‘My art is all about telling and illustrating the stories my father told to me. The one thing I will never do is let my forefathers’ words be lost.’
Alick Tipoti is a renowned visual and performance artist, community leader, linguist and regional advocate from Badu in Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait). His elders named him Zugub, meaning Spiritual Ancestor, due to the spiritual encounters he experiences through his art practice.
Tipoti’s contemporary artistic techniques are informed by spiritual patterns revealed to him by his Ancestors. These are left through oral histories, held within language and the environment and through observing cultural artefacts held in collecting institutions.
Kisay Dhangal by Alick Tipoti. Australian National Maritime Museum Collection 00054952. Purchased with funds from the Sid Faithfull and Christine Sadler program supporting contemporary Indigenous maritime heritage in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands
Beau James, co-curator of the exhibition and Manager of Indigenous Programs at the museum said ‘This is the first solo exhibition by a Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Island) artist the museum has delivered. The Indigenous Programs Unit has worked in close consultation with the artist Alick Tipoti to capture the true essence of his works. We want our audience to experience the exhibition as a cultural journey and appreciate the importance of Tipoti’s practice and our First Peoples intrinsic connection to land, sea and sky.’
His works use complex background designs, disguised among ritual objects, and land and sea creatures. Using these representations, Tipoti reclaims the cultural history of his people and asserts their deep links to their marine environment. His approach to creating new work is based on not exploiting cultural information, as certain information remains sacred only to Zenadth Kes people. As a custodian and cultural ambassador, his innate desire to keep his cultural practices alive is at the heart of all his work.
Tipoti states, ‘My art is based on legends of the Torres Strait where I depict my interpretations of the land, sea, sky and the many different living creatures and spirits that exist here. I use my art as an educational tool, teaching people about important cultural events, practices and beliefs from the past.’
‘Most of my work is cultural, based on ancient traditions. However, as a cultural protocol I try not to replicate the ancient masks when I’m doing fibreglassing. I try not to carve ancient or specific information from ancient stories because certain information is not be exposed.'
Tipoti considers himself a carver and not a printer, and he deeply acknowledges the skills of emerging Zenadth Kes printmakers.
Tipoti is highly revered due to his sophistication and ability to spread his concerns and messages through his art, and has been acclaimed both nationally and internationally. His passion for ocean conservation and environmental issues has seen his works shown throughout the world.
In April 2016, Tipoti was a featured artist in Taba Naba – Australia, Oceania, Arts by Peoples of the Sea, hosted at the Oceanographic Museum, Monaco. Through this exhibition, HSH Prince Albert II and Tipoti developed a strong relationship driven by their mutual concern for the protection of the world’s oceans.
Tipoti invited Prince Albert II to Badu in 2018, where they discussed with Elders the relationship between the Badulgul people and the sea. Prince Albert II heard about the challenges facing remote communities, including rising sea levels, plastic pollution in the ocean and the scourge of ‘ghost nets’.
Kevin Sumption, museum Director and CEO said, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander maritime heritage provides an important insight into the unique story of this continent, and the museum is honoured to champion their cultures and share world-class Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exhibitions and programs with the public. Through their art, First Peoples artists share their culture, their history and their voice with all of us. Alick Tipoti is one of the nation’s finest artists and Mariw Minaral showcases a selection of his award-winning work across a range of mediums. The museum is fortunate to have established a strong collection of his work and with some additional pieces from the artist himself, this exhibition illustrates the broad talents of this exceptional artist.’
The museum acknowledges the support of the Australian National Maritime Museum Foundation for this exhibition, as well as the contribution of its donors, in particular the Sid Faithfull and Christine Sadler program supporting contemporary Indigenous maritime heritage in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands.
Hi res images for publication are available here: High res images & credits
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Main image: Kaygasiw Usul, Alick Tipoti. Australian National Maritime Museum Collection 00054384. Purchased with funds from the Sid Faithfull and Christine Sadler program supporting Contemporary Indigenous Maritime Heritage in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands through The Australian National Maritime Museum Foundation.