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Case study: My story: the unbroken spirt of the Kalkadoons

My story: the unbroken spirit of the Kalkadoons is an exhibition by Colleen Sam. Through truth-telling, it represents the untold story of her ancestors across four generations.  

 

What

Colleen’s story begins with the arrival of European Settlers in Kalkadoon Country in the 1860s through to the Frontier wars that followed, to the present day.

Colleen used stories of her family’s history across four generations to create a new series of contemporary paintings and custom-made furniture and produce a film and audio recording to help translate difficult histories to a broad and diverse audience.  

Told publicly for the first time, these stories reveal often-uncomfortable truths of massacres, resistance and frontier battles, with some details that have never been recorded or shared before.

The exhibition held at the Logan Art Gallery helped give justice to Colleen’s family’s experiences and suffering, allowing their voices to be heard while engaging visitors with the accounts in positive and constructive ways. 

A key message from Colleen’s stories and artworks is “to celebrate our culture’s resilience but also to convey our forgiveness, and initiate processes of healing and reconciliation with the wider community”.

Colleen’s artistic practice comes from a desire to share, preserve and protect cultural knowledge and the stories of the Kalkadoon people.  Colleen re-framed her work to reflect this and to represent a new artistic direction for her practice and business - Moonks Indigenous Art on Furniture. 

Through her business, Colleen created paintings that inform designs printed onto custom furniture made by designer Keith Weribone.

Colleen’s family are descendants from Great Grannies Topsy Harry and Annie Sam and hold all of the Traditional Kalkadunga (Kalkadoon) Dreamtime Stories and Historical Stories as well as their Language which is spoken fluently. 

 

 

When and where

October 2020 to July 2021, Logan

 

Key stats

  • Exhibition at the Logan Art Gallery 
  • 1 exhibition catalogue
  • 6 First Nations artists employed
  • 10 exhibition tours
  • 5,193 attendees

 

Arts Queensland investment 

$27,500 from First Nations Commissioning Fund – Round 1, for Moonks Indigenous Art on Furniture to produce My story: the unbroken spirit of the Kalkadoons

The First Nations Commissioning Fund is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural practitioners, organisations, collectives or communities to commission and deliver uniquely Queensland Indigenous stories, arts and cultural experiences, products and celebrations.

 

 

Outcomes

Elevate First Nations arts

  • Recording historically and culturally significant spoken histories: The project enabled Colleen’s family to record their untold stories of the important events in Kalkadoon histories from the 1870s until the present day. The project facilitated the documentation of significant accounts of early resistance and the Frontier wars told by people of the Kalkadoon Nation. It documents the survival and resilience of the Kalkadoon people from living memory narratives.
  • Professional development of practice: The successful delivery of the project supported Colleen’s professional development in several ways. The presentation of the exhibition connected her artworks and designs to wider audiences. Colleen worked with Logan City Council and connected to many different publications and media organisations that profiled the artist and the exhibition, including a radio interview with ABC Brisbane. Through the funding, Colleen worked with a nationally acclaimed First Nations Digital Media company - Double Wire productions, ensuring the production of high-quality film work, adhering to cultural safety protocols. Colleen taught local art teachers an introduction to cultural protocols of Aboriginal Contemporary and Dreamtime stories and symbols. Teachers learnt about issues of cultural appropriation and how to engage students with Aboriginal culture respectfully. 

Share our stories and celebrate our storytellers

  • The project exceeded the targets in quality: 100% of respondents rated the project as good or excellent. Colleen believes that the authenticity of stories and how they were preserved and told connected with people. Colleen was very active in leading the exhibition tours and public programs, enabling people to have a more meaningful connection with the story. 
  • Educational interest: There was great interest from secondary schools with students studying frontier conflicts as part of their school curriculum 

Strenghten Queensland Communities

  • Quality and extensive engagement. The project engaged broad and diverse audiences through in-person and online talks, workshops, and tours, including eight primary schools and two secondary school groups. Due to the sensitive nature of the stories, the tours were specially adapted to different age groups.  The students and teachers remarked on how valuable it was to learn and hear these stories from a First Nations perspective.
  • Exhibition engagement beyond the Logan Art Gallery: Some of Colleen’s extended family and community could not physically visit the exhibition, so instead, Colleen visited them, giving talks about the exhibition, showing them the video work and sending copies of the exhibition catalogue.

 

Feedback 

The digital story was compelling, seeing the emotion was moving. Reading the details of the Kalkadoon series was also moving. Thank you!

Inspiring and totally moved by the art and the story. I’m so glad that there is a voice in the art and I think everyone should see this exhibition and to realise this is modern history and needs to be acknowledged 

I as an Aboriginal woman felt inspired and grateful for Colleen for telling her story as so many stories are lost. It was powerful to hear this story. 

Very well captured. Really inspiring in how your story was told through different art mediums, i.e; video, media, painting, furniture 

Very moving story which I am so glad Colleen was able to tell. It would be great to see this show tour so more people can hear and see Colleen’s family story.

 

 

Learnings and reflections

Colleen said, “A key message from our stories and artworks is to celebrate our culture’s resilience but also to convey our forgiveness, and initiate processes of healing and reconciliation with the wider community.”

“We also think that these stories provide a significant contribution to the area’s history – and feel that there is a need for further stories about this time which are told from Aboriginal perspectives. This will promote a greater understanding and awareness of our culture.

“I wrote the essay for the catalogue and it was the first time our family's story has been transcribed into written form, having previously been passed down as an oral story. This was a decision undertaken by my family to protect our Cultural intellectual property, and also help us to share it with the wider community. This was a large cultural responsibility for me to undertake, and the catalogue has now become a important record of our family's story,” Ms Sam said.

Many of the school students who visited the exhibition came from culturally diverse backgrounds and were able to identify their own experiences with the story of Kalkadoon Country.

 

What next?

Colleen is now working with Logan Art Gallery to develop the exhibition to tour throughout regional Queensland and potentially New South Wales and Victoria.