The Torres Strait Island flag was raised at City Hall on Wednesday for the first time in the building’s 92-year history.
The landmark occasion coincides with a new exhibition, coming to Newcastle Art Gallery, showcasing the artistic traditions of Torres Strait Islander culture and the flag will now be flown at City Hall permanently as a mark of respect for the local Torres Strait community.
Four years in the making, the WARWAR: The Art of Torres Strait exhibition was developed by Newcastle Art Gallery in conjunction with renowned artist and curator Brian Robinson.
It will include more than 130 works of art drawn from the gallery’s own collection, as well as newly created works and key loans from local, state and national institutions, artists, and private collections.
Several pieces have never been seen before outside of the Torres Strait including new work from Badhulgaw Kuthinaw Mudh (Badu Art Centre), Ngalmun Lagau Minaral Arts (Moa Arts) and Erub Erwer Meta (Erub Arts).
The exhibition title, Warwar, is a traditional Eastern Island word in the Meriam Mer language, which translates into English as ‘marked with a pattern’.
“WARWAR is a landmark event for Newcastle Art Gallery and the Hunter region, representing the first time a Torres Strait Islander exhibition of this calibre and size has been seen outside of a major city in Australia,” Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
“It provides an important opportunity for City of Newcastle to engage with our large Torres Strait Islander community, some who have never seen these culturally significant works of art before, or seen their culture celebrated in such a significant way.”
Newcastle-based artist Toby Cedar, who won the 2020 CAIF Ports North Sculpture Award, and teaches dance and culture locally, said the exhibition was an important acknowledgement of Torres Strait Island culture.
“It is extremely special to me to be a part of this exhibition as it will be showcasing our rich Torres Strait Islander art and culture,” he said.
“For many people, the exhibition will be the first time they have learnt anything about the Torres Strait Islands and our People, which is very important to me. The way Brian has curated the exhibition in separate stages explains our history and stories very well.”
Curator Brian Robinson added that the exhibition was an important part of the unique Ailan Kustom (Island customs) from which wisdom, strength and creativity are drawn.
“It is through visual art, dance, and song that ancestral stories and legends are maintained and passed on to the younger generation, and it is important that exhibitions such as this are supported to assist in this preservation,” he said.
“For the local Torres Strait Island communities, the exhibition is a way of reconnecting back to the islands; back to family and friends; back to a rich and vibrant history defined by amazing customs imbued with ceremonies and rituals that have endured for thousands of years.”
The exhibition has been timed to coincide with such significant dates as Mabo Day, Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week and the gallery will program bespoke events on each significant date in collaboration with local Torres Strait Island artists and performers,
Also, a Curator and Artist Talk will be held on Saturday 3 July featuring exhibition guest curator Brian Robinson and local artist Toby Cedar in conversation with Newcastle Art Gallery Director Lauretta Morton.
WARWAR: The Art Of Torres Strait is on at Newcastle Art Gallery from Saturday 29 May to Sunday 22 August.