Marella: The Hidden Mission

11 April – 28 June 2009

Curator: Zona Wilkinson

Marella: The Hidden Mission was a multi-faceted exhibition, education and public events project that examined a particular story in the shameful history of the policies and practice of the removal of generations of Aboriginal children – the Marella Aboriginal Mission Farm (operating in Western Sydney from 1953 to 1978).

The work of fourteen established and emerging Aboriginal contemporary artists from remote, regional and metropolitan areas in New South Wales and Queensland i.e.
– Margie Adams (Moree)
– Badger Bates (Wilcannia)
– Richard Bell (QLD)
– Robert Campbell Jnr (Kempsey)
– Emelda Davis (NSW)
– Lola Forrester (QLD)
– Roy Kennedy (Darlington Point)
– Nyree (Ngari) Reynolds (Wollongong)
– Elaine Russell (Tingha)
– George See (Dubbo)
– Vincent Serico (QLD)
– Jake Soewardie (Redfern).
– Jim Stanley (Moree)
– Harry Wedge (Cowra).

Matched with the work (mostly commissioned) of the above artists were the testimonies, archival records and personal memorabilia of former residents from the Marella Aboriginal Mission Farm. Exhibition theme and content focused on:
– Detailing personal histories of former Marella residents regarding the practice, policies and impacts of removing Aboriginal children
– Depictions of Mission life by Aboriginal artists
– Detailing and critiquing the historic record of Marella.

In Living Memory
The Marella exhibition program also presented the In Living Memory an exhibition of surviving photographs from the records of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, from 1919 to 1966.

Film Project
The Marella project commissioned Aboriginal film maker Emelda Davis to create a mini-documentary, Marella: The Hidden Mission. Screened continuously in the exhibition Davis’ film documented the stories of former Marella residents with the aim of providing ‘human faces’ to the history of the Removed Generations, and to counteract mediated (non-Indigenous) histories of the subject.

Education Program
A comprehensive Primary and Secondary school education program was developed (with particular focus on the Human Society in its Environment and Visual Arts syllabus areas), and included:
– DVD/digital Education Kit
– Enrichment workshops for Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers
– Workshop programs for Indigenous primary and secondary students
– Western Sydney Aboriginal student leader exhibition tour and workshop.

Public Events
Marella public events included:
– Exhibition launch officiated by the Governor of NSW Professor Marie Bashir
– A Community Healing Day and BBQ (attended by Marella residents and members of the broader community)
– Community Morning Teas for Aboriginal community members
– Special screening by Mu Meson Archives of Babakiueria and Sunrise Awakening
– Reel Black film program from the Message Sticks Film Festival and Screen Sound (presented at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith)

Exhibition Publication
A 50 page full colour exhibition catalogue was produced, and featured:
– Essays by co-curators Zona Wilkinson (Indigenous Curator, PRG&TLB) and Anne Loxley (Director, PRG&TLB) and Keith Munro (Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs MCA, Sydney)
– Marella resident statements, testimonies and images
– Artist statements, images and list of works.

The Marella project was developed in direct response to the identified needs of the Aboriginal community. Exhibition development commenced after former Marella residents contacted the Gallery’s Indigenous Curator Zona Wilkinson to assist them in preserving their personal archives, to find their personal records and to facilitate them telling their stories in their own voices.

Working within the framework and lineage of previous PRG&TLB projects which utilised contemporary art and community engagement to tackle difficult and disturbing cultural, social and political issues (e.g. Anita & Beyond (2003), For Matthew & Others. Journey with Schizophrenia (2006) the Marella project aimed to:
– Expose a previously unknown story in history of the Removed Generations
– Give established and emerging Aboriginal artists from regional and metropolitan areas the opportunity to produce, exhibit and publish new and existing work regarding Mission life and history
– Enable Aboriginal people to tell and record personal histories and stories
– Create a significant and accessible contribution to Australian history by recording the first person accounts of the Marella Removed Generations
– Enable Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to publicly acknowledge the Marella Removed Generations’ histories and stories
– Counteract the consequences of cultural and social disconnection by assisting with the healing process of the Marella Removed Generations
– Critically consider the importance of Mission history and experience to contemporary Aboriginal cultural practices and make a significant scholarly contribution to this study.

Marella: The Hidden Mission toured to the following NSW regional galleries
– Moree Plain Gallery (November 2009)
– Cowra Regional Gallery (February 2010).

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