Press Releases

Book launch: Sovereign Words. Indigenous Art, Curation and Criticism

Published 2018/11/26

Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) is pleased to announce its latest publication Sovereign Words. Indigenous Art, Curation and Criticism (OCA / Valiz, 2018).

• What will the new histories of the arts of Indigenous practitioners look, feel and sound like?

• A first of its kind reader of Indigenous voices that charts perspectives and strategies from the disciplines of art and film, ethics and history, theory and the museological field, from across four continents.

'I am confident that echoes of Sovereign Words. Indigenous Art, Curation and Criticism will assist in strengthening existing collaborations and lead to new and ground-breaking connections where mutual respect and learning will become the norm when exchanging with First Nations ways of life.'
– Brook Andrew, artist and Artistic Director of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, 2020

Artists and cultural practitioners from Indigenous communities around the world are increasingly in the international spotlight. As museums and curators race to consider the planetary reach of their art collections and exhibitions, this publication draws upon the challenges faced today by cultural workers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to engage meaningfully and ethically with the histories, presents and futures of Indigenous cultural practices and world-views. 

Sixteen Indigenous voices convene to consider some of the most burning questions of our time. How will novel methodologies of word/voice-crafting be constituted to empower the Indigenous discourses of the future? Is it sufficient to expand the Modernist art-historical canon through the politics of inclusion? Is this broadening a new form of colonisation, or does it foster the cosmopolitan-ness of thought that Indigenous communities have always inhabited? To whom does the much talked-of ‘Indigenous Turn’ belong? Does it represent a hegemonic project of introspection and revision, in the face of today’s ecocidal, genocidal and existential crises? 

A first of its kind reader of Indigenous voices, Sovereign Words charts perspectives across art and film, ethics and history, theory and the museological field. With the canonical power systems of the international art world increasingly under fire today, the book makes a concerted bid for knowledge building and intellectual alliances that will frame the cultural and artistic processes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous futures.

Edited by: Katya García-Antón
Contributors: Daniel Browning, Kabita Chakma, Megan Cope, Santosh Kumar Das, Hannah Donnelly, Léuli Māzyār Luna’i Eshrāghi, David Garneau, Biung Ismahasan, Kimberley Moulton, Máret Ánne Sara, Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, Irene Snarby, Ánde Somby, Megan Tamati-Quennell, Prashanta Tripura, Sontosh Bikash Tripura. Section introductions written collaboratively by Liv Brissach, Katya García-Antón, Drew Snyder and Nikhil Vettukattil.

Authors in this publication first convened for public presentations under the third iteration of OCA’s Critical Writing Ensembles at the Dhaka Art Summit in February 2018, organized with the support of the Dhaka Art Summit, Samdani Art Foundation, Art Space Sydney and the Australian Council for the Arts.

Please contact Communication Officer Eirin Torgersen to request a press copy of the book. /

Design: Hans Gremmen ________________________________________________________________________________

About the book:

Daniel Browning is an Aboriginal journalist, radio broadcaster, documentary maker, sound artist and writer. Currently, he produces and presents Awaye!, the Indigenous art and culture programme on ABC RN, one of the radio networks of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A visual arts graduate, Daniel Browning is also a widely published freelance arts writer. He is a former guest co-editor of Artlink Indigenous, a specialist issue of the quarterly Australian contemporary arts journal. He is the curator of Blak Box, an architect-designed sound pavilion produced by Urban Theatre Projects, a performing arts company based in western Sydney. He studied English and Art History at the University of Queensland before graduating with a degree in visual arts from the Queensland University of Technology. Daniel Browning is a descendant of the Bundjalung and Kullilli peoples of far northern New South Wales and south-western Queensland.

Kabita Chakma comes from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. Chakma is the largest Indigenous group in Bangladesh. Kabita Chakma belongs to the clan of Raange goza, Bhudo gutthi on her maternal side and Borbo goza, Phoraa daagi on her paternal side. She is a freelance researcher, architect, writer and occasional guest lecturer and teacher at the School of Design, part of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). She is a Coordinator of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Indigenous Jumma Association Australia (CHTIJAA), and a Community Adviser to BODHI (Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight) Australia, a charity organisation. Her interests include the history, culture, art and architecture of disadvantaged communities, particularly Indigenous peoples of the CHT, Bangladesh, as well as environmental sustainability.

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island in Southeast Queensland. Her site-specific sculptural installations, video work and paintings explore the myths and methods of colonisation. Her diverse practice also investigates issues relating to identity, the environment, and mapping practices. Most recently, Cope’s large-scale sculptural installations have been curated into three major national survey exhibitions: The National, Art Gallery of New South Wales (2017); Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia Parkes (2017); and Sovereignty at ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art), Melbourne (2016). Her work has been exhibited widely, in exhibitions at Next Wave Festival Screen Space, Melbourne (2014); Incinerator Gallery, Sydney (2013); My Country: I Still Call Australia Home, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2013); Para Site, Hong Kong (2013); Tony Albert Wellington City Gallery, New Zealand (2010); and the ARC Biennial, Brisbane (2009). In 2014 she was selected for the Victorian Aboriginal Art Award. In 2011 she won the Churchie National Emerging Art Prize, and in 2009 was a finalist for the Clayton Utz Travelling Scholarship and won the Sunshine Coast Art prize. Her work is present in many national public art collections, including: Australian Parliament House, Canberra; Mater Hospital, Brisbane; Gold Coast University Hospital, Gold Coast; Redlands Art Gallery, Redlands; and the NEWflames Anne Gamble Myer Collection, Brisbane.

Santosh Kumar Das is an artist from Ranti village in the Madhubani region of Bihar, India. His work draws inspiration from the traditional folk language of Madhubani, using various iconological figures and symbols, and creating a unique artistic language. He holds a BA of Fine Arts in Painting from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. During the 1980s he conducted a research project on folk songs of Mithila, together with the ethnomusicologist Naomi Owen from the USA, and assisted Dr Raymond Lee Owens on a film about Mithila painters. In 2017 Tara Books published Santosh Kumar Das’ Black: An Artist's Tribute, a memoir of his growth into art and a tribute to the personal muses that transformed him into an artist. Between 2003–2008 he served as the First Director of the Mithila Art Institute in Madhubani. In 2005 he travelled around several universities in the USA where he gave a number of artist talks. His work has been exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally, and is included in the collections of the Oberlin College and Conservatory, Oberlin, and the Ethnic Arts Foundation, Berkeley, among others. He received the Ojas Art Award in 2015 at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Hannah Donnelly is a Wiradjuri woman, writer and artist. Renowned for her ‘cli-fi’, she works with text, sound and installation exploring Indigenous futures and responses to climate trauma. Donnelly is the creator of Sovereign Trax, an online platform promoting First Nations music through energising decolonisation conversations and community in music. She recently held the solo exhibition Long Water at the Yirramboi Festival, Arts House, North Melbourne (2017). Her recent group exhibitions include: The Public Body .03, Artspace, Sydney (2018); The Future Leaks Out, Liveworks, Sydney (2017); Future Eaters, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2017); Feedback Loop, Blak Dot Gallery, Melbourne (2017); and State of the Nation, Counihan Gallery, Melbourne (2016).

Léuli Māzyār Lunaʻi Eshrāghi, whose pronouns are ia/ū, is an artist, curator, and writer from the Sāmoan archipelago, Pārs plateau, Guangdong delta, and other ancestries. Eshrāghi completed a PhD in Curatorial Practice at Monash University in 2018, and is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Initiative for Indigenous Futures at Concordia University beginning in 2019. Ia holds qualifications in Indigenous arts management, francophone Great Ocean literature, Indigenous studies and cultural studies. Ia is a member of the Transits and Returns curatorial collective supporting Indigenous artist development and an exhibition series around the Great Ocean (2018–20) at the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, Artspace Auckland, and Vancouver Art Gallery. Recent residencies include Para Site Hong Kong, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts, University of British Columbia – Okanagan, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and Dhaka Art Summit. Ia makes performances, installations, writing and curatorial projects centred on embodied knowledges, ceremonial-political practices, language renewal and Indigenous futures throughout the Great Ocean and further afield through expanded kinships. Ia exhibits widely and publishes regularly, and serves on the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective | Collectif des commissaires autochtones (Turtle Island/Canada) board.

David Garneau is Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina. He is Métis and his practice includes painting, curation, and critical writing. With Kathleen Ash Milby, he recently co-curated Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound, at the National Museum of the American Indian, New York; Moving Forward, Never Forgetting, with Michelle LaVallee, an exhibition concerning the legacies of Indian Residential Schools, other forms of aggressive assimilation, and (re)conciliation, at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina; and With Secrecy and Despatch with Tess Allas, an international exhibition about the massacres of Indigenous people and memorialisation, for the Campbelltown Art Centre, Sydney. Garneau has recently given keynote talks in Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the United States, and throughout Turtle Island/Canada. He is a co-researcher with Creative Conciliations, a five-year SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) funded curatorial project, and he is working on a public art project for the City of Edmonton, Alberta. His paintings can be found in numerous public and private collections.

Biung Ismahasan is a curator and researcher, currently working on his PhD in Curating at the University of Essex’s Centre for Curatorial Studies. His research involves issues of contemporary Indigenous curatorial practice and aesthetics, focusing on the curation of Taiwanese Indigenous contemporary art. His current research emphasises the issues of participation, performativity and the historiography of Indigenous curation and exhibition design. He received a MA in Cultural Policy, Relations & Diplomacy at Goldsmiths, University of London in November 2014. Belonging to the Bunun Nation of Taiwanese Indigenous groups, he was awarded the PULIMA Art Award (the first national art award dedicated to Indigenous contemporary art), and exhibited at Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Southern Taiwan in 2014. His most notable curatorial projects include Anti-Alcoholism: an Indigenous performative encounter 2014–19, an international performance art exchange of Indigenous artists from Taiwan. He recently curated Dispossessions: Performative Encounter(s) of Taiwanese Indigenous Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths in May 2018.

Kimberley Moulton is a Yorta Yorta woman with a curatorial and writing practice that has engaged with many museums and contemporary art spaces. She is Senior Curator of South Eastern Aboriginal Collections for Museums Victoria at Melbourne Museum, focusing on the intersection of contemporary First Peoples art and cultural material in museums. Prior to this, Moulton was Project Officer and Curator at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum between 2009 and 2015, and an Assistant Curator for First Peoples exhibition at Melbourne Museum in 2013. Alongside her institutional curatorial roles, she has independently curated: where the water moves, where it rests: the art of Djambawa Marawili, Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, Charlottesville (2015); State of The Nation, Counihan Gallery, Brunswick (2016); A Call From The West: The Continuing Legacy of Mr William Cooper, Footscray Community Arts Centre (2016). She was also a co-curator for Artbank Sydney Social Day 2016, RECENTRE: sisters, City Of Melbourne Gallery (2017); and co-curator of Next Matriarch, ACE Open Adelaide and TARNANTHI Festival (2017). In 2018 Moulton curated Mother Tongue for the guest curatorial series 'Octopus' at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. Moulton is an alumna of the National Gallery of Australia’s Wesfarmers Indigenous Arts Leadership Program 2010, British Council ACCELERATE programme (2013), National Gallery of Australia International Curatorial Fellow at Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Collection (2015), and a Victorian Curatorial Representative for the First Nations Exchange Program United States of America 2016 at the Venice Biennale (2017) and First Nations Exchange Canada (2017). She was a co-curator of Mandela: My Life at Melbourne Museum (2018), the story of Nelson Mandela.

Máret Ánne Sara is an artist whose work deals with political and social issues affecting the Indigenous Sámi people and their reindeer-herding communities. Sara has created posters, CD/LP covers, scene visuals and fabric prints for numerous Sámi artists, designers and institutions and has exhibited in the field of visual arts since 2003. Furthermore, she is an editor, journalist and published novelist. Her first book Ilmmiid gaskkas (In Between Worlds, 2013), was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Children’s and Young People’s Literature Prize in 2014. She is one of the founding members of the Dáiddadállu / Artists’ Collective Guovdageaidnu. Her ongoing project Pile o’Sápmi was showcased, amongst others, as part of the documenta 14 exhibition at the Neue Neue Galerie, Kassel 2017.

Venkat Raman Singh Shyam’s practice belongs to the tradition of Pardhan Gond art. Singh Shyam was awarded the Rajya Hasta Shilpa Puraskar by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 2002. In April 2009, he held a solo exhibition at the Indira Gandhi National Museum of Mankind in Bhopal. Having subsequently travelled and exhibited widely in India, Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and the USA, he has been exposed to a wide range of arts practices that have influenced his sensibility. In 2013, his works were exhibited in Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa. Cited as ‘the largest-ever global survey of contemporary Indigenous art’, Sakahàn featured artworks by more than eighty artists from six continents who interrogated the theme of what it means to be Indigenous in the present world. In 2015, he was one of the artists who participated in Kalpa Vriksha: Contemporary Indigenous and Vernacular Art of India at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (ATP8) at the Queensland Art Gallery. In 2016, he was one of the participating writers in Literary Commons!: Writing Australia-India in the Asian century with Dalit, Indigenous and Multilingual Tongues at Monash University, Melbourne (2016), and at the Byron Writers Festival in Byron Bay (2017). Venkat’s graphic autobiography, Finding My Way, was published in April 2015 by Juggernaut Books. He is the 2015 recipient of the Ojas Art Award.

Irene Snarby is a Doctoral Research Fellow in Art History at SARP: The Sámi Art Research Project at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, where she is carrying out research into the works of the artist Iver Jåks. Snarby has worked as a curator within the Art Department of The Sámi Museum – RiddoDuottarMuseat in Kárášjohka (Sápmi/Norway) and has been a member of the Sámi Parliament’s Acquisitions Committee for Contemporary Art. She has written essays, given lectures and been an editor for several publications of Sámi art for over twenty years. She has also been an advisor on important art projects such as the International Indigenous Art exhibition Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, and There is no, at the Northern Norwegian Art Museum.

Ánde Somby is a writer, yoiker (yoik is the Sámi way of singing or chanting, which differs from Euro-American vocal music) and Associate Professor of Law at UiT (Arctic University of Norway) where he specialises in Indigenous rights law. Somby was born in 1958 in Buolbmat in the Deatnu/Tana municipality on the Norwegian side of Sápmi. He is the former Chair of the Centre for Sámi Studies at UiT and former leader of Sámiid Nuoraid Searvi (Sámi Youth Association in Kárášjohka, 1976–78). Somby has performed extensively as a yoiker since 1976, and has occasionally also lectured on the subject. His writings include: ‘How to recruit Samis to higher education and to research, items on an agenda of actions’ (Sin neste som seg selv: Ole D. Mjøs 60 år 8. mars 1999, ed. by Arthur Arntzen, Jens-Ivar Nergård, and Øyvind Norderval, 1999) and ‘The Legal situation of The Nordic Indigenous Peoples’ (paper presented at the 35th Nordic Jurist Assembly, 1999) and ‘Yoik and the Theory of Knowledge’ (Kunnskap og utvikling, ed. Magnus Haavelud, 1995).

Megan Tamati-Quennell is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Māori and Indigenous Art at Te Papa Tongarewa The National Art Gallery and Museum of New Zealand. Her Iwi (Māori tribes) affiliations are Te Ātiawa, Ngati Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu and Kati Mamoe. Her fields of research include: Māori modernism and the works of post-war (1945) Māori artists; the first generation of contemporary Māori artists, Mana Wahine; Māori women artists of the 1970s and 1980s; ’The Māori Internationals’, the artists who developed, with the advent of biculturalism, a postmodern construct particular to Aotearoa/New Zealand and global Indigenous art with a specific focus on Indigenous art in Australia, Turtle Island/Canada and the United States, with which she has had some engagement. Tamati-Quennell has worked as a curator for nearly thirty years and has been at the forefront of many developments related to contemporary Māori art. Her current endeavours include a major commissioned project with leading conceptual artist Michael Parekowhai, an exhibition focusing on Indigenous abstraction, and an exhibition that looks at the practice of appropriation, cultural pastiche and third space, which has the working title Advocacy, Ownership and the Cross-Cultural Imaginary.

Prashanta Tripura is an academic anthropologist turned development professional who most recently (until September 2018) taught part-time at the Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University, Dhaka. Previously he was an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, in which he taught for ten years before switching over to the development sector, where he worked for over a decade. He received his academic training in the US, majoring in Anthropology at Brandeis University, Waltham, and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his MA. He has contributed many articles – in both Bangla and English – that have been published in academic journals as well as magazines and dailies. Two collections of his essays – in Bangla – titled Jatirashtrer Kinaray (On the Margins of the Nation-State) and Bohujatir Bangladesh (Bangladesh of Many Peoples) were published in 2018 and 2015 respectively. He also expresses himself in Kokborok, his first language, which is spoken by the Tripuras, an Indigenous people of Bangladesh and India (he is from the Bangladesh side, where he was born and brought up in the Khagrachari hill district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region).

Sontosh Bikash Tripura is a scholar and researcher, working in the field of Community Development. He studied Anthropology for his BSS Hons and MSS degrees at the Dhaka University. He also received a M.Phil. in Indigenous Studies from UiT (Arctic University of Norway), Tromsø, under the Norad fellowship programme. His M.Phil. thesis is titled Blaming Jhum, Denying Jhumia: Challenges of the shifting cultivators land rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Between August 2009 and February 2017 he worked for UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in Bangladesh. Belonging to the Tripura Indigenous community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, he researches Indigenous peoples’ rights, land rights and development.

OCA Contributors

Liv Brissach is an art history graduate from the University of Oslo (MA) and University College London (BA) and has been Project Officer at OCA since December 2017. She was an independent art writer for Billedkunst and Kunstkritikk amongst other writing platforms. She was project manager for the exhibitions ‘NorskArt’ and ‘Juvenarte’, both initiated by the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad. Her research interests lie at the intersections between art, ecology and technology, and she explored these fields as curator for Kunst-i-Festival in Nord-Trøndelag.

Katya García-Antón has been Director and Chief Curator of OCA since February 2014. She is a Biology graduate, and went on to obtain an MA in 19th and 20th century Art History from The Courtauld Institute of Arts London. She has worked at The Courtauld Institute of Art, Museo Nacional Reina Sofía Madrid, ICA London, IKON Birmingham and as Director of Centre d’Art Contemporain (CAC) Genève. She has curated three national pavilions for the Sao Paolo Biennial (2004) and la Biennale de Venezia (2011, 2015), and co-curated the first edition of the Qalandiya International Biennial (2011). Amongst other projects, at OCA she has developed a long term programme to empower critical writing, Critical Writing Ensembles, as well as launched ‘Thinking at the Edge of the World. Perspectives from the North’. The latter involves research and programming reflecting and connecting with the Arctic region from an ecological and socio-political standpoint, as well as highlighting Sámi, Indigenous and decolonial practices.

Drew Snyder is a curator and art historian and has been Programme Manager at OCA since August 2018. He holds a PhD in modern/contemporary art history, theory, and criticism from the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego under the supervision of Grant Kester and Norman Bryson. His dissertation reconsidered the development of postwar visual culture, public discourse, and the avant-garde in the U.S. in the context of geopolitics and nuclear culture. He has a broad set of research interests across the arts which include questions of historical narrative, political ecology, discourses of life, and new forms of international exchange.

Nikhil Vettukattil is an artist and writer, and has been Project Officer at OCA since February 2018. He has an MA in Contemporary European Philosophy from Kingston University London and the University of Paris VIII, and a BA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. From 2013–16 he participated in the CSM Associate Studio Programme. His artistic practice has been presented internationally, examining the role of representation in framing and interpreting lived experience.