Daisy Hamlot at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

In the heritage-listed Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) celebrates the diverse practices of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The fair comprises both a main body of exhibitions and an array of satellite shows and events, held in adjunct with a program of events including performances in many modes, and workshops.

This year, CIAF celebrates its 10-year anniversary with the theme ‘My Yarn Now,’ which aims to create space for Queensland First Peoples’ lived experiences and histories to be shared with a broad audience. That is, the fair aims to examine the ways that communities relate to themselves and each other through a range of cultural traditions, with an emphasis on linguistic and narrative modes of making. Sitting within the United Nations’ 2019 Year of Indigenous Languages, the emphasis on storytelling feels timely.

A symposium examining the pluralism of Queensland Indigenous Art opens the program on the 10th of July. Elsewhere, the newly-commissioned performance Cultural Heights, in which choirs from across Far North Queensland share their histories in local song and language traditions, looks to be a potential highlight.

Other works at the fair take up storytelling and character-building in non-linguistic modes. Daisy Hamlot’s vibrant, celebratory, and tender paintings – most notably of her dogs – operate in this way. They give us an entry point into Hamlot’s personal life and her social, familial, and artistic communities through imagery that is instantly recognisable, and yet never fails to feel fresh. Perhaps it is the resolute joy of the coloration; perhaps it’s the pairing of serious devotion and light-hearted glee that the canines seem to represent; perhaps it’s simply that people love dogs. However we might explain their unique and powerful affective appeal, Hamlot’s paintings have been widely celebrated for a number of years. Artist Profile spoke to the artist ahead of the fair.

You first came to painting in your seventies. Had you been involved in any other art making practice before then?
No, I had never painted before.

Why did you decide to start painting?
I was sitting around at the art centre and just started to do painting. Before I started doing my dogs, I was painting all sorts of different things – trees, flowers and landscapes. I enjoyed what I was doing and then I started painting my dogs in around 2013 – that was before they became famous.

Where does this interest in dogs as a subject matter come from?
The dog is my totem. The dingo. That’s my totem, that is why I am doing it. I have painted dogs fighting and giving them pups, having their milk, different dogs doing different things.

Can you explain what art means to you?
Art is good to me. I would rather go to the art centre and paint because I lost my husband and it gives me something to do, to go there and be amongst the other ladies. We go three days a week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday is our shopping day, we go into town. Friday is a rest day. I like to be with the other ladies, we are all happy there, we have fun – the other ladies do their painting and I do mine. We are friends. I am happy.

How do you choose your colours – is it intuitive or planned?
They (the art centre) help me plan the colours to use. Melanie (art centre manager) and the other ladies that come and teach us different things; they help us. We make other stuff too, you know, like scarves and materials. We like what we do. I don’t choose the colours normally, sometimes I do –the teachers and managers guide me and ask me to put that colour with that.

What role does the Art Centre play in your practice?
They provide us with the paint and brushes, ideas for colours. Melanie tells me what colours to use in the background for the dogs. We are now painting fabrics – some of which has now been sent to Cairns to be made into garments for the CIAF fashion performance Buwal-Barra and cushion covers.

What inspired this shift into the new medium of textiles?
The teachers, they suggested we do this and showed us how to put the dogs on the material. I did my dog on the fabric. I am happy and just wanted to see how it looked on material. I am waiting to see it.

You are also a musician…
When there is a concert on I get up and have a sing with my sister and the rest of the band. I have always done that. I like what I sing. I taught my sister Dora to play the guitar. I play the guitar – but not very often these days. When I was younger I played a lot. I enjoy both painting and singing equally.

What would you like audiences to feel when viewing your works?
I want them to accept my painting and happy for me and for what I am doing. I want people to like my painting. Make me feel good inside too, you know. It makes me feel really good that they are popular.

Why do you think people like the dogs so much?
Ha, I don’t know, they have probably got dogs as their pet and people like dogs.

EXHIBITION
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
10 – 14 July 2019
Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, QLD

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