Tess Allas

Consultant Curator

Consultant curator Tess Allas discusses her influences, her ambitions, and her thoughtful approach to the acquisition of Indigenous art for the Museum of Sydney. 

Q: What influences have shaped your interest in contemporary art? 

A: I’m inspired by politics and history and the generosity and ingenuity of Indigenous artists and curators in retelling these histories, and especially those who aren’t afraid to explore new mediums and new ways of presenting these works. Being a curator provides me with the tools to help tell the important stories from communities and people who were once silenced or actively discouraged from speaking. 

Q: How can contemporary Indigenous art challenge or reinterpret sites such as museums that have traditionally advanced Eurocentric perspectives? 

A: Contemporary art has the ability to challenge societies’ understandings of their own customs and conventions, which include any accepted understandings of their own histories. Freeing the access points into these mores and privileging Indigenous artists who investigate their own communities’ perspectives will bring a more enriching experience for all. 

Q: And what role do museum collections play? 

A: Collections can play a vital role in the correcting of histories. Contemporary art collections broaden discussions of our colonial past and help provide a truer understanding of its impacts on our past and how these impacts echo into the present day. Contemporary art must be seen as a vital tool in understanding contemporary Australia. 

Q: What excites you about today’s generation of young Indigenous contemporary artists? 

A: Some of the most exciting art our nation produces is made by Indigenous artists. There’s a long history of Indigenous artists responding to contemporary Australia. Today’s younger artists are no exception. Some artists are working with contemporary mediums such as digital technologies – including drones, new design tools, apps, etc – to produce work that not only gives the nod to more traditional art forms but allows their contemporaries to be fully engaged with their practice. They’re breaking boundaries at such breathtaking rates that we’re left in awe in their wake. At the same time, the respect for their own histories and familial stories that are embedded in their work is evident and something I truly admire. 

Q: Can you tell us of any new acquisition directions you’ll be recommending for the Museum of Sydney? 

A: I’ve been investigating and providing advice on several new directions, including the collecting of works by Indigenous artists from all backgrounds and genders, as well as why, where and how to collect work that hasn’t traditionally been part of the collecting practice of the Museum of Sydney. It’s an exciting project and I look forward to seeing a collection that can contribute more fully to the story of Sydney, the story of NSW and the story of Australia.