Willurai Kirkbright 



Ideals of beauty and glamour are both subjective and almost always prescribed by western society. What is beauty and what is comparison when you are from a different place and in some ways even a different time. WILD BERRIES is a solo exhibition by Willurai Kirkbright that runs a black and scarlet thread through the cloth of history. Notions of beauty as a black woman, what is sacred and what it is to carry ancient bloodlines in this new pixilated world. Come climb into the question of what does it mean to own blackness and Koori heritage without being grossly exotified or assimilated into western notions of beauty. What do you see when you look at her? When I look in the mirror I see what she sees and the space in between. How she is forever juxtaposed and referenced by both the past and murky new pop culture concepts of blackness.

This show is an act of resilience and tenderness. It is a dreamy dance in the garden while war drums play. 

 Here the artist looks at herself through both the eyes of the invaders and the eyes of the new world that fashionizes blackness. She then places herself as a central figure, like a reminder of her displacement in this place and the ancestors who came before her. Using photography, film, performance and self-portraiture in the shape of drawings and collage, WILD BERRIES delves into self-image and identity. She is an indigenous woman born in the city, raised half in the bush and the tribal lands of Wiradjuri country, northern NSW. Crossing over spiritual connection, heritage and cute pictures on social media WILD BERRIES has more bite than a crocodile and more sweetness than fresh honey.

Willurai Kirkbright is an artist, curator, facilitator and performer. She is known for making powerful work that addresses matters of injustice and visibility as well as socio political commentary. Her work is always intersectional and is highly regarded in multiple communities. It is often filled with reference points that question, as well as criticise her place in the world as both a contemporary Aboriginal woman and a contemporary artist who happens to be Aboriginal. 

She has taken on five major art residencies, often resulting in an exhibition as well as deeper investigation into subject matter to do with identity, shared histories and ideas of Australianism. They include Grafton Regional Gallery in rural NSW and her most recent one at the CITE International in Paris, France. It was there that she began to create most of the works presented in WILD BERRIES. In Paris she fell deeply in love with Art Nouveau and began using is as a vessel to talk about ideas of savagery, blackness and words like ‘native’. It was after all not until the 70’s that Aboriginal people stopped being classified as native flora or fauna…literally being classed under the Australian constitution as animals. WILD BERRIES asks you how much has changed by asking you to look into your own subconscious understanding of Aboriginal people and in particular Aboriginal women.

In the era of Instagram, fb, photoshop and dating apps, people can edit their online image which is both empowering but a fickle thing for someone like her. The history of Aboriginal women as an exotic but taboo species of woman known as ‘Gins’, has shaped much of the Australian ideology when it comes to notions of beauty and purity in women. There is a deep history of Aboriginal women being sold and used as sex slaves the world over . This was and is still often wrapped up in institutions and industries that are destroying our earth such as farming, fishing and mining. Aboriginal people are connected to nature in a way that is indescribable. The lines that make up a mountain ridge or a river bed. The lines and curves that make up her a face. The body parts that culture tag someone as different…sometimes as “fierce”…often in unwanted sexualized ways. The strength she holds, the vulnerability that it is a risk to be exposed. The cultural knowledge, understanding and ‘experience’ she possesses. How this all affects and interacts with her love life and perceived desirability as a female.

The show also touches on her many years of experience in the racist Australian medical system. A system that is archaic in its understanding of Aboriginal people, culture and needs. How this system treats black bodies in particular female ones. Here in the ink and deep lush water colours Willurai reclaims her own body and creates room for conversation around this complex demoralising experience shared by people of colour. 

Willurai brazenly clashes together notions of ancient culture with contemporary ideas of blackness and self-image; vines that twist and bend and symbols that have been used in religious teachings about what is right and what is wrong, such as the snake and the halo, are present in the work. Her ongoing criticism of the pigeoholing of Aboriginal artists is also there but not as obviously as her past solo exhibitions. In WILD BERRIES we see a more playful side of the artist, both blissfully beautiful to the eye and slightly unsettling. All designed to ask questions, forge thought and resonate deeply with the viewer - no matter their cultural heritage or race politics. The works are multi layered, colourful, highly detailed, surreal and conceptual. The pages are filled with nature, artistry and metaphor. 


Correlating performance work to be announced…keep your ear to the ground and ready yourself to be enraptured by this epic solo exhibition at AIRspace Projects from the 8th-28th of Feb.