Artist Alana Hunt, a finalist in the 2019 Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award, is based in Kununurra on Miriwoong country in the north-east of WA. She has recently been listed in The Guardian as one of 10 Artists Forging a New Political Future. We caught up to chat about her residency, what she’s been working on and what’s up next for her.
Hi Alana, can you tell us a bit about your career as an artist and how you got started in the industry?
In short I studied Media Arts at Sydney College of the Arts. As soon as I graduated I was very lucky to receive an Australia Council grant to undertake a residency with the Sarai Programme in New Delhi. Co-founded by Raqs Media Collective, Sarai introduced me to a really unique community of practitioners from different fields, artists, architects, linguists, philosophers, graphic novelists, journalists, filmmakers, film theorists, activists, computer programmers, historians and poets. Sarai especially, and New Delhi more broadly, showed me an interdisciplinary way of working I had not yet encountered in Australia. It also showed me, at quite a young age, that the ‘art world’ was global and multifaceted. If the Sydney scene didn’t resonate with me, there were other worlds within reach that did. My time at Sarai, led me to undertake a Masters degree at Jawaharlal Nehru University and I ended up staying on in Delhi for almost three years. What I learned during this period, as much in theoretical courses at university as in my life at this time, has profoundly shaped my practice today.
I moved back to Australia and soon began working with Warmun Art Centre, where I remained for five years. This was another important period of learning, that has likewise shaped, in ways that I was not aware of at the time, what I do today.
In 2015 I became a mother and it was at this point, daunted by the task of mothering, working and art-ing, that I decided to make my art practice my full-time job. I was further motivated by the idea of defying the expectation that an engaged mother can’t also be an engaged artist.
I live in the town of Kununurra on Miriwoong country in the north-east of WA. Because there aren’t many ‘career’ options for me in the region I have had to forge my own. When I decided to commit to my practice full time, I started using Instagram and would compose a newsletter about my practice a few times a year. These have proven to be excellent ways to foster a community around my practice, that is dispersed around the world.
Your current work is inspired by Fremantle Port and its role in colonising the East Kimberley. Can you tell us more about that?
I wouldn’t say that the Fremantle Port has inspired me. I am curious. There was a shipping line between Fremantle and Wyndham, that ran from the late 1800s until 2013. This shipping line played a central role in the colonisation of the north-west of Australia for over 100 years. So much so that I am not sure colonisation in this part of Australia would have been possible without it. I am trying to learn more about this.
Much of my work in the east Kimberley examines the everyday violence of colonisation where I live, both in a historic and contemporary sense, with the understanding that colonisation is not a past event but an ongoing structure. I am interested in turning the lens on white culture, on colonial culture, on my culture, to unsettle the casual sense of certainty that it is underpinned by.
What’s been the best thing about your residency so far?
One fantastic thing has been undertaking this residency with my four-year-old son, working out how to do this, what works and what doesn’t. And how to balance my expectations with his.
The other fantastic thing has been meeting the historian Chris Owen who has written the important book Every Mother’s Son is Guilty, a detailed account of policing in the Kimberley between 1882-1905; and meeting Bu Wilson whose book The Politics of Exclusion about the Australian government’s approach to Indonesian fishing off the coasts of north-west Australia has been another key influence on my work in recent years.
After you finish at FAC, what’s up next?
I am currently finalising the publication of Cups of nun chai, a ten-year body of work that emerged in response to events in Kashmir in 2010. It will be published by the New Delhi-based Yaarbal Books. Yaarbal’s founder Sanjay Kak is a documentary filmmaker and writer with decades of work under his belt, and he will be presenting his 2017 book WITNESS in an exhibition form at the Biennale of Sydney’s NIRIN. We will launch Cups of nun chai together in Melbourne and Sydney in late May and early June when he visits.
I am also looking forward to working with SPACED 04: Rural Utopias, over the next year or two, and the body of work I will be producing here will engage the colonial dreams in the east Kimberley, their fragility, failures, and violence.
Alana’s residency with Fremantle Art Centre was supported in part by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.