Indigenous artist Jandamarra Cadd occupies unique space

Over the past decade, Jandamarra Cadd has been a finalist in many of the country’s most prestigious art prizes, and Brisbane’s Birrunga Art Gallery is currently hosting the most extensive solo exhibition of the Sunshine Coast-based artist’s work to date.

Feb 10, 2020, updated Feb 10, 2020

Cadd, 46, a descendant of the Yorta Yorta (northeastern Victoria and southern NSW) and Dja Dja Warung (Central Victoria) nations, was a finalist in the 2014 Archibald Prize for his portrait of iconic singer-songwriter Archie Roach, and has since gone on to become a finalist in every major portrait art prize in Australia.

“Our Culture, Our People, Our Way”, which opened to the public last week, traces the progress of Cadd’s painterly journey, from the exquisite 2m x 2m 2012 composition Walking Together and his 2014 portrait of Roach, Proud, to more recent pieces such as Painting Nova, which was submitted for the 2019 Doug Moran Portrait Prize.

“Some of these pieces have been in storage for about five years, so it’s surreal to see them on the walls with some of the other pieces, but also to see the progression,” Cadd told InQueensland.

“I don’t see the finished product, I see the journey and I remember specific moments – where I am, what’s been going on in my life at the time, some sad moments, some happy moments, some moments of just trying to push through to get things done.”

Cadd’s work incorporates a variety of styles, from traditional Aboriginal dot-art techniques to contemporary photorealistic portraiture, resulting in a unifying medium the artist intends to “bridge the storytelling divide between Aboriginal and mainstream Australia”.

“If you look at traditional Indigenous art, it was looking down at the land from a topographical perspective, and I’ve tried to use those dots in that way to show that the landscape is the identity, you cannot separate it,” Cadd said.

“If you take away that landscape of (the subject’s) face, there’s nothing there, because their connection to country is who they are.”

Cadd first crossed paths with Birrunga Wiradjuri (formerly known as Robert Henderson), principal artist and co-director of Birrunga Gallery, when – unbeknown to each other – the pair both entered portraits of Roach for contention in the 2014 Archibald Prize.

Proud was hung as a finalist, while Wiradjuri’s Archie Roach Portrait was featured in the September 2014 edition of the Art Gallery NSW’s Look magazine and purchased by the subject himself.

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“When Jandamarra and I actually got to meet and talk, we were saying exactly the same thing – what a great result that we got Archie up and into realms that he wasn’t already known in, because he deserves to be,” Wiradjuri said.

Our Culture, Our People, Our Way is the first time many of Cadd’s pieces have been available for sale, and although the artist admits to having a sentimental attachment to his painting, he’s equally pleased to know his work will continue to spark joy in others’ lives.

“There is so much of me imbued in every piece – my soul, my heart, my mind, all of it – but in many ways I’m happy to let that go because I believe that you’ve got to empty out liquid to bring in fresh, new liquid.”

“It’s great to pass these things on and I feel very blessed, especially when people buy them that have such a connection with a piece – it’s not just that they’re buying it to put in storage and when I’m dead they’re going to reap the rewards of it or something”

Our Culture, Our People, Our Way is showing at Birrunga Art Gallery & Dining, basement level, 300 Adelaide St, Brisbane CBD, until February 20.


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