“When I’m out walking around, I’m listening and I’m feeling the wind, but I’m also looking, looking for evidence of where Aboriginal have camped. And I think that’s what’s important, is to show country from an Aboriginal perspective.” - NICI CUMPSTON
having-been-there was a series of images created by artist Nici Cumpston that documents the evidence of Aboriginal occupation in Australia before European settlement. Cumpston uses tree engravings, ring trees, and remnants of stone tools abound in Barkindji land; these act as subtle signifiers of the ancestors that once lived in and created the country, and of food and water sources that ensured survival. Further, they serve as undeniable proof of Aboriginal people “having been there,” before and amidst the colonial assertion of terra nullius, the idea that Australia was a “land without people.” Additionally, they are records of the Murray-Darling Basin river system’s natural beauty, as well as its gradual destruction from pollution, salination, and re-routing. This exhibition was presented in partnership with Australia Council for the Arts and Maria T. Kluge.
Nici Cumpston was a resident artist in March and April 2014. She lectured to photography courses at UVA and spoke to the weekly Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Seminar Series on the topic of how fine art photography can raise awareness of environmental destruction and degradation. She also led a full-day hand-coloring workshop for UVA students presented a Flash Seminar about crime scene photography, looking at artworks by Weegee (1899-1968) and Andrew Savulich (b. 1949) in the Fralin Museum of Art’s collection. Nici taught two sessions of an Osher Lifelong Leaning Institute (OLLI) class on “Indigenous Photography in Australia” and contributed to various activities at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, such as participating in a local advisory council meeting and consulting with the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph about including Indigenous Australian photographers in their program.
About the Artist
Nici Cumpston is a photographer, painter and curator of Barkindji Aboriginal, Afhan, Irish and English heritage who lives and works in Adelaide. She is one of Australia’s leading Indigenous curators, having directed two iterations of Tarnanthi, Australia’s largest celebration of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art and culture. As an artist, she recently won the Telstra Work on Paper Award at the 31st National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. She holds a BA in Visual Arts from the University of South Australia, and her artwork is held in esteemed private and public collections.