Perth’s largest arts festival is in uncertain waters this week after a surprise lockdown came into effect on Sunday evening, but for one exhibition, the lockdown resonates almost ironically with the show’s themes.

the gathering is an exhibition featuring works by Australian, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australian South Sea Islander First Nations artists, hosted at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and put on in association with Perth Festival.

Creator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington is a Yamatji/Noongar man with Dutch and Scottish family connections.

The exhibition showcases existing and newly commissioned sculpture, video, photography, painting and installation works from artists including:

  • Jasmine Togo-Brisby
  • Dean Cross
  • Sharyn Egan
  • Peggy Griffiths Madij
  • Yabini Kickett
  • Bridget Reweti
  • Damien Shen
  • James Tylor.

Iseger-Pilkington hopes the exhibition creates a place for people to talk about and examine the painful histories of Australia.

“It’s a real cliché kind of thing to say, but museums talk about themselves as being safe places for dangerous ideas,” he said.

He said the the process of getting the exhibition live has taken considerable work.

The exhibition explores First Peoples’ understanding of the process of gathering together, and how identity and understanding of place in the world is formed by connection.

Originally intended to be a response to 2020’s Endeavor 250 program celebrating the 250th anniversary of the landing of Captain Cook, the show was postponed due to COVID-19.

“The events planned for last year by the Federal Government that really celebrated Cook were a really critical point of contact in terms of the exhibition looking back on our history,” Iseger-Pilkington said.

Without that point of contact, the show needed to change. The long period between rescheduling the show gave Iseger-Pilkington an opportunity to rethink it.

Unable to see family in Geraldton, a five hour drive away, Iseger-Pilkington became interested in the theme of gathering.

The intertwining global events of the Coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movements further engaged these themes of connection — George Floyd’s murder at the hands of an American police officer compelled marginalised people around the globe into collective action, while the pandemic made gathering a huge risk for those who wanted to make their voices heard.

“It was just an interesting thing, to watch the world want to be involved in a kind of uprising and allyship for People of Colour and Black people and First Nations people, but there’s also so much risk involved,” Iseger-Pilkington said.

The new opening date was meant to be February 7 but has again been pushed back as Perth’s surprise lockdown has prevented the installation of artworks.

In some ways, lockdown makes the theme of gathering all the more poignant.

“The show is called the gathering,” said Iseger-Pilkington.

“The irony is that in some ways, it’s kind of an interesting time because it does add to this idea of coming together.”

By Sarah Smit