First Nations Stories

by Brook Andrew

In the year 2021, public debate and visibility around Indigenous rights and sovereignty continues to grow in Australia. In January, thousands of people marched to “Change the Date” and “Abolish Australia Day” in cities across Australia. More and more people are coming around to the fact that January 26 is not a day to celebrate; it is the date in 1788 when the British claimed the Aboriginal nations of Australia without treaty with the First Peoples, disregarding the oldest living culture in the world.


For many decades now, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists have been making photographs that raise awareness about this history of dispossession and of survival, including those exhibiting work in PHOTO 2021: Michael Cook, James Tylor, Hayley Millar-Baker, Peta Clancy, Maree Clarke, Alan Stewart, Damien Shen, the Warlpiri artists working with Patrick Waterhouse, Destiny Deacon, Robert Fielding, Paola Balla, Deanne Gilson, Tashara Roberts and Pierra Van Sparkes.


These artists reveal the power of representation and refute the dominant narrative of discovery that for too long has been celebrated in so called Australia. They have shared experiences of racism and institutionalisation, but also moments of resistance and ancestral connection to light a pathway for a more just future, just as senior photographer Mervyn Bishop did with his 1975 iconic photograph of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner, who fought for land rights and won.


Artists continue this service where education systems and Australian governments have done little to tell the truths about the Frontier Wars and the colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and lands. This year, films such as The Furnace and Higher Ground alongside the photographs by First Nations artists in PHOTO 2021 are important vehicles for truth telling in Australia.



—Brook Andrew, artist and scholar, Associate Professor Fine Art, Monash University and Enterprise Professor Interdisciplinary Practice, University of Melbourne.

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Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March