Friday 27 July 2018

Art in Albury: MAMA Knows Best

Something that's impressed me in recent years is the quality of art galleries in Australia's regional towns and cities. As someone remarked a few years ago, they seem to have taken over from churches as the spiritual hub of communities in these secular times.

Last week Narrelle and I visited Albury, a city in New South Wales on the Murray River border with Victoria. I was keen to have a look at the Murray Art Museum Albury, MAMA for short.

It's certainly an attractive building from the front, housed as it is in the former Town Hall building on Dean Street:

The interior, however, is anything but old-school, with a modern extension stretching out behind the original structure:

As for the art, there are several galleries with interesting exhibitions. On the ground floor, the main gallery houses items from MAMA's permanent collection.

One that particularly caught my eye was this untitled piece by Allan and Phil Murray, Indigenous men from the Yorta Yorta people of the region west of Albury. It's a fascinating mix of ancient craft and modern presentation:

More works from an Aboriginal creator were on display in Flyblown, a series of large framed photographs with elemental themes, the title hinting at the effect of colonisation on the original peoples of Australia.

MAMA specialises in photographic art, and one gallery displayed entries in the 2018 National Photography Prize. I was particularly taken by the work of Kieran Butler, a Mauritian-born artist who upends conventions by mashing together photos and other materials to explore identity.

The most intriguing set of photos in this gallery was created by Tully Arnot. His large images, draped and curled around the space, featured high-definition shots of the human body, augmented by artificial intelligence filling in gaps.

The most engaging exhibition at MAMA, for me, was Flagging Opinion, which had a story behind it.

For a mural project in the town of Tallangatta, artist Ashlee Laing had painted a Muslim woman in a niqab (the traditional veil which covers most of the face) bearing the pattern of an Australian flag. The owner of the building which it was painted on had then removed it, igniting an intense debate about identity.

For MAMA, Laing recreated the original piece, and paired it with a Ned Kelly figure in a helmet decorated with an Australian flag.

Speakers dotted around the room played recorded comments from members of the public about the original work. It was bold and provocative art, sparking a conversation about the Aussie identity - and stereotypes of it - that is well worth having.

If you're passing through Albury by car (or my preferred option of train), I recommend MAMA for a dose of thought-provoking art.

MAMA is located at 546 Dean Street, Albury, Australia. Free entry, find opening hours and other details at its website.

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