Friday, 11 October 2013

Looking Back: Billi Missi July 2011


Today we'd like to share with you a retrospective review of Billi Missi's exhibition which was held in late July 2011 at Cell Art Space.  Written by Jack Wilkie-Jans who is a former co-director and alumni at The National Gallery of Australia, Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship. 


'Thonar Nu - During That Time", an exhibition held at Cell Art Space in 2011 by one of the Far North's most well known Torres Strait Islander artists, the late and great Billy Missi (Pal'n), was Cell Art Spaces contribution to the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF). It was one of the most significant exhibitions for Cell Art Space as Missi remains a highly respected cultural educator and acclaimed artist and that Cell were able to showcase his work during the August period for CIAF and also Cairns Festival remains a great milestone.

'Thonar Nu' was one of Missi's last solo exhibitions he held in the region prior to his tragic and untimely passing in 2013. His presence at the planning meetings prior to the opening was something the Co-Directors at the time will never forget. Even to a very small and impromptu audience he was able to passionately speak about his artwork and his culture- which are synonymous. This particular exhibition wasn't anything new from Billy, meaning all the works were masterpieces. The art world has come to expect nothing less than impressive pieces of work, intricate and skillfully designed lino prints as well as masterful paintings from Missi. His inspiration behind his work is of course his culture, people and history. He reproduces old mythology and legendary stories as well as documenting and creatively translating the landscape and nature of the beautiful Torres Strait through his artwork in much the same fashion as any cultural educator and someone driven by the urgency to maintain cultural knowledge.

One of the main successes of the exhibition was the way it was presented. Prior to Missi's exhibition most Cell artists bar a few, showed paintings. For a view only space the curatorial process for displaying artworks such as Missi's which are of museum quality and usually are displayed in semi-interactive galleries the trick was to bring a 3D element to the display. Missi's exhibition showed some sculptural works but mainly prints, paintings and textiles. Missi's artworks being very detailed and having a linear storytelling quality were perfect for display in a view only space and Missi's works lent themselves to diversity in presentation.
 
Missi was very keen and enthusiastic about his exhibition at Cell and he actively participated in every stage of the planning process. One of Missi's greatest gifts to Cell was that he chose to display his work there. An artist who could have held an exhibition anywhere he chose, that he decided to support a small art space during CIAF epitomized his charm and his willingness to support the art industry as a whole.  By showcasing Billy Missi for a Cairns Indigenous Art Fair satellite event it affirmed Cell Art Space as a venue for artists of all backgrounds and levels in their careers and placed Cell in the league of the larger galleries in the Far North.
 
Click to see larger images
Billi's work installed at Cell Art Space and with Melissa & Rebecca Edwards, co-directors at the opening event..