always… elements… | Commission Series, Exhibition, and Tour
always…elements… will bring together significant commissions from artists connected to NSW Aboriginal Culture Heritage & Arts Association (ACHAA) member Aboriginal Cultural Centres, along with select collection items, to convey the rich diversity of creative practice represented within this comprehensive network. The resulting exhibition, curated by Donna Biles Fernando will be presented nationally by M&G NSW. ACHAA General Manager Steve Miller will guide this First Nations-led project, which coincides with ACHAA becoming an independent Peak Body. The ACHAA Aboriginal Cultural Centres are places of creativity, cultural expression and intergenerational knowledge keeping and transfer, as well as being community hubs in times of crisis, conversation and celebration. always…elements… will reflect the cultural and community leadership of these centres through artworks and ideas that express a multifaceted sense of endurance and place. Shell works from Eden, woven raffia works made by Wiradjuri creatives, sculptures from Trangie, and jewellery pieces by Walgett Elders have already been identified as important cultural practices to support via the integral commission series element of the exhibition.
As expressed by Donna Biles Fernando, the exhibition will reflect the strength and consistency of the exhibition theme always…elements…. “Always” represents at all times in the past, forever into the future and throughout all time and “elements” refers to a being’s natural or preferred environment, and is regarded as the fundamental constituents of the world in philosophy.
‘The work of ACHAA members, their artists and communities represent a microcosm of the exertions undertaken by Aboriginal people in the sector nationally. On the forefront of community obligations, national and international arts/heritage experience expectations it is a fine line between exaltation and exhaustion...Driven by passion for our Aboriginal identity 'always…elements…' pays homage to our people and places striving daily to sustain our culture, heritage and arts.’— Donna Biles Fernando
STEVE MILLER | ACHAA General Manager and M&G NSW Aboriginal Sector Manager
Steve is a Wiradjuri man born in Sydney and raised on homelands in central NSW. With a background in communications, he has worked in media, marketing, education and cultural programming. He currently consults to Museums & Galleries of NSW on Aboriginal Programs, providing support and programming to the NSW Aboriginal Culture Heritage & Arts Association. Among other achievements he has been Education Manager at the Powerhouse Museum, Curatorial coordinator for Our place: Indigenous Australia Now, Australia’s gift to Athens on the return of the Olympics in 2004 and the author of three publications on Aboriginal culture including Sharing a Wailwan story.
DONNA BILES FERNANDO | Curator
Donna is a First Nations woman of the Muruwari and Ngemba people, from Brewarrina far west, New South Wales. She has over 20 years of experience working with galleries, museums, and the Arts Sector on First Nations exhibitions and programs. On top of her considerable curatorial work, Donna also has a strong background in governance, advocacy, and cultural consultation:
- Consultant Project Lead – NSW Aboriginal Culture Heritage and Arts Association Inc (ACHAA)
Consulting with ACHAA member centre’s to undertake a Collections audit and digitisation, as well as digital training in engagement with the ACHAA website.
- First Nations Art Consultant – Museums & Galleries Queensland
Lead the integration of the First Peoples: A Roadmap for Enhancing Indigenous Engagement in Museums and Galleries into the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries 2.0.
- Arts and Culture Consultant Arts – Australian Design Centre
Development of The Strategic Framework: First Nations Engagement 2023–2027 with Debbie Abraham, in consultation with Australian Design Centre (management and team), First Peoples creatives and ADC project partners.
- Senior Consultant – Lake Macquarie City
Indigenous Consultation, Governance and Programming Framework that established the dedicated yapang program and accompanying yapang Framework informing ongoing consultative and governance processes within the Museum of Art and Culture yapang, Lake Macquarie.
- Senior Policy Officer – Australian Government Department of Human Services
- National Indigenous Protocols Case Study creator – National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA)
Looking to the Aboriginal Reference Group as a best practice model for building long term sustainable relationships, producing significant programs and projects.
- Management Executive – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC)
- Academic Research Assistant – Aboriginal Research & Resource Centre – University of New South Wales (UNSW)
Academic Research for the UNSW Aboriginal Curriculum, Lecture Staff and Project delivery for the ARRC which is now Nura Gili, under the Directorship of Vale Paul Behrendt.
Previous Curatorial Work
INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE, Newcastle Art Gallery, 2021
The exhibition INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE is a response by Guest Curator Donna Biles-Fernando to the KILGOUR PRIZE 2021, featuring portraits from Newcastle Art Gallery’s collection that examine artistic modus operandi.
miyarnuwimanha: NICOLE MONKS, The Lock-Up, 2020
miyarnuwimanha translates to ‘learning, becoming knowledgeable’ a concept that is explored by Yamaji Wajarri, Dutch and English artist Nicole Monks. In this exhibition, Monks explores the innate and unconscious interconnectedness to Country, community and culture. miyarnuwimanha considers notions of knowledge transfer, resilience of the stolen generation and the complexities of living off Country on other mob’s unceded land. This exhibition was developed collaboratively with First Nations artists locally and across Australia, with Donna Biles Fernando as the Curatorial and Cultural Advisor.
we. wiyelliko, Museum of Art and Culture yapang, Lake Macquarie, 2019-2020
we. wiyelliko explores the intimate personal response of Aboriginal artists to their natural and/or preferred environments. Representing a covenant between Aboriginal people and Country, the exhibition showcases the artists’ distinct and exquisite retort to their own elemental wiyelliko. The works signify the relationship between ancestral Dreaming and human memory, including the resonance of the elements themselves.
Lore & Order, Museum of Art and Culture, Lake Macquarie, 2015-2016
Lore & Order explores the intricate and abstruse history between Aboriginal people, Christian missionaries and colonial lawmakers. The exhibition’s genesis came from the Aboriginal Reference Group (ARG) wishing to explore the history of a local and unique partnership. The Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld and Aboriginal leader Birabahn met at a time of critical importance to the survival of Aboriginal people; the early phase of colonial Lake Macquarie. Facing ongoing atrocities on men, women and children, their collaboration brought a measure of safeguard and validity to the local Awabakal people. During 15 years of connection, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery and the ARG have examined many narratives of white contact in Lake Macquarie and the effects on Aboriginal people.
M&G NSW First Nations-Led Tour Symposiums, since 2019
M&G NSW has toured multiple exhibitions representing First Nations cultural expression, curatorial vision and artistic practice. With always…elements, M&G NSW will continue to equip the regional and public institutions hosting First Nations art and knowledge with an understanding of best practice protocols and consultation to ensure the ideas within the exhibition, as well as the implications of presenting the work on local Country, are considered and integrated by each venue. We are now in the process of preparing for an online education symposium that will bring together 10 venues across 3 states to support the Dennis Golding | POWER – The Future is Here tour, scheduled for late October 2023, and have worked with Artists in the Black/Arts Law to produce an ICIP guide for touring exhibitions in the lead up to this event.
The national tour of Void, curated by Wiradjuri educator Emily McDaniel, began M&G NSW’s investment and commitment to hosting symposiums surrounding education, consultation and participation connected to the touring of First Nations work. M&G NSW, UTS Gallery and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery brought together educators from Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Geraldton, Bendigo, Newcastle, Murwillumbah and Mackay for the Void Education Symposium in Bathurst. The symposium included a Welcome to Country from Wiradyuri Elders, a tour of the exhibition led by curator Emily McDaniel, an in-depth look at the learning resources developed to support the tour, and a reflective yarning circle. These activities focused on developing and promoting appropriate talking points, activities and curriculum connections around the themes of Void and the considerations of presenting artworks from one Country on another Country.
It was also a rare opportunity to meet the curator and professional staff involved in touring exhibitions of this calibre. The whole event was so well-planned and enjoyable. Thanks so much.— Void Education Symposium attendee
From the learnings of this symposium and the support of M&G NSW, engagement and outreach programming for Void (2019-2021) included smoking ceremonies, yarning circles, weaving workshops, local First National installers at each venue, and artist and curator talks.
Photographs by Vanessa Low, Museums & Galleries of NSW.
In June 2023 at the National Art School, M&G NSW and NAS Gallery hosted education, programming, and curatorial staff, as well as First Nations gallery collaborators and local Elders connected to John Curtin Gallery WA, Gosford Regional Gallery NSW, Artspace Mackay QLD, and USC Gallery QLD for an Education Symposium. The symposium included yarning circles, education content from FLENK Collective, a ‘Scrub Club’ cleaning oyster shells for a Megan Cope work, and the painting of a Tony Albert mural as a part of OCCURRENT AFFAIR.