Indigenous soldiers of the First World War honoured in new exhibition

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The stories of Indigenous soldiers who fought in the First World War have inspired a special Anzac Centenary exhibition being held at the Canberra Glassworks until 19 November 2015.

The Distant Warriors: Ka Maumahara (We Will Remember) Let Us Not Be Forgotten has been curated by Kelli Cole — a Warumunga and Luritja woman from central Australia. The exhibition includes the work of ten Aboriginal and Maori artists who were inspired by research into the families of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who hid their identities to serve in the First World War.

Maori men and women were conscripted to serve in the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force and were celebrated on their return to New Zealand. By contrast Aboriginal men and women, who were not yet recognised as Australian citizens, were excluded from service.  This restriction failed to stop more than 400 Indigenous men who hid their identities to fight for their country.

Glass artists from Australia and New Zealand have worked side by side over many months to produce a remarkable body of work including a replica first aid box, giant glass bullets, healing hands, shields, hats and the rising sun. The works were created using various glass processes, weaving and other techniques.

Arrernte artist, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, describes the importance of the project: 

It uncovers the stories of those who defied (not just deceived) white authority… to protect country… It attests to their determination and strength as warriors.

Glass artwork of a first aid box

First Aid Box 
Jenni Kemarre Martiniello
2015
enameled & cold worked glass, mild steel & woven flax, bulrushes, lomandra, pingao, kuta, harakeke/korari, ti kouka & kiekie fibres 
Photo: Adam McGrath

The Distant Warriors exhibition was created in partnership with Indigenous Textiles and Glass Artists Group as part of a broader Honouring Cultures project which brings international Indigenous glass artists together. It was made possible by an Anzac Centenary Local Grant from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and supported by the New Zealand High Commission.

Artists, whose work is available for sale, include Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, Lyndy Delian, Joyce Graham, Allison Hoolihan, Hayley Hoolihan, Lyn Talbot and Jenny Dries from the ACT; Victorian artist Treahna Hamm; and New Zealand Maori weavers Ruth Port and Mandy Sunlight.