Under strict and oppressive Social Darwinist policies that spanned from colonial invasion through to the mid-20th century countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls across all states of Australia were forced into domestic servitude within non-Indigenous households.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were trained as cleaners, cooks, nannies and wet nurses and placed in private homes as part of government ‘protector’ run policies that exploited women’s and children’s labour. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women received no wages or had their wages taken by the state. While some states such as Queensland have gone through decades long court cases regarding Aboriginal people’s stolen wages, South Australia has not had legal contestation of the impacts stemming from this history.
Sovereign Sisters: domestic work traces these important national stories, through the work of Indigenous artists and from Indigenous perspectives, shedding light on the collective narratives that have been widely ignored by non-Indigenous Australia. This work is at the forefront of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s struggle for truth telling and justice. The exhibition draws on the research and practice of Indigenous artists and academics and contributes to understandings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s labour histories, the intergenerational injustices of stolen wages, and the nation’s unfinished business regarding reparation. It features historical and contemporary works, including textiles, painting, sculpture, video and photography, giving voice to diverse personal narratives, revealing the complexity of domestic service as lived experience, and reminding us that our sovereign sisters are remembered and cherished.
Featuring Paola Balla, Destiny Deacon, Julie Dowling, Dale Harding, Natalie Harkin, Leah King-Smith, Tracey Moffatt, Clinton Naina, r e a, Yhonnie Scarce, Ellen Trevorrow and Unbound Collective.
Presented in association with Tarnanthi Festival and APRON-SORROW / SOVEREIGN-TEA curated by Dr Natalie Harkin at Vitalstatistix.