Don Dale detention centre abuse: WA artist Julie Dowling speaks of trauma in Aboriginal community

Don Dale detention centre abuse: WA artist Julie Dowling speaks of trauma in Aboriginal community

THE revelation this week of the failure of the Northern Territory to protect juvenile detainees from abuse was not lost on prominent WA Aboriginal artist Julie Dowling.

Speaking to the Weekender, Dowling said the Four Corners program was “quite traumatic to see”.

“We have been dealing with trauma in our community for a long time,” she said. “Particularly the three strikes and you’re in legislation, where young people are put in detention for very little.”

The 47-year-old’s work – such as her Stolen Child series that has grown to 100 works since she started on it at university – has documented injustice against indigenous people.

One of Australia’s most collected artists, Dowling says she gave up teaching art in prisons.

Dowling, whose Burda-Burda Dhulga exhibition closes tomorrow at the Joondalup Art Gallery, was speaking in light of the Federal Government’s call for a Royal Commission into the abuse of juvenile detainees in the Northern Territory.

“I stopped teaching in prison because the art work ended up getting owned by the State,” she said.

“Their family and they themselves didn’t get freedom from art work which in other parts of the world is seen as cultural violation.

“It is also stopping people practising an aspect of their religion inside prison.”

She said the Four Corners program had not stopped her painting.

“I keep painting about the situation,” she said.

“ I recently did a painting for the Uniting Church – a show about the Stations of the Cross – and the work I did was basically that young people are put into prison in a systematic way. When they’re nine or 10 years old they become part of the machinery of justice.”

Three works in Dowling’s City of Joondalup exhibition were acquired by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

The City, which bought one of her works, Old Girl, in 2003, is currently undertaking the procedures required to acquire another piece from this exhibition at the gallery in Central Walk, Joondalup.
“The City of Joondalup put its neck on the line; my work can be controversial,” she said.

More of her work will go on display at Kidogo Art Institute in Fremantle on July 30.