Denise Thwaites has an incredibly diverse and varied professional background and New Beginnings is really excited to have her curate the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week Art Exhibition.
Denise shares her experiences, background, and her vision for the exhibition:
I come from a philosophy and aesthetics background. I began my work in contemporary art about eight years ago, because I wanted to learn more about what was happening right now, creatively speaking. With theory there is usually a delay – you think and write about things after they have happened. Working with contemporary artists means you are more involved with culture and art as it is happening.
My dad is Australian of English and Scottish background and my mum is Uyghur, from Central Asia. She was born in northwest China but she grew up in Turkey.
As a child, my mum moved to Turkey as a refugee. She had most of her education there and ended up working for the Turkish government in the 80’s as a diplomat, which led to her meeting my father overseas. I guess I feel a personal connection to the refugee experience thanks to my mum’s own positive and challenging settlement experiences.
Are there artists or curators who inspire you?
There are many! I'm not an artist myself, but have been motivated to work with artists professionally, because of how much they inspire me.
If I had to pick some examples, I'm a huge fan of the artists Louise Bourgeois, Matthew Barney and Destiny Deacon. Bourgeois is a French artist who works across a range of media, but is most well-known for her work in sculpture and installation. As an artist she developed a very distinctive vernacular, using symbolism and materiality to create her own very sensitive visual language. Matthew Barney is another favourite, not only for his epic, monumental video works, but also his delicate drawing and etchings. Closer to home, I adore the work of Australian artist Destiny Deacon. The acerbic wit of her work deals with important social and political issues in Australia, regarding contemporary Aboriginal life and representation.
A curator who really inspires me at the moment is Okwui Enwezor. He is the director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, and was the Artistic Director of the Venice Biennale last year. He comes from a literary background and brings a critical, post-colonial approach to his curatorial projects. He creates spaces that allow historically oppressed narratives and perspectives to emerge, particularly with regard to the representation of people of colour.
What attracted you to the position of curator for new beginnings?
There were two main things that attracted me to the role. Firstly, I love supporting artists and learning about their creative practice. This role is a really wonderful opportunity to do that, as it allows me to get to know a new and fascinating group of artists and familiarise myself with their practice.
Secondly, I'm really interested in processes of cultural exchange. Coming from a mixed cultural background myself, I've always been interested in how we can enrich our lives by understanding different cultural perspectives, and how sharing your uniqueness and what is distinct about our culture is a really wonderful way to come together as a community.
The combination of these two things meant that I was really excited about this opportunity.
How will you be working with the artists?
I’ll be making myself available to artists and help them develop new work or think about how they want to present existing work in the show.
What I'm hoping is that we can bring together an interesting variety of artists who have the autonomy of space to present work they are proud of and passionate about. I am also interested to see what kind of dynamic relationships may emerge between the works in the show.
This year we will not only be exhibiting the work of artists from within the SSI community, but also integrating into the exhibition works by established Sydney-based artists.
We’re hoping for the show to be a reflection of what contemporary culture is – a mix of people from different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.
In terms of finding a guiding curatorial thread for the show, the works will all engage with ideas of singular and plural. The exhibition will explore the tension that comes with being completely singular in our experience and perspective, while also being part of a plural, collective society.
These ideas provide artists with a loose starting point, but are of course flexible enough for each artist to interpret for themselves. We hope to present a variety of perspectives in different formats.
So far, we will be showing works of tapestry, engraving, installation, photography and video, encouraging this diversity of media to create a truly pluralistic show. I’m looking forward to seeing the resonances and commonalities that will arise between the works and hold the exhibition together, albeit in a free and open form.
New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week Art Exhibition will be held between 21–29 June 2017, at 107 Projects, Redfern.