Page 1

MICHAEL JALARU TORRES | NATIVE PRESENTED BY COOEE ART GALLERY IN CONJUNCTION WITH HEAD ON PHOTO FESTIVAL | 4 - 18 MAY 2019


Cover (front) Image Michael Jalaru Torres | Jija (Sister) [detail] photographic print on museo rag 59 x 84 cm Cover (back) Image Michael Jalaru Torres | Wamba (Man) [detail] photographic print on museo rag 59 x 84 cm Inner Front Cover Image Artist Michael Jalaru Torres Source: Micahel Jalaru Torres


Michael Jalaru Torres | Jarndu (Woman) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm The native woman beauty and culture beyond the lens of flora


Native Renata Brak

Cooee Art Galler y In conjunction with Head On Photo Festival 2019, Cooee Art Gallery presents NATIVE, a personal exploration of the Kimberley region, and response to its history as seen through the eyes of self-taught photographer Michael Jalaru Torres. Capturing the colours and texture of the land surrounding Broome, W.A., NATIVE explores a dark chapter in the history of Australia. “It was not until 1967, that Aboriginal Australians were considered citizens of Australia. The federal constitution written in 1900 explicitly stated that Aboriginals would not be counted in any State or Federal census.

First Nation people of Australia see being ‘native’ as an important connection to the land. We are at one with the land even to this day. But in government policy, and the past and present views of white society, native people are merely a hindrance.” Michael Jalaru Torres Born and raised in Broome, of Djugun, Yawuru, Djabirr Djabirr and Gooniyandi heritage, Torres was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2000, and given six months to live. He defied the prognosis, leading to a career change and commitment as an artist. Serious damage to his nerves meant he couldn’t draw, paint or carve for nearly 12 years. In the interim, he developed his photography practice.


Torres takes a conceptual rather than a photojournalistic approach to his subjects. His practice offers a ‘visual truth’ and allows the viewer (both his subject and his wider audience) to feel pride and strength. “I’m dead set against photographing my people in that poverty porn way. A lot of non-Indigenous photographers come into my region, and other regions, and make a living and name for themselves by capturing people and community life that looks like a third world country. “ In NATIVE, Michael Jalaru Torres adjusts the lens. He creates a polemic around the first peoples of the Kimberley, their ownership of the land and the legislation that has oppressed them. He looks beyond written fact, clearly empathising with his people and their country with a singular voice. He explores the emotional connection NATIVE people share for their land and sea. Torres shows us his homeland in a way that is far beyond what any simple lens can capture. If you pause long enough you can hear the country singing to you. Renata Brak

Michael Jalaru Torres | Man-Gala (Rain Season) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 84 x 119 cm The colour and light of the storm brings life to country


Michael Jalaru Torres | Beautiful Violence | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 84 x 119 cm Watching the world change from day to night creates beautiful violence above

Michael Jalaru Torres | Banu (East) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 84 x 119 cm The cool tones of the eastern storms welcomes change


Michael Jalaru Torres | Gularr (West) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 84 x 119 cm The warm tones of a western storm brings the end of day

Michael Jalaru Torres | Wirralburu (Cooling Season) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 84 x 119 cm A cool change on the landscape brings hope


Michael Jalaru Torres | Nagula (Saltwater) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 84 x 119 cm The healing waters of saltwater country


Michael Jalaru Torres | Minyirr | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 84 x 119 cm The colours of my country, the colours of my Liyan (spirit)


“A lot of the stories I tell seem fictional, but it all happened … we just never had the media in our areas telling our stories.” - Michael Jalaru Torres


Michael Jalaru Torres | Bararrgo (Sadr) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm Sorry time cuts deep within the Liyan (spirit) of a mother


Michael Jalaru Torres | Jija (Sister) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm The strength in the embrace of a sister heals the trauma


Michael Jalaru Torres | Gabarli (Wife, Husband) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm The beauty of connection and embrace of skin the right way

Michael Jalaru Torres | Garrbina (Shield) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm Only together we shield each other from outside harm


Michael Jalaru Torres | Black Velvet | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm The taboo of dark skin has always been in the shadows

Michael Jalaru Torres | Burdij (Burn) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm After the fire a woman’s liyan (spirit) grows stronger


Q&A

with Michael Jalar u Torres

What has been the inspiration for your current series, NATIVE? This series has been locked in my head for a few years. Through my recent exhibitions I have integrated more political messages in my work, while continuing to develop my visual signature. In this series I wanted to illuminate the dark history of Australia and explore the idea of being ‘native’ in an abstract and conceptual way. Past views and policies stripped native people of their culture and humanity – treated as property to be owned by white landowners, with their fates controlled by state Aboriginal ‘protectors’. Although there was no explicit legislation categorising Aboriginal people as flora and fauna, governments at the time treated us as if we were. In a more positive light, elements of this series expose the relationship that native people have to each other as well as our deep connection to country. In this series it was important to me to show not only the negative effects of being native but also the rebirth of our identity as native people. How do you come up with your titles? I predetermine most titles at the conceptualisation of a series. Working with a theme and then sketching my ideas down on paper helps me visualise the story and image. I then work on a short title that lays the seed for the viewer to break down the image and make their own connection with the work. When did you first become interested in photography? I’ve had a taste for photography since I was a child. My father always had a camera handy for family photos. We did a lot of travelling and camping along the west coast of Australia and often captured these moments on camera.

Fast forward to my teen years and I could only afford a point-and-shoot camera. I captured my adventures in Perth while studying at university, meeting new friends and just snapping away recording the mundane aspects of teenage life – I guess it was the Instagram of the 90s. After a career in media and television, I rediscovered my love for photography and felt the need to create and share my own stories. What is your creative process? How do you plan your compositions? Firstly, I look inwards to my own personal experiences and those of my family and friends, while also then reading from historic records (which usually tell a very one-sided view, but it helps to reaffirm the works). I usually have a note pad with me that I sketch in with concepts and ideas as they come into my head. Usually it’s in a café while I’m having a coffee, which has been a good life change for me since moving to Melbourne in mid-2018. Being away from my home town of Broome has forced me to actually work on my concepts and get them down to paper, as shooting opportunities are now limited with me being on the other side of the country. But it has also helped me create and strip back some concepts so they work anywhere I can shoot. Once the concepts have been on paper for a while, I then work on how they connect as a series and start networking and reaching out to countrymen and new people to work on the series. I work with whoever is available, which also helps shape the final look, as I use mostly everyday people and not models, if possible. Once the concept and subjects are sorted, it’s about finding the locations. In Broome I would always shoot on country, which gave my work a certain signature look and feel, and use the natural sunset light as my creative studio. Since being in Melbourne, my locations have shifted to urban spaces. I can be a mobile studio on legs and get around on public transport, which to me is still a novel thing since moving to the city. I use my sketches


as a lighting and composition map – figuring out the shot on paper before shooting helps me be efficient and focused. I tend to cull my work on paper before shooting and once everything is shot, I sit on my laptop to do a mass purge. I then print out thumbnail prints to do a final selection over a coffee in the café where I first started sketching, as a nice complete circle of creativity. I’ve learnt that my sketches have given me the ability to really sort out in my head what can and will work and strip away the elements that don’t help the overall visual story I’m wanting to tell. Is there a spontaneity? I plan everything through my sketches, but of course life doesn’t always go to plan, and photography is not immune to this. I have had to shift focus when elements don’t come together – like locations and weather conditions – and being on the ‘wrong’ side of the country for a certain look has been challenging. The most stressful time is always when people are not available (which can scrap a whole concept) or when a new concept is born when new people want to be involved, which is always a great problem to have. Once I’m shooting, some compositions might work on paper but not through the lens, and also lighting issues will shape the final emotional look of a shot. I’m always flexible and I have a final image in my head but because I’m working with everyday people, I have to be open and warm and less cold and technical. Making my subjects feel comfortable is the first challenge to overcome – if the subject feels connected to the image then it always works out. What do you hope viewers will take away from the exhibition? This show is about planting the seed of an idea and allowing the viewer to find their own connection within the composition. The colour and texture in the works draw the viewer’s eye towards different elements of the image, which the viewer is challenged to piece together

and understand as a representation of being native. Ultimately, I want people to walk away wanting to learn more about Australia’s dark history and the past and present realities of being native in this country. What challenges your creativity? There are many challenges to creating art and photography presents some unique issues. A major challenge is drawing on my own personal history to illustrate my connection to the themes in my work. Being open about my personal experience is confronting but also a necessity, I believe, in this stage of my art. Alongside the challenges there are rewarding moments, like when I can figure out a concept in my head and eventually see it as a tactile print in my hands. What was your favourite work from NATIVE to create? My favourite work is probably Native Woman, which is one of the images in the native flower set.The head swap is an old trick that’s been done countless times before but I wanted to put my own spin on it and connect the native flowers to the view of what being a native person means. I wanted to explore the connection to country and culture but also touch on the past and present political views of this country’s first nations people, including the fact that we were once treated like flora and fauna. In addition to the native flower set, in this series I have continued my embellishment of prints by hand drawing paint designs onto selected works. Working on the paper in this way provides an additional layer of story-telling. In my past series Scar and Scar II I have actually cut into the print to reveal the white paper beneath the image.


Michael Jalaru Torres | Babu (Flower) | 2019 photographic print onilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm

Michael Jalaru Torres | Empowerment | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm

Michael Jalaru Torres | Jalygurr Bibi (Baby Mother) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm

Michael Jalaru Torres | Bibi Jalygurr (Mother Baby) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm


Michael Jalaru Torres | Systemic | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm Systemic problems of yesterday and still present today


Michael Jalaru Torres | Rangga (Proud) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Pride in our men and culture

Michael Jalaru Torres | Miliya | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Awake to evolving our culture


Michael Jalaru Torres | Wamba (Man) | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm Pride amongst black men even treated as part of the flora

Michael Jalaru Torres | Jarriny (Always) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Our culture never died, its was only asleep


Michael Jalaru Torres | Property | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Inside or outside doesn’t matter when you are seen as property

Michael Jalaru Torres | Biligaja (Fighting) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Fighting the system to save young black men through culture


Michael Jalaru Torres | Boyhood | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm What future do black youth have navigating this white world

Michael Jalaru Torres | The Protector | 2019 photographic print on museo rag | 59 x 84 cm Mr Nevile who controlled the natives and took the children away


Native Michael Jalaru Torres Artist Statement

What is being NATIVE and how does a NATIVE person see the world? The landscape talks to us through colours and textures far beyond what the untrained eye can see – through the shift in colours in the sky and water, the contrast from land to sea, and the emotional connection to country. Being NATIVE in the past was a negative experience, with a system that was designed to constantly hold down NATIVE people and take away or not recognise our rights and values. Being NATIVE was viewed as being literally part of the landscape, like livestock that was owned and abused.

Being NATIVE today reflects on the survival and resistance of not only the first peoples of this land but also the longest living culture on the planet. Culture is in a revival stage and the values of looking after country have become mainstream. NATIVE people are at the forefront of protecting land, sea and the native animals that share this land. The systemic injustice of Australia’s past policies and views of being NATIVE has been hidden for generations, however the use of modern storytelling has started to illuminate this history for a wider audience. Hopefully this series, as an abstract slice of what NATIVE means as a word, connection and view point, can shift the audience from ignorance to empathy to make change for the future.


Michael Jalaru Torres | Future Hunter | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm What will be left for our next generation to hunt

Michael Jalaru Torres | Water Warrior | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Who will fight for the future of our water


Michael Jalaru Torres | Wirriya (Happy) | 2019 photographic print on ilford smooth pearl | 59 x 84 cm Even bombarded black kids just want to have fun


Artist Biography Michael Torres is an Indigenous photographer and media professional from Broome, Western Australia. A Djugan and Yawuru man with tribal connections to Jabirr Jabirr and Gooniyandi people, he is inspired by the unique landscapes and people of the Kimberley region, which feature prominently in his work. His photography draws on his own stories and personal history while exploring contemporary social and political issues facing Indigenous people in Australia. Much of his oeuvre involves conceptual and innovative portraiture and abstract landscape photography. Torres promotes positive and individualised representations of Indigenous people through portraits of people taken ‘on country’, He incorporates etching, drawing and other design work into his conceptual photographs, combining traditional and iconic Kimberley imagery within a modern aesthetic. Michael Torres drew and took photographs of the Kimberley landscape and its people from an early age. He went on to work for many years in graphic and web design. Seeking exposure to other artists’ work via the internet and rare gallery visits inspired him to be an artist in his own right. As Being a self-taught artist, he was drawn to photography as a visual medium because of its accessibility and the challenge of capturing stories in single images. His portraits of local people from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions ‘on country’ impart a truth to the images while the reflections of natural light render them with a unique feel. His background in graphic design has seen him experiment regularly with different mediums in expanding his photography into installations and motion work, and in pushing the boundaries of how conceptual photography can be used in virtual reality.


Since focusing on photography, he has developed new techniques, honing an individual and personal style, not just as printed images but as projections with accompanying narration. Integrated into some of the imagery are hand drawn elements particular to the Kimberley region depicted in pearl shell and boab carvings, introduceing traditional elements that localise the artwork and render ancient traditional motifs anew. By ‘bending light’, he captures the motion, colour and texture of the landscape. While expanding his artistic practice during the last five years Michael Torres has participated in exhibitions in Sydney, Perth and regional Western Australia and, during 2018, his work has been a featured in the Head On Photo Festival, and Sydney Contemporary.

Artist Sketches


COOEE ART GALLERY

G | COOEE ART GALLERY PADDINGTON A | 326 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW, Australia P | 02 8057 6789 G | COOEE ART GALLERY BONDI A | 31 Lamrock Avenue, Bondi, NSW, Australia P | 02 9300 9233 E | info@cooeeart.com.au W | www.cooeeart.com.au

Profile for Coo-ee Art

Michael Jalaru Torres |Native  

Cooee Art Gallery in Paddington will be showing photography for the first time as part of the Head On Photo Festival. Cooee Art Gallery is o...

Michael Jalaru Torres |Native  

Cooee Art Gallery in Paddington will be showing photography for the first time as part of the Head On Photo Festival. Cooee Art Gallery is o...

Profile for cooeeart
Advertisement