Rafael Gonzalez I The Visual Language of Cheeky Dogs

This reflection by Rafael Gonzalez on Dion Beasley’s  Cheeky Dogs, the most recent exhibition at DADAA Fremantle Gallery, is the first in what will be an occasional series of critical writing by writers with a disability. This is part of DADAA’s strategy to provide opportunities for writers with a disability, and to encourage the engagement of these writers with the artistic community, with a particular focus on the important function of critical arts writing and review.

Rafael Gonzalez is a writer whose passion for the arts, coupled with his interests in pop culture, have influenced his imagination to create stories to captivate and inspire others. Raf predominantly writes speculative fictional narratives, although his work has ranged across a number of genres and conventions. Raf is mentored at DADAA Fremantle by Artsworker Mayma Awaida. Raf is also part of the Centre for Story’s Inclusion Matters Mentoring Program. You can read more about him here.

The moment that I walked into the gallery space at DADAA, I was immediately drawn to the bright orange wall in the centre of the venue. A clear tribute to the red earth that always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land, it is even more noticeable to me that this work centralises the experiences of the artist and his hometown of Tennant Creek.

As you take in the delicate drawings and etchings displayed on this wall, there is a recurrent use of negative space and strong linear style that features in each of Dion’s works. The orange was certainly a focal point of the entire room and included some of Dion’s more experimental pieces which I assume may have been grouped together to highlight his pursuit of different mediums and to hint at some of the significant themes to come later.

It felt as though the gallery asked for me to move around it in a clockwise direction. Starting from the left of the orange rotating wall, I determined that the space was curated not just thematically, but also for the purpose of creating an overarching narrative to Dion’s subjects.

The first set of drawings represent notions of gathering and direction. With visible linear shapes representing the iconic Cheeky Dogs, they appear clustered together like a real pack of wild dogs. As an individual who has lived primarily in big cities along the west coast of Australia, I can only speculate that the way in which they are huddled together, is evocative of the wide open spaces that you find in a rural town like Tennant Creek or its neighbour, Canteen Creek. My reading of this is that, for me, gathering and coming together is something which is synonymous with community. This theme in Dion’s work is particularly significant as it embodies the sense of closeness that living in rural towns can encourage.

The second grouping as we move to the right, encapsulates geographical notions of place and identity. In these works, Dion has captured not just the different types of camp dogs that he may have seen, or possibly imagined, but his deep understanding of being part of a community and its politics. There is a strong sense of characterisation amongst each of the dogs – we can easily observe the nature of the dogs, their behaviours and mannerisms, their formation as a group, and also their individual physiological quirks, which make each dog one-of-a-kind. Dion didn’t make any two cheeky dogs the same. I imagine that Dion is using the dogs as a way to understand his relationship to the town and express his understanding of its politics.

A motif I noticed throughout Dion’s work is the allusion to geographical mapping. While I understand that recognising and connecting with a sense of place plays a big role in Aboriginal storytelling and art, I also suspect that the geographical identification of the dog’s hometowns in Cheeky Dogs responds to the way in which those dogs fit into each of those spaces. Dion details whether the dogs are sitting on the outskirts of their towns, or the particular parts of the towns they are hanging around in, while also paying attention to each of the dog’s sense of purpose in the town and which areas they are monitoring and lurking near. It seems as though this mirrors the way in which we create our own sense of belonging with place and create systems within our communities. As we decide who plays what role in our own social circles, Dion pays attention to each of the dog’s sense of purpose in the towns and creates a sense of agency and ownership amongst them.

As you leave the gallery, the final group of works shift the tone of the exhibition entirely. As you observe the actions of the dogs in these scenes, you see a wild nature to the dogs; a nature which is driven by instinct and hierarchy. You can sense this chaotic element of Dion’s dogs through not only their visual disposition, but also through the faces of his subjects. The dogs are now aggressive, with teeth bared. It is violent, intimidating, and territorial. Dion is speaking to the universal truth that we have seen across cultures time and time again: the fight for dominance and power.

At first impression, I must admit, I didn’t totally know how to respond to these works. However, after a few more visits and a deeper exploration of Dion’s history and context, I have since been able to unpack his work and place it within a wider cultural understanding. He has incorporated a pattern based on his perspective and understanding of the world, including the importance of Aboriginal storytelling. This creates a series of enjoyable pieces that speak strongly to their place and community. His drawings function as his own way of continuing and navigating the traditions of storytelling of those who came before him.

I, of course, come from a completely different background, but found there were still ways for me to connect to Dion’s work. I see Australia as a home, but, as someone who came from a migrant family, I don’t have a deep historical connection to the land in the way in which Dion might. I have some roots, in that Australia is a safe place for me, but I am also detached from them, in that I can feel the struggle between the language and culture from my Salvadorian history. I can empathise with Dion and his deafness and being non-verbal, as it relates strongly to the separation from language, or our cultural mother tongues in a way which I have personally experienced. As an writer, visual arts are a new language for me, and I suspect that Dion and many others use this medium to convey stories without having to juggle words and meanings in their heads. Dion’s artwork is a way to express what he sees around him, and a visual medium which speaks for him.

Rafael Gonzalez

Changes to DADAA’s Board

It was with mixed emotions that last month DADAA said goodbye to our Board Chair Harry Bray. Sadness because we farewelled an extremely capable and dedicated leader, but also optimism as we look forward to what our new Chair Dr Scott Hollier will bring to the role.

Harry Bray was the right Chair of the DADAA Board at the right time. As a property developer and business owner, Harry confidently steered us through the capital works project at the Old Fremantle Boys’ School. And in his very calm and relaxed way, he also provided a reflective and reassuring ear during DADAA’s Change Management process as DADAA bedded down the NDIS across all our sites. However, with the outbreak of COV19 in Wuhan, Harry, had to make the difficult decision between his long-term roles at DADAA, as both Board Chair and Treasurer, and his commitment to his personal business interests in China.

Harry is a huge champion of disability-led practice and governance and joins with the Board and DADAA in welcoming board member Dr Scott Hollier as the new Chair.

Dr Scott Hollier specialises in the field of digital accessibility, with a PhD in Internet Studies, and project management experience across the not-for-profit, corporate and government sectors. He is an internationally-recognised researcher and speaker and his consultancy areas include consumer-based support for service organisations, developer-based support for ICT professionals for web and app-related work and support across different organisational roles to achieve compliance with digital accessibility standards. Scott currently holds an Adjunct Senior Lecturer position at Edith Cowan University as well as teaching at the University of South Australia.

Scott is also legally blind and as such, has both a professional and personal understanding of the importance of accessibility. Indeed, it is likely that anyone reading this who delves into the world of digital access will know of Scott’s work in opening the digital world to people with disability. In addition to his new role as Chair of DADAA, Scott heads up the Centre for Accessibility, a WA not-for-profit which develops free, online resources to promote and respond to digital access. The role of the Centre is to empower the Accessibility movement and encourage the government sector and digital content developers to implement accessibility when designing online resources.

With his long history in digital production and access services, Scott is a huge asset to DADAA’s governance but importantly, a critical resource for DADAA’ s big team of producers and artists in supporting DADAA to excel in access at all levels of our practices and service, particularly in the digital space.

We thank Harry for his tremendous commitment and contribution to DADAA’s governance and teams over the years. We are delighted to still be working him on various public art projects and wish him well during this uncertain time.

David Doyle
DADAA Executive Director

photo: Jessica Wyld Photography

DADAA at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe 2020

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe aims to “engender a greater sense of community, introduce the public to a broad spectrum of sculpture, and support emerging and established national and international artists.” As an initiative, it’s closely aligned to some of the aims and attitudes of DADAA. This year, DADAA was excited to partner once again with Sculpture by the Sea in its Access & Inclusion Program, a program which aims to ensure the exhibition is inclusive, promotes diversity amongst emerging artists and encourages the participation of people with diverse abilities of all ages.

As part of DADAA’s partnership with Sculpture by the Sea, free tactile tours were offered where visitors with disability and their carers were invited to participate and be supported in their role as active audience members. The tours allowed for new ways of experiencing and enjoying contemporary sculpture through informed discussion and touch. Works were selected by both the artists and Sculpture by the Sea as being safe to touch, and located in accessible areas.

This year, DADAA was also proud to promote the work of artist Mandy White whose sculptures are included in Sculpture by the Sea. Mandy is an artist with Yamatji heritage who was born with an intellectual disability and diagnosed with autism later in life. She was recently the recipient of a Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries Aboriginal Arts grant to support her public art practice. Mandy works out of the DADAA Midland Art Studios, where she developed the series of four playful and brightly coloured sculptures, Olly, Miss Pinky, Barking Owl, and Kardy, which were on show. She constructed maquettes in DADAA’s studio inspired by her drawings, then worked with Fusion Customs Panel and Paint in Midvale to fabricate the sculptures in steel based on the maquettes.

Artist Mandy White with maquettes of her sculptures

Artist Mandy White with maquettes of her sculptures

Mandy’s work explores her fascination with the supernatural beings, little creatures that exist in the landscape, passed on to her through the storytelling of her mother and other family members. These stories are often scary, intended to communicate messages about safety – the importance of getting home before dark and respecting all the things that live in the bush. Mandy’s disability has given her a different perspective on these stories, and her interpretation is often more playful than frightening, reflecting her art practice. Mandy’s ‘little people’ are cheeky and naughty, at times scary and at other times mischievous and funny. They reside in the bush, but sometimes venture into suburbia to cause mayhem or maybe teach someone a lesson.

Olly is inspired Kambarang in the Noongar calendar, the second spring and season of birth, and the height of the wildflower season. This sculpture was painted in rainbow colours because she only comes out of hiding when she can blend into the bush. Miss Pinky is Mandy’s kangaroo bush critter. Though they are bush tucker, Mandy doesn’t like eating roo because she loves them; for her they are friendly and cute, and definitely not food! Barking Owl sees everything with his big meeyals(eyes). You can hear him at night and if you’re lucky, you’ll see him too. Kardy, slang for ‘crazy thing’, hides behind trees and then jumps out to scare children.

Mandy explores her interpretation of the stories of her Yamatji culture in these sculptures. For some people, talking about these ‘little people’ is taboo, but for Mandy, it is her way of staying connected to her family and culture. To further tell her stories, Mandy participated in the Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe’s School Education Program, leading workshops, with the support of a DADAA artsworker.

Photograph of Mandy White's sculptures at Sculpture by the Sea

Mandy White’s colourful sculptures at Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sculpture by the Sea has closed early.

Find out more information about Sculpture by the Sea’s Access & Inclusion Program here.

Read about the history of the partnership with DADAA here.

image: Mandy White, Olly, Miss Pinky, Barking Owl, and Kardy, fabricated steel and paint, 2020

Remembering Roch Dziewialtowski – Gintowt

It is with collective sadness that we acknowledge the recent passing of artist Roch Dziewialtowski – Gintowt, a man for whom DADAA was such an important part of his daily purpose. Roch was both a fixture at DADAA and a reminder of our raison d’être: Art For Social Change.

For over 14 years Roch would rise early, catch the train to Fremantle and arrive at DADAA at around 7.30am with much noise and happiness. An incredibly prolific artist, each month Roch produced hundreds of portraits and striped drawings, churning through boxes and boxes of coloured pencils. Roch was also one of the original team of visual artists who, together with Chris Williams, set up DADAA’s Freight studios and gallery on Beach St, nearly 14 years ago.

Roch was one of those members of our community for whom finding a place, purpose and community was hard. In recent weeks, as we have communicated with Roch’s family, we have been reminded of the significance that DADAA played in Roch’s life.  To mark Roch’s passing we hosted three days of morning teas, bringing together Roch’s peers in the studios, DADAA Artsworkers, and our Arts and Client Services teams over a well-sugared cuppa and jam sandwiches (Roch’s lunch of choice).

We are grateful that Roch found his place here in the DADAA studios.

Later in the year, Roch’s work will feature at DADAA Fremantle Gallery in a group exhibition which explores themes of artistic labour and process, and we look forward to seeing you all there with us.

A message from DADAA regarding COVID-19

DADAA is open and our Studios and Workshop programs are running, albeit with some changes. Whilst DADAA is maintaining normal office hours, we are strictly controlling access to our hubs to protect the safety of participants, staff and the community.

DADAA, as a NDIS Provider, is included in the national health response. We have been designated as an Essential Service in order to support people with disability throughout COVID-19. This means that DADAA is obligated to provide continuity of service to our participants. In order to best support our participants, DADAA is focused on providing continuity of support in a safe, flexible and individualised manner. All DADAA sites, Fremantle, Midland and Lancelin remain fully operational so that we can support over 400 people with disability and or mental illness – at a time when mental health, social connection and support are so very crucial.

Our incredible team of Artsworkers, Support Workers, Client Services and Administration teams are on-site daily to support participants in accessing the Arts and all the services that they are used to receiving from DADAA. They have been given the time, space and resources to focus on DADAA’s core client group of 400+ people with disability. Our studios are open and active, though operating differently, in line with public health guidelines:

  • Infectious disease control training and equipment for all staff
  • Physical distancing
  • Hand gel and hand washing lessons for all participants
  • Hospital grade cleaning

The wellbeing of all our staff, participants and broader community is paramount. As a large employer of WA artists, we are working hard to make sure that the highly skilled team of Artsworkers across DADAA’s sites have job security and are able to keep providing participants with access to the arts. We have also introduced flexible working arrangements and have encouraged any staff who are vulnerable or at risk to work from home.

Right now, DADAA is also planning for remote/digital program delivery for those artists with disability who elect to self-isolate during this period. We will send participants more information on how to join a digital workshop very soon.

As we all move through this incredibly challenging period due to the global impact of COVID-19, and grapple with the uncertainty it brings, we have also made other significant changes at DADAA. In response to State and Federal Government restrictions we have cancelled our Tactile Tours, and international and public programs have now ceased. The DADAA Fremantle Gallery is now closed and all public events have been postponed until later into the year.

DADAA continues to strongly advocate for people with disability during this time, and we thank you, and our community, for your ongoing support.

image: Jessica Wyld Photography