Amala Groom - Have you seen MY Emily 

An Aboriginal Elder once told Amala Groom that she that would one day end up where she would be most useful to her community.  When her advocacy work on First Nations Peoples rights took her to New York with its galleries and swanky soirees she trusted that the not particularly obvious purpose would be revealed.  An encounter with an ex-Prime Ministers wife at an event did just that. After sharing somewhat polite conversation, the discourse “became in fact rather heated’. To change the discussion the ex Prime Minister’s wife asked Groom what she did for a job, Groom responded with “I make political art” in which the ex Prime Minister’s wife replied, Have you seen my Emily? referring to her Emily Kame Kngwarreye painting in the sitting room.

That conversation stayed with Amala, most recently emerging as a 6 channel digital video installation that recreates the conversation in layering what was actually said, what was being said through behavior and what was really said in investigating the deeper meaning behind the nuances of language. “My art practice is the performance of my cultural sovereignty, so I do not really get a ‘choice’ about the art that I make. Through the practice of culture, I ‘channel’ stories which essentially outline to me the content and form, then I do the research, and in realising the work I either have the skill/s, or develop the skill/s, or collaborate with people who have the skills, to be able to best articulate the story (content),” she says. “An integral aspect in the practice of my culture is about following my feelings over my intellect, irrespective of how this is perceived by others. And when you follow your feelings over your intellect, you get to live on the wind of life. An example of which is me not knowing really why I was, on that last trip going to New York, and then coming back, and now it is just a little bit more than a year later I have produced this commentary on the commodification of Aboriginal art and how some people in positions of wealth and privilege appropriate Aboriginal art as a extension of their own cultural legitimacy.”

“Have you seen MY Emily” is an incredibly ambitious project technically and creatively for Amala, who wrote, directed, produced and performed in the work.  Making work fulfills a sense of social and cultural responsibility she feels to her community and the greater community at large. “My background is in First Nations political and legal advocacy. Since 2010 I have travelled extensively participating in forums such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNPFII, New York) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Issues (EMRIP, Geneva). Despite tirelessly dedicating both my time and skills to active participation in both the international, regional and domestic fora I never really felt like I got to give something tangible back to the community. I guess I just felt like I have had all these opportunities that didn't necessarily translate in benefitting my community back home.”

“It was not until my most recent trip to New York in May of 2016 that the penny actually started to drop for me. On that trip I went to New York without actively participating in the UNPFII whereas previously I had always had a huge workload and had spent months in advance researching and coordinating papers, media, events etc. My feelings told me I had to go on that trip and I knew it was not about me continuing the work I had contributed to the forum previously, and now a year or so later I can say that the reason why after all of these years I have had all those experiences and opportunities (advocating internationally and holding ‘leadership’ positions domestically) was to understand the underlying mechanisations of the Colonial Project, the on-going philosophy of colonialism. Collectively this is at least 10 years ‘on the field’ conducting ‘research and development’ so now I am in a position to actually deconstruct and disseminate the Colonial Project and my weapon is art.”

The exhibition also featured the painting ‘Untitled’ by the subject of the conversation herself, Anmatyerre artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

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