INTERVIEW: PETER WAPLES-CROWE
BY OLIVIA POLONI
Peter Waples-Crowe is a queer Ngarigo visual and performance artist who has been a member of the Wyndham Art Gallery family since 2017 when he guest-curated OTHER OTHER with Lennox Diamonds (formerly Pila Darling), an exhibition that focused on representing what they called ‘the marginalised of the marginalised’. The exhibition brought together voices from the queer community who experience otherness from within their own circles.
In the exhibition essay for OTHER OTHER, Lennox states:
In the fight for equality, we must all provide space and support to those most marginalised. Through recognition of the intersectional experience there is hope of dismantling inequality. Leave no one behind.
‘Leave no one behind.’ For me, these four poignant words encapsulate the work of Peter Waples-Crowe as an artist, community healthcare worker and emerging Elder. His daring and expansive art practice that explores dislocation, Indigeneity, popular culture and spirituality is in parallel with his everyday life seen in his resolute dedication as a cultural leader within his community.
Since 2017 Peter’s work has been curated into compelling exhibitions STOLEN/WEALTH 2019, FUTURISM 2020 and TREATY 2020 at Wyndham Art Gallery. On each occasion that Peter graces the gallery with either his curatorial address or as an exhibiting artist, it is within a highly politicised context; using his voice to fight against and expose injustices and represent the unrepresented.
This too is the true curatorial underpinning of Wyndham Art Gallery, to reflect past, present and future communities within the gallery and to always have First Nations people and culture foregrounded at the centre. So, who could be more apt than Peter to feature in the DECADE 2011-2021 publication with an interview?
OLIVIA POLONI: You have shown your work several times at Wyndham Art Gallery, and co-curated an exhibition with Lennox Diamonds (formerly Pila Darling), OTHER OTHER. What is it that draws you back to the gallery time after time?
PETER WAPLES-CROWE: Wyndham Art Gallery has been a very supportive place for my practice and has given me many opportunities to exhibit and to curate in a mainstream gallery. I think the gallery is not too daunting in its scale and it promotes an inclusive way of working between the curators and the exhibiting artists. The gallery has promoted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary art and artists, and it feels comfortable.
OTHER OTHER was an exhibition that gave representation to creative voices that were considered ‘the marginalised of the marginalised’: queer First Nations, those of other cultural and racial backgrounds, members of the trans and gender diverse communities, and people who experience disability from reaches across Melbourne, Australia. Why did Wyndham Art Gallery feel like the right place for this exhibition?
I think the gallery shows and promotes a diverse range of artists. As a member of the Aboriginal community and the LGBTIQ+ community, I don’t always feel safe, seen or heard in art galleries. The same goes for my art. With OTHER OTHER, we really wanted to explore intersectional identities that exist in the LGBTIQ+ community and to celebrate our diversity. The gallery was really supportive of the show and the concepts being represented. I co-curated with a gender diverse artist and we really wanted to push the whole experience of being othered by a heteronormative and ablest world. The show made visible what often remains unseen.
The exploration and representation of identity is a strong theme threaded throughout the last ten years of Wyndham Art Gallery exhibition programming. How do you see Wyndham Art Gallery as a platform to represent identity? Why do you think it’s important that a local gallery prioritises identity as a theme?
It’s always good to see yourself in art exhibitions, and by that I mean art that reflects your identity. I think diverse identities are a theme that local galleries need to explore. The Wyndham community is very diverse and people want to see themselves reflected in the art spaces here. They want to see their stories. They want to be visible in the local culture. It’s good to be valued and represented.
As a First Nations emerging queer Elder, how important do you think spaces like Wyndham Art Gallery are for younger community members? Do you think the gallery is different from other exhibition spaces?
Young people need role models and I’m all for intergenerational conversations. I think Wyndham Art Gallery provides a platform for these conversations through art. I think it’s different from other galleries in that it prioritises First Nations and other marginalised artists and reflects the community in which it sits. It is dynamic and brave in its curatorial choices and often goes where other galleries wouldn’t. It’s not always safe, which makes it exciting. It gives emerging curators and artists opportunities to show and reflect back to the next generation.
STOLEN/WEALTH was such a powerful exhibition exploring colonial history through the displacement of people and resources. What was your experience of being part of this exhibition?
I was very proud to be part of STOLEN/WEALTH as it was truth-telling through art. So much of the conversation around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is about shedding light on the history of so-called Australia; exploring the true impacts of colonisation that have rippled into the present through intergenerational trauma. How can a country reconcile with itself if it only has a one-sided view of history? The truth must be told and white Australia must listen. STOLEN/WEALTH to me was part of this truth.