Aboriginal veterans and artists have worked together to create a new exhibition that showcases the previously untold stories of Aboriginal South Australia Veterans of the Vietnam War.
VIETNAM – ONE IN, ALL IN is the third instalment of the creative Aboriginal Diggers program by Country Arts SA that focusses on the experiences of Aboriginal veterans.

Sam Yates, Executive Producer of the Aboriginal Diggers Program told Aboriginal Way that all the projects have uncovered personal stories and the harsh reality of Aboriginal people not being recognised for their service.

“With all of the three projects, we went through a consultation stage with the community to find what are the stories that they’d like to have told, and what are the gems that we could actually capture and share with community to help people understand the importance of Aboriginal soldiers, and the commitment and the sacrifices they’ve made, all the while coming back, say from war with no acknowledgement of what they’ve done” she said.

For the third project in the series, Country Arts SA, led by creative producer Lee-Anne Tjunypa Buckskin consulted with community and the Aboriginal Veterans of South Australia Committee to find out what stories should be told and who is willing to share their personal experiences.

Exhibition curator, Jessica Clarke joined Ms Buckskin to visit veterans across South Australia.

Ms Clarke, along with Ms Buckskin, travelled the state to engage with Aboriginal veterans and ask them to share their experiences.

Ms Clarke said it was inspirational to hear their stories.

“It was a really powerful, and challenging experience, especially hearing some of the things that they shared with us through the conversations. I mean, you’re sitting across the table from a veteran who’s served and who’s dedicated their lives to community after coming home. They were just so incredibly generous with their time and what they told, what they shared” said Ms Clarke.

After the stories were collected, Country Arts SA put a call out to South Australian Aboriginal artists to collaborate with veterans to create an artwork that reflects the veteran’s experience.

Ten artists were selected and paired with one veteran.Those pairings were carefully considered Ms Clarke explained.

“The next conversation was thinking about the pairings, and which artists, where they’re from, where their country is, personality types or connections – personal connections some of them may have had and pairing them up in a way that would work.

“Each artist was then given the transcript of the Veteran’s story and was asked to creatively respond to that in the form of a contemporary work that would acknowledge the veteran’s story and sacrifice and celebrate their life beyond that service” said Ms Clarke.

Country Arts SA hosted an event late last year which brought all veterans and artists together.

“It was a bit of speed dating for everybody to get to know each other and it was important for the artists and the veterans to have time to go off and have their own conversations and just start that connection” said Ms Yates.

Ms Clarke said a long-lost connection was made on the day when two veterans recognised each other from training before their service in Vietnam.

“They went to the Vietnam War at different times and came back, and they had not seen each other until the meeting last year” Ms Clarke said.There are thirteen works in the show, with ten works that respond to the Veterans stories and three additional commissions.

Kaurna Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy Sumner was asked to create an honour role to acknowledge Vietnam Veterans from South Australia both living and passed. The result is a Ngarrindjeri shield cast in glass. 

Artist Raymond Zada also contributed a social commentary piece that engages with the things that were going on at the time of the Vietnam War.It is “an incredibly powerful video, which speaks to the effects of PTSD” said Ms Yates.Photographer Colleen Strangways was commissioned to create portraits of all the veterans involved.

Ms Clarke said because of the diverse stories and artists who created them, the result is an interdisciplinary show.“There’s traditional weaving, a collection of spears that are dedicated to each of the veterans, which is super powerful. We’ve got video on a TV screen, there’s lots of paintings and mixed media, and a wall hanging. So, it’s quite diverse” she said.

The VIETNAM – ONE IN ALL IN exhibition is on show at Tandayna through April and May 2019. It then tours to Port Lincoln and Port Augusta.

By Kaliah Alice & Lucy Kingston


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