Guest blogger: Dylan Mooney, artist.
As an artist with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian South Sea Islander heritage it is important to me to continue to represent and connect too all my cultural identities through my artwork. Through my Australian South Sea Islander heritage I have strong connections to Mailata in the Solomon Islands through my maternal line and to Santo and Ambae through my paternal line.
My interest in art started when I was young. I enjoy working in pencil however it was charcoal I was more formally trained in from an early age. My first portrait was of my great grandparents in 2014. I enjoy doing portraits because it feels like I am reconnecting with my loved ones and makes sure I will never forget those who came before me. My practices include painting, drawing – inspired by our history and culture, it is based mainly around family history, and community stories archival documents. In the exhibition Plantation Voices: Contemporary Conversations with Australian South Sea Islanders, my work titled Stop and Stare, are both works on paper using charcoal and pencil. I chose this medium because I like they way I can keep their emotions and maintain their strong gaze, almost like you are staring into the past, present & the future.
I sourced two images: one of my great great-grandmother Fanny Togo, who was taken from Santo Island of Vanuatu and brought to Tweed Heads and one South Sea Islander man from Mackay. One image is from my family collection, while the other was sourced from the State Library of Queensland collection. What became particularly interesting to me as I gazed at these images were the connections I made as I stared into their eyes.
The reality of these works is to essentially reclaim my history and family from these archives. By drawing a family member and stranger I make a personal connection and reclaim them here in the present, bringing them to the foreground and acknowledging them both as my ancestors. Because these aren’t just photographs of strangers, to me these are our South Sea Islander people and I acknowledge these people in all these photographs, regardless if you knew them or didn’t know them. For me, for us, we are all connected through our South Sea Islander culture, stories, families and history.
I treasure the opportunities to hear my uncle and grandfather talk about my great great grandmother and showing me photos of her. It amazes me to hear stories of this woman who was a 1st generation South Sea Islander and that my grandfather still remembers her. So I pay homage to my Granny Togo and in doing so I hope my family and her stories will never be forgotten.
I still can’t believe that I have my work displayed in a state institution, it means so much to me especially as South Sea Islander artist. Two years ago I would never have thought that I would be in an exhibition such as Plantation Voices. I am the next generation doing this for my family, for my community and for my ancestors. Without them I would not be here today. So I pay my respects to my ancestors and the 1st generation South Sea Islanders.
We are making sure our identities, our culture our voices will remain in this nation for generations to come.
State Library of Queensland’s Plantation Voices exhibition is open until 8 September 2019. Entry is free.