Indigenous Artist and Curator from Australia Visits U.Va. for Residency

March 12, 2014

The University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection will host Nici Cumpston, a Barkindji photographer, painter and curator from Adelaide, Australia, for a residency from March 17 through April 11. Sponsored by Australia Council for the Arts, the visit will provide a variety of enriching, interdisciplinary opportunities to meet the artist and learn about her art and curatorial practice.

Cumpston’s artworks are primarily landscapes; she photographs spiritually and culturally significant places with a medium-format film camera, prints them in black-and-white on canvas, and hand-colors them with acrylic, watercolor and pencil.

Her first job as a photographer was for the South Australian Police Department, where she processed and printed crime scene, accident investigation and forensic autopsy film. She continues to use photography as “evidence” in her personal art practice, as the works in her exhibition, “having-been-there,” provide proof of Aboriginal occupation of land prior to European settlement.

“We welcome Nici’s residency and her insights both as a practicing artist and a curator of major exhibitions of Indigenous Australian art,” said Margo Smith, who directs the Kluge-Ruhe Museum.

As associate curator of Australian paintings, sculpture and indigenous art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Cumpston has organized many significant exhibitions, including “Heartland and Desert Country,” which has toured Australia since 2010.

She holds a B.A. in visual arts from the University of South Australia, and her artwork is held in private and public collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Parliament House Collection.

Most recently she was awarded the 2013 Premier’s NAIDOC Award, and in 2012 her work was featured in a major exhibition, “unDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial.”

Public opportunities to engage with Cumpston begin at a reception to celebrate her exhibition and residency on March 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. On March 22 at 10:30 a.m., she will lead a guided tour of her works at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection.

Cumpston will give two public lectures at U.Va. On March 25, she will share how fine art photography can raise awareness of environmental degradation at the weekly Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Seminar Series in Clark Hall. She will speak more broadly about the breadth of her art and curatorial practices over the last 15 years on April 8 in Campbell Hall, room 153.

Cumpston will also lead a “Flash Seminar” at U.Va. about crime scene photography, which will include a look at the artworks of Weegee (1899-1968) and Andrew Savulich (b. 1949) in The Fralin Museum of Art’s collection on March 26.

During her residency, Cumpston plans to explore the area in and around Charlottesville as the groundwork for a new body of photographs, and to conduct some research on works in Kluge-Ruhe’s permanent collection.

She is the second resident artist at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection under its grant from Australia Council for the Arts, which awarded residencies to six Indigenous Australian artists. Her visit is presented in partnership with the Embassy of Australia and U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Art.

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• Public Reception with Resident Artist Nici Cumpston, March 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Kluge-Ruhe Collection.

Refreshments will be served, free and open to the public.

• Gallery Walk and Talk with Resident Artist Nici Cumpston, March 22, 10:30 a.m., Kluge-Ruhe Collection

Cumpston will provide a guided tour of “having-been-there,” an exhibition of her hand-colored landscape photographs; free and open to the public, no reservations required.

• Photography and the Environment: Australian Aboriginal Artist Nici Cumpston Sheds Light on the Murray-Darling Basin River System, March 25, 4 p.m., Clark Hall 108.

Cumpston photographs landscapes that document the natural beauty and the destruction of the Murray-Darling Basin river system, as well as its importance to the Indigenous people of Australia. At the Undergraduate Seminar series, she will present her photographs and discuss how fine art has the power to engage with the sciences and raise awareness about environmental issues.

• Crime Scene Photography Flash Seminar, March 26, 3:30 pm, Fralin Museum of Art Print Study Gallery.

Can crime scene photography act as fine art photography, and vice versa? Cumpston – who has a background in crime scene, accident investigation and forensic autopsy photography – will lead a discussion about the documentary power of the camera using the works of Weegee and Andrew Savulich in the Fralin Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

• Hand-Coloring Photographs: A Workshop with Resident Artist Nici Cumpston,  April 5, 10 a.m.-3 p.m..

Reserve a space by emailing Join Cumpston for a demonstration of her hand-coloring techniques and a chance to experiment with the medium under her guidance in this workshop. Registration is required; space is limited to eight U.Va. students; lunch provided. Participants from any department are encouraged to sign up. Bring four to six prints of your own photographs.

• Artist Talk by Resident Artist Nici Cumpston, April 8, 5:30 pm, Campbell Hall, room 158.

Cumpston will present the breadth of her artwork over the last 15 years, and will discuss her practice as an artist and a curator of Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Free and open to the public; free parking is available in the Culbreth Garage.

• My Land Watercolor Workshop (for grades 2-12), April 12, 1 p.m. (second- through fifth-graders) and 2:30 p.m. (sixth- though 12th-graders), Kluge-Ruhe Collection.

Join educators from the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in a free hand-coloring workshop inspired by Cumpston’s techniques. Participants will engage in a brief tour and discussion of the artist’s work before using watercolors to bring color back into their own landscape photographs. To register, send a photograph of a landscape that is meaningful to you to with your name, grade and school by April 7.

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Robert Hull

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