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Landmark Newcastle Art Gallery exhibit receives national recognition

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A Newcastle Art Gallery exhibition that showcased works of art never before seen outside of the Torres Strait has scored big at the National Local Government Awards.

WARWAR: The Art of Torres Strait took out the Promoting Indigenous Recognition category.

The exhibit, on display from May until August, focused on the Torres Strait Islander (TSI) culture and its launch coincided with the raising of the TSI flag at City Hall for the first time in the building’s 92-year history.   

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the national recognition acknowledged the importance of connecting with local communities and raising cultural awareness through art.   

“WARWAR: The Art of Torres Strait was four years in the making,” she explained.

“So, we’re thrilled that the most significant First Nations exhibition project in Newcastle Art Gallery’s history has been rewarded.

“To further strengthen our city’s ties to the local TSI community, we raised the TSI flag at City Hall for the first time in a special ceremony the week before the exhibit opened.

“And, it now remains there permanently.

“Visitors from across Australia came to Newcastle specially to see this important exhibition for our city.” 

Newcastle Art Gallery Director Lauretta Morton was also delighted.

“Having recently won the Museums and Galleries NSW IMAGINE Award judged by industry peers, we are beyond thrilled and so grateful to have now been recognised nationally for this incredible project,” she stated.

“With more than 130 works of art, many from major Australian institutions and the Torres Strait Islands that have never been publicly displayed before, it provided an incredible opportunity for our TSI community and visitors.”

The award-winning WARWAR: The Art of Torres Strait was developed in collaboration with highly-awarded Torres Strait Islander artist and curator Brian Robinson, artist and traditional performer Toby Cedar and timed to coincide with significant dates such as Mabo Day, Reconciliation Day, Coming of the Light and NAIDOC Week.   

The exhibit, which was presented in in English, Kala Lagaw Ya (Western TSI) and Meriam Mir (Eastern TSI) languages, showcased the evolution and strength of Torres Strait Islander tradition and society through arts practitioners from the 19th century and the emergence of the contemporary art traditions of today, and explored issues of cultural maintenance, Christianity, language and the impact of globalisation on the physical environment of the Torres Strait Islands.  

A partnership with the local TSI community and the University of Newcastle gave visitors the chance to immerse themselves in an innovative Augmented Reality experience and education space design that shared important cultural traditions such as language and Torres Strait Island connection to land, sea and sky.

The exhibition title, WARWAR, is a traditional Eastern Island word in the Meriam Mer language, which translates into English as “marked with a pattern”.   

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