Australian first as John Curtin Gallery appoints Michelle Broun

Michelle Broun, newly appointed Curator of Australian First Nations Art at John Curtin Gallery. 

In an Australian first, John Curtin Gallery has appointed Yindjibarndi woman Michelle Broun as Curator of Australian First Nations Art. It is the first time a dedicated full-time Australian First Nations Curator has been appointed to an Australian University Art Museum. The appointment comes after Curtin University launched an ambitious campaign late last year to develop a new Carrolup Centre for Truth-Telling as part of a broader reconciliation initiative in partnership with BHP. The Centre will provide a permanent home for the unique collection of Stolen Generation artworks from The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks, created by Aboriginal children at the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s. Set to open in 2023, the Centre aims to engage the wider community in truth-telling and healing.
 
Fresh from her role as lead curator of the Ngalang Koort Boodja Wirn exhibition at the Western Australian Museum Boorla Bardip, Broun, a printmaker, textile artist and sculptor, has over 25 years experience working on Indigenous projects both as an artist and curator, and will be responsible for the research, management, interpretation and presentation of the Carrolup Collection. John Curtin Gallery Director Chris Malcolm says he’s thrilled a person of Broun’s calibre, with a wealth of experience and knowledge, has accepted the position and will be a great asset to the Gallery. “The Carrolup Centre is all about bringing people together in the spirit of truth-telling. Michelle’s outstanding work over many years is the perfect foundation from which to work collaboratively with community members, researchers, contemporary artists and stakeholders to develop projects interrogating issues raised by the Carrolup Collection,” he says. 
 
Broun says the appointment is a great direction for her personally. “It’s very much about story telling and truth-telling and the power of the first person narrative in building understandings.” She says Malcolm and his team have been working towards the Centre and appointing a First Nations curator, for some time, and continue to raise funds and advocate. “The aim is for the Carrolup Centre for Truth-Telling to be complete in 2023, but in the interim we have a small space adjacent to the foyer of John Curtin Gallery where we’ll present a small display of the story of the Carrolup child artists and the impact of the removal of children from their families. We’re hoping it will soon have a Noongar name, but at present its working title is the Carrolup Discovery Centre. It will be a precursor, or a taste of things to come, for the larger Centre.” She says walls are yet to be built inside glass-fronted smaller space, and welcoming signage yet to appear, but the Carrolup Discovery Centre is aiming to open at the end of May this year to coincide with National Sorry Day. “The space is big enough for a decent enough display and to really create something special and meaningful the community are happy with as well.”
 
While there is excitement within the Aboriginal community about the prospect of the Carrolup Discovery Centre, Broun’s appointment, and the future Carrolup Centre for Truth-Telling, Broun says it’s gentle and careful steps forward because of the sensitivity around the stories. “The artworks are a window into understanding the hearts and minds of the children and what they were experiencing, and it’s a chance to share stories which open up conversations about Australia’s and Western Australia’s history and the impact it had, so intergenerational trauma can be better understood.”
 
“My own mother was stolen along with her brother, so I know about that through her retelling the story, but even then my mother says ‘you only know a very small part. There’s a lot I haven’t told you.’ She just doesn’t want to talk about it. You realise, and can start to understand, why people are so hurt and angry, and that we really need to talk about it more.”

Bounding for Home by Barry Loo, The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks. Photo courtesy John Curtin Gallery. 

Down to drink by Parnell Dempster, The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks. Photo courtesy John Curtin Gallery. 

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