Indigenous stories on show in new FUMA exhibition

The stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who were forced into domestic servitude are the focus of a new Flinders University Museum of Art exhibition that will open next week.

Sovereign sisters: domestic work, curated by Ali Gumillya Baker with Madeline Reece, will open on Monday October 11 and run until 8 April 2022.

Under strict and oppressive Social Darwinist policies that spanned from colonial invasion through to the mid-20th century, countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls across all states of Australia were forced into domestic servitude within non-Indigenous households.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were trained as cleaners, cooks, nannies and wet nurses and placed in private homes as part of government ‘protector’ run policies that exploited women’s and children’s labour. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women received no wages or had their wages taken by the state. While some states such as Queensland have gone through decades long court cases regarding Aboriginal people’s stolen wages, South Australia has not had legal contestation of the impacts stemming from this history.

Sovereign sisters: domestic work traces these important national stories, through the work of Indigenous artists and from Indigenous perspectives, shedding light on the collective narratives that have been widely ignored by non-Indigenous Australia. This work is at the forefront of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ struggle for truth-telling and justice.

The exhibition draws on the research and practice of Indigenous artists and academics and contributes to understandings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s labour histories, the intergenerational injustices of stolen wages, and the nation’s unfinished business regarding reparation.

It features historical and contemporary works, including textiles, painting, sculpture, video and photography, giving voice to diverse personal narratives, revealing the complexity of domestic service as lived experience, and reminding us that our sovereign sisters who served their colonial masters are remembered and cherished.

Presented in association with Tarnanthi Festival and APRON-SORROW / SOVEREIGN-TEA curated by Dr Natalie Harkin at Vitalstatistix.

The exhibition runs from 11 October 2021 – 8 April 2022 (CLOSED 20 December 2021 – 10 January 2022) in FUMA Gallery I, Social Sciences North Building I, Bedford Park.

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