Old Shields New Ways will feature artworks by four Indigenous artists from Tropical North Queensland; Michael Boiyool Anning (Dulgu-barra Yidinji), Paul Bong Bindur-Billin (Yidinji), Abe Muriata (Girramay) and Napolean Phillip Oui (Djabugay). Curated by Trish Barnard, the exhibition presents contemporary artefacts and interpretations of the elaborate traditional historical shields that are decorated with important totemic designs. Each artist is associated with Aboriginal cultural groups who inhabited the rainforest region of Tropical North Queensland.
Historical shields and artefacts held in museum collections have powerful agency for transmitting cultural and social knowledge. Contemporary artists have re-engaged with artefacts that were once traded and collected for museums since the 1890s and reimagined the designs through the creation of fine art works while maintaining respect for ancestral precedent.
Abstract designs on shields that represented both animal and plant totems of importance, have been interpreted for innovative paintings and smaller marketable cultural objects evoking a ‘cultural renaissance’. Each artist has discussed the meaning of each design with Elders and gained approval to utilise totemic designs to demonstrate cultural continuity.
Old shield designs are not merely enabling source communities to reconnect with their past and reimagine the future of their artistic practice – artists have great respect for the ‘old people’, their ancestors who created the original designs and the transformation of the original purpose of a cultural design. Those ancestors are still considered to be present in the designs and the reinterpretation for contemporary art is negotiated according to cultural protocols.