, to the often-brusque border security welcome even as an Australian returning from travel, I felt that this concept of welcome in our country required some more thought.
Earlier in 2016 I had enjoyed the Lei in contemporary Pacific cultural practice exhibition in the NGV, the scale of the pieces and materials and concepts of place and identity from many Island nations expressed in garlands.
For Radiant Pavilion Melbourne Contemporary Jewellery and Object Biennial in 2017, I curated the first exhibition inviting seven friends/peers to make a wearable neckpiece interpreting the theme of welcome in response to current Australian immigration and refugee policy. The brief to the artists was to explore contemporary jewellery as a gesture of greeting. Inspired by the welcome garlands found in many traditional island cultures. Island Welcome was shown with contributing jewellers Jane Bowden, Michelle Cangiano, Jess Dare, Nicky Hepburn,Kath Inglis, Vicki Mason, Belinda Newick, Lauren Simeoni.
The exhibition received really positive feedback and support and Craft Victoria Curator Chloë Powell invited Island Welcome to be presented at Craft Victoria in 2018, growing from its first iteration to include artists: Liv Boyle, Manon van Kouswijk, Sim Luttin, Alice Whish, Melinda Young and Maree Clarke.
In April 2019, Island Welcome will be presented at the Australian Design Centre Sydney, with the addition of first nation artist Lucy Simpson and Pennie Jagiello (Melbourne).
ADC: Could you talk about the inspiration behind your work ‘Hope” in Island Welcome?
My piece: Hope Neckpiece
My exhibition practice is often informed by language, by words forming imprints and textures, a message or texture to be read. For my Hope piece I began reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to find the articles most apt for the concept that was bubbling away.
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards another in a spirit of brotherhood
Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution
My next inquiry was looking through many saddening images and videos of refugee camps globally, to find materials and symbols to speak to incarceration.
Researching sources of Razor Wire, I was presented with a language of separation, protection and defense with a right to inflict harm, tear clothing, all in order to keep safe. For every 10 metres of razor wire there are 56 barbs.
The materials I had at hand were stainless steel wire available in 10metre lengths.
I listened to many refugee voices as I resolved my ideas and each repeated this language of caging in and restriction, of transitory space and always mention of metal wire. Cyclical like a garland, I kept returning to the visual of being fenced in, protected from and protected by.
I needed a symbol to soften the hard, sharp sensation of barbs and as I folded metal mesh I decided that the butterfly as a symbol of freedom and transformation with the capacity to unfold and take new form in the world would be appropriate. I imprinted the steel mesh with the text from the two articles and then proceeded to fold fifty-six origami mesh butterflies, suspended on ten metres of wire.
ADC: What do you hope audiences take away from Island Welcome?
Island Welcome seeks to question how we welcome others? And to consider how art/craft/design can positively comment on public policy and affect awareness, understanding and connection to people seeking asylum and arriving in Australia.
Island Welcome aims to facilitate a quiet contemplative experience of adornment as a vehicle for political discourse, empathy and shared humanity.
I hope the audience can experience the sentiments of these garlands, to consider their own experiences of welcome and to connect with the pieces that most resonate for them.
ADC: What’s next for Island Welcome and your work?
Island Welcome tours to the Migration Museum exhibition space during South Australian Living Artist event (SALA) August-September 2019 and the intention is to continue completing the national tour in the ACT for the JMGA Jeweller and Metalsmith Conference at Australian National University November 2020.
As the exhibition continues I will engage first nations artists in each state to contribute and additional jewellers.
For my work, Radiant Pavilion 2019 is in August September this year and I have curated a small group project with two friends and have a series of private commissions in my studio practice.
Belinda Newick is a jeweller, educator and curator.
Floor talk with Island Welcome artist and curator Belinda Newick
Join curator and jeweller Belinda Newick, artists Melinda Young and Alice Whish for an insight into the exhibition Island Welcome.
When: Saturday 13 April 2019
Time: 11.30am -12.30pm
Where: Australian Design Centre
Free event, bookings required
Explore the exhibition Island Welcome on display at Australian Design Centre 11 April - 5 June here.
Image: Belinda Newick, Hope, 2017. Photo: Andrew Barcham.