Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council News

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council


26 May 2022

The IMA has formed its first ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council, bringing together cultural leaders and innovators in the region.

The Advisory Council progresses the IMA’s commitment to embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices across all facets of the organisation: from artistic, to operational, and in governance.

Providing a dedicated forum, the Advisory Council will support strategic leadership of the IMA and engagement with First Nations artists, audiences and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Formed through a process of First Nations led self-determination commencing in early 2021, the Advisory Council is co-chaired by D Harding and Cheryl Leavy, with members Katina Davidson, Bridget Garay, Les Malezer and Warraba Weatherall.

Artist and co-chair artist D Harding said, “First Nations peoples have been sharing and protecting culture across generations for thousands of years. The establishment of the council will support the growing relationship between the IMA and First Nations artists and communities. That relationship has been productive in exhibition making, publishing and public programs over the years, and we are looking to grow that impact and deepen connections.”

Co-chair and Deputy Chair of the IMA Board, Cheryl Leavy said self-determination and cultural integrity are a central focus of the group. “We have a strong program of work ahead of us designed to ensure that the cultural rights of First Nations are protected and the opportunities that the arts present for artists and audiences are fully realised and celebrated.”

The Advisory Council will meet formally up to four times per year, with outcomes reported to the IMA Board.

The IMA Board unanimously supported the appointment of the Advisory Council, acknowledging the cultural rights of First Nations peoples. IMA Chair, Rachel Crowley said, “Over many years, the IMA has been privileged to work with many of Australia’s leading First Nations artists, curators and arts workers. We are committed to building on this legacy and deepening our relationship with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, our country’s first artists. This recently established Advisory Council – the first in the IMA’s 47-year history – marks the next chapter for our organisation. We are thrilled this esteemed group of artists and leaders have agreed to work alongside us.”

l-r: Katina Davidson, D Harding, Cheryl Leavy, Warraba Weatherall, Bridget Garay, and Les Malezer

D Harding (co-Chair)  works in a wide variety of media to explore the visual and social languages of his communities as cultural continuum. A descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples, and Anglo Australian families, Harding draws upon and aims to maintain the spiritual and philosophical sensibilities of his cultural inheritances within the framework of contemporary art internationally. Harding’s work often seeks to document the complex and painful hidden histories of violence and discrimination enacted against Aboriginal communities in Central Queensland.

Cheryl Leavy (co-Chair) is a Kooma and Nguri woman. Kooma Country is in south west Queensland, between St George and Cunnamulla and Nguri Country is in the Upper Maranoa, Carnarvon Gorge region. Since emerging from the University of Queensland with a degree in Art History, Cheryl has enjoyed two career streams. The first has seen an enduring engagement with the arts sector. While still at University, Cheryl kicked off her career as a journalist at the ABC here in Brisbane where her dogged insistence on covering the arts round was tolerated with some bemusement in a then sport-dominated newsroom. She has served on several boards including the Queensland Art Gallery, Canberra Museum and Gallery, ACT Cultural Council and the Queensland Music Festival. She is currently a member of the Queensland Children’s Hospital Arts in Health Committee and is on the board of the Brisbane Writers Festival and the Institute of Modern Art. Cheryl is Deputy Chair of the IMA board and Co-chair of its recently announced First Nations advisory committee with artist D Harding.

The second stream of Cheryl’s career has seen her work in both the private sector, and state and federal governments in diverse fields including health, taxation, education and transport. Cheryl’s current ‘day job’ is as a public servant leading First Nations policy and programs.

Katina Davidson (Kullilli/Yuggera) is Curator, Indigenous Australia Art at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. She has been working in the visual arts sector for a decade across independent arts writing, curatorial and artistic practices. Notable national and international experience includes attendance at the Venice Biennale, Italy, in the ‘Emerging Indigenous Curator’s Program’ and ‘First Nations Exchange Program’ with the Australia Council for the Arts (2017) and as the inaugural ‘Wesfarmers National Gallery Indigenous Public Programming Fellow’ at the National Gallery of Australia (2015).

Bridget Garay is a Torres Strait Islander woman who has family connections to Mer (Murray Island) on her father’s side and she also acknowledges her mother’s Malaysian heritage.

She is a highly motivated woman who has worked for over four decades with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia with a particular emphasis on arts business, community enterprise and leadership.

She is also an active member of many Indigenous Advisory Groups in the Brisbane Region. She is currently employed with the Southbank Corporation as the Manager of Community Projects. She believes that both individuals and communities should have access to knowledge that creates pathways to empowerment.

Les Malezer is a descendant of the Butchulla Peoples of the Gubbi Gubbi Aboriginal Nation of Australia, whose territory features the Mary River region and Fraser Island in southeast Queensland.

In 2015 he retired from regular employment after completing two terms as Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (2010 – 2015). He was previously employed in senior positions in the Commonwealth government, the Queensland government, and in national and regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations.

Mr Malezer worked on the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations and participated in negotiations for international treaties concerning the protection of traditional knowledge and intellectual property under WIPO and the CBD. His career has been entirely devoted to Aboriginal land rights and self-determination.  In 2008 he was awarded the Australian Human Rights Award.

Les Malezer most recently served as an expert member on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2017-2019). He is Chairperson of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), a position he has held variously since 1975.

Warraba Weatherall is a Kamilaroi visual artist and Lecturer at Griffith University, who is currently based in Meanjin (Brisbane).  Warraba’s artistic practice has a specific interest in archival repositories and structures, and the life of cultural materials and knowledges within these environments. Warraba is also a lecturer for the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Arts (CAIA) degree at Griffith University’s, Queensland College of Art.  Warraba is passionate in shifting cultural norms within the Australian visual arts sector and contributes to the sector through artistic practice, education and curation.