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Torres Strait Islands, Qld., Australia
“Ngath kulay thayan inab zageth ika, ngaw awgadhal, Thupmul a Koedal; ngaw gubal, Sager a Naygay; ngaw thithuy, Zugubaw Baydham; ngaw yangu kudu, Kala Lagaw Ya. Ngay lak mina koeyma ap asin ngaw Kuyku Mabayg ika, Muruylgal a Zugubal. Ngaw ngulayg ngapa nithamuningu.”(I put before my art practice my totems, File-ray and Crocodile; my winds, South Easterly and North Easterly; my stars, Zugubaw Baydham constellation; my language, Kala Lagaw Ya. I humble myself before my Elders, and my spiritual ancestors, the Muruylgal and the Zugubal. This knowledge I possess was inherited from them.)– Alick Tipoti (Spoken at 'unDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial’, 2010) Alick Tipoti was born in 1975 on Thursday Island. He is a Cairns-based contemporary linocut printer and sculptor and a member of the Argan and Wakaydh language groups of Badu Island. He speaks both Kala Lagaw Ya of the Maluilgal Nation and Kala Kawa Ya of the Guda Maluyligal Nation of the Torres Strait. As a Torres Strait Islander, Tipoti is guided by the traditional cultural practices of his people. He feels a strong responsibility to document these practices- the stories, genealogies and songs- so that they are available for future generations to learn, understand and practice. For Tipoti, art is; “all about telling and illustrating the stories my father told me. The one thing I will never do is let my forefathers’ words be lost.” Tipoti’s artworks function as cultural documents, displaying the ancestral narratives of his people. The works often focus on legendary figures, accompanied by dhari headdresses, elaborate masks, percussive instruments, conches and other objects related to dance and ceremony. His works include elements of island life and much of the native fauna of the region, including dugongs, salt-water crocodiles and turtles. Alick Tipoti’s interest in visual art began at a young age and he has since become widely recognised as an important and innovative artist of the Torres Strait Islands. Tipoti received his primary schooling on Badu Island and secondary schooling on Thursday Island. In 1992, he received an Advanced Diploma in Arts from Thursday Island TAFE College and in 1994 he obtained a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Printmaking) from the School of Art at the Australian National University, Canberra. His current practice is inspired by stories told by his father and elders about life on Badu Island before colonisation. In his words, “my art is built on, and held together by, traditional Torres Strait designs, based on legends of the past.” In the early 1990s, Tipoti began exhibiting in smaller regional exhibitions in far North Queensland. Following the move to Canberra, his exhibitions focused on work completed at the Canberra School of Art. Throughout the early 2000s Tipoti’s work was met with growing interest in multiple regional galleries in NSW and Queensland and in 2003 he was awarded the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in the category of works on paper. As an artist inspired by the traditional stories of his people, Tipoti’s work has a strong cultural and spiritual focus. He believes in the Zugabal (the spirits of his ancestors) and their ability to guide his work as an artist. “When I work late at night carving traditional designs, I can sense the presence of the spirits who I verbally acknowledge and thank, in language, for their guidance and help in visualising the words they have given me.” This guidance extends beyond the visual arts and into dance and song. Tipoti has both composed and choreographed chants for performance alongside his works, and through such practices is very much involved in the continuation of his culture and language. Between 2003 and 2004, Tipoti took a brief break from the art world in order to spend more time with his two young children. The death of his parents around that time provided a catalyst for him to refocus on his role within his family, local community and wider Torres Strait Island culture. His father, Leniaso, was an artist and cultural advisor, who fostered in his son an early interest in song and art. Leniaso didn’t speak English and Tipoti credits this as a key factor in shaping his own respect for the importance of his traditional language. Language is critical to Tipoti for he believes that it is the vital ingredient that binds cultures together. “Without language you become a foreigner, lost in another person’s culture… singing and dancing are forms of art that branch out from the centrepiece called language. Everything you do, traditionally or culturally, evolves from a language. When you know the language, you know your culture.” Alick Tipoti is both a cultural ambassador and contemporary artist. He uses his art as an avenue to stimulate wider understandings of the connection between material culture and language, custom and law. This concern with the continuation of his culture has seen Tipoti research ancient artefacts from the Torres Strait, in universities and museums, and these objects have inspired and informed his contemporary works. Tipoti has travelled to Cambridge, England, in order to study treasures taken from the Torres Strait in 1898 by anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon. Tipoti doesn’t like to dwell on the negative side of this collection taken in the colonial period. Instead, he is grateful to be able to view, and be inspired by, such a collection of original masks, designs, and artworks created by his ancestors. Similarly, he has researched the genealogy of Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) in order to strengthen his own understanding of his country and people. For Tipoti knowledge is the cornerstone of culture, and his artworks help to make this knowledge available for future generations to learn, understand and practice. Tipoti passes his own knowledge on to students at both Thagai State College and Thursday Island TAFE, where he teaches language, culture and history. Tipoti’s teaching and artistic practice represent an attempt to ensure a dynamic continuation and development of his culture. In 2007, Tipoti won the works on paper category of the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award for the second time. In the same year, he also held his first solo exhibition, 'Malangu – From the sea’, at the Andrew Baker Gallery in Brisbane. The show was a resounding success and as a result it toured nationally and internationally to 8 other galleries over the course of 2008 and 2009. He was awarded the Silk Cut Award for Lino Prints in 2008 and has drawn widespread praise for the technical skill that drives his practice. In 2011 he held his second solo exhibition, 'Mawa Adhaz Parul – Sorcerer Masks’, at the Australian Art Network Galleries at Canopy Artspace, Cairns. Despite commencing his artistic career as a printmaker, Tipoti has also diversified his practice into mask making. In 2007 he began to make three-dimensional renditions of ceremonial masks. These masks have traditionally been made from wood or turtle shell. Tipoti’s ancestors had mastered the techniques of moulding the carapace of the wunuwa (hawksbill turtle) to construct masks before endowing them with intricate engravings and fretwork. Tipoti has substituted the turtle shell with fibre-glass and resins. The fibre-glass has the required flexibility for moulding and shaping and the stained resin finish resembles the highly polished turtle shells used in traditional practice. As is the case with his printmaking, Tipoti’s mask-making technique utilises contemporary art making practices to express his traditional culture and to highlight the dynamic nature of Torres Strait art making and culture. Tipoti notes that turtle-shell masks were traditionally shrouded in secrecy and the making of the masks was restricted knowledge. Although elements of Tipoti’s work remain undisclosed to viewers, they have also become iconic representations of Torres Strait culture and are widely recognisable. The masks and carving motifs that Tipoti creates play a critical role in the ongoing nourishment of his culture by continuing the creation of culturally significant objects. Any discussion of Alick Tipoti must also make mention of Dennis Nona (b. 1973), as an ongoing influence and significant friend in the artistic revival of Torres Strait art. Both artists grew up together on Badu Island, were classmates at Thursday Island TAFE and then at the Canberra Institute of Art. Nona and Tipoti share a profound mutual respect and pursue similar goals in both their art-making and cultural practice. The print media and sculptural works of both these artists can be seen as the catalysts for what is now recognised as a ‘school of contemporary Torres Strait Islander art.’ The work of Islander artists such as David Bosun, Victor Motlop, Billy Missi, Mario Assan, Rosie Barkus, Teho Ropeyarn and Joey Laifoo have been informed by their success.In 2012, Tipoti was selected to be part of 'UnDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial’, National Gallery of Australia. Six of Tipoti’s masks were selected for exhibition and now reside in the National Gallery’s Collection. In mid-2012, his monumental 8 metre long linocut, Girelal, was selected for the 18th Biennale of Sydney; ‘All our Relations’ and was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Writers: Toby Meagher Date written: 2007 Last updated: 2013
b. 1975
Linocut printer Alick Tipoti was born in 1975 and is from Badu Island in the Torres Strait. Tipoti's prints are works that celebrate his island heritage and culture. He is represented in the National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia.
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