Wajgan’s Return, a retrospective of renowned First Nations artist Ron Hurley, will be hosted by Bundaberg Regional Galleries featuring previously unexhibited works.
Ron (1946 – 2002) was a Gooreng Gooreng/Mununjali man and was the first Aboriginal artist to graduate from the Queensland College of Art, Brisbane.
He is widely recognised as the first Queensland artist to intertwine Aboriginal and Western art.
Twenty years after his passing Ron’s works are returning to Country with the Bundaberg Regional Galleries exhibition Wajgan’s Return.
The significant display includes pieces from his family’s collection which have never been publicly exhibited and a number of pieces which will remain on Country after being acquired by Bundaberg Regional Council through the gallery.
Curated by his daughter Angelina Hurley – a recognised curator and writer in her own right – the exhibition features Ron's art that encompasses a variety of mediums that he mastered over the years.
“Dad has previously [had] solo exhibitions in Bundaberg and Gladstone, but this is the first retrospective of his work exhibited on Country,” Angelina said.
“It is important to bring his artwork back to the land of the Gooreng Gooreng people.
“His heritage, culture, totems, stories and Elders were of major influence and represented in his work across the many mediums [he worked] in.”
Wajgan’s Return pays respect to and celebrates the legends, totems and stories of the Gooreng Gooreng people, including ‘Gnyala’ the Owl and his personal totem ‘Wajgan’ the Willy Wag Tail.
“Dad’s inclusion of and focus on totems in his work is a homage to his Aboriginal heritage and culture.
“His work illustrates the important link between people and totems.
“Aboriginal totems are an important part of cultural heritage and their communities. These totems represent the spiritual connection between the people and the land.
“They can take the form of animals or other natural elements.”
She said totems were a significant symbol of identity.
“They are passed down through generations and respected as an important part of culture and history.
“Dad's personal totem is the Willy Wagtail, and his Gooreng Gooreng totem is the Owl.”
The first major retrospective of Ron’s work was the exhibition ‘Nurreegoo' – The Art and Life of Ron Hurley 1946 – 2002, held seven years after his passing at QAGOMA in 2009.
“It has been a while, but we are very proud, excited and honoured to have a retrospective of his work happening on Country,” Angelina said.
“It is also appropriate and timely in the year of the NAIDOC 2023 theme ‘For Our Elders’.”
Angelina said the acquisition of Ron’s work by Bundaberg Regional Galleries, including a piece which depicts his personal totem, made the Wajgan’s Return exhibition all the more significant.
“The family are very honoured to have his work acquired by Bundaberg Regional Galleries.
“Knowing that Dad’s work is being returned to country is essential for so many.
“It is not just about collecting art, it is about cultural maintenance, the recording of Gooreng Goorgeng history, culture and story and as Dad’s stated, as a purpose behind creating his work that it is a memorial and immortalisation of our Elders and ancestry.
“We are happy that his work will be there for the education and access of future generations.”
Curating the exhibition has provided Angelina with an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate her dad’s life.
“I remember conversations with him and what he used to say about his work, and it is something I very much miss since his passing.
“Curating his work and doing exhibitions have given me time to absorb, sit with, study, and reflect on Dad’s work.
“I have been revisiting and reliving those conversations with him through his art.”
Wajgan’s Return will feature artworks from the Hurley Family Collection, as well as works from the collections of Bundaberg Regional Galleries and the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum and will be on display at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery from 1 September to 12 November.
The exhibition will also be a major drawcard of Bundaberg Regional Council’s 2023 Milbi Festival, an annual event which celebrates arts, culture and the environment.
The 10-day festival will launch on October 27 with an arts takeover of the Bundaberg CBD, the cornerstone of which will be ‘The Gathering’ which will incorporate live performance, outdoor art activations and artist talks with Angelina Hurley, Ivy Minniecon, and Gordon Hookey.
Angelina said she was pleased that the exhibition would form part of the annual event.
“That is what Dad’s artwork is about, a celebration of his people, art and culture.
“To be able to share this with the community in Bundaberg and everyone who will be attending is very special.”
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