Between the late 1970s and mid-1980s the mainstream art world began to take notice of works being produced by Aboriginal artists. Initially the focus centred upon the acrylic ‘dot paintings’ coming out of Western Desert communities in the Northern Territory such as Papunya, and the bark paintings of Arnhem Land.
At the same time, an increasing number of urban-based Aboriginal artists were struggling to gain public recognition of their existence and of the merit of their work. Obsessed with the desire to categorise Indigenous art and culture as ‘authentic’, the mainstream art world simply found many of the urban artists’ works, and the issues they addressed, ‘too hard’, ‘too political’ or too caught up with Western influences to fit within their idea of Aboriginal art.
Frustrated by the refusal of galleries and cultural institutions to embrace their work, a group of artists came together to stage their own exhibition, Koori Art ’84, at Artspace in Sydney in 1984. This was followed two years later by an exhibition at the Workshop Arts Centre in Willoughby, Sydney, entitled Urban Koories. The two events included works by Avril Quaill, Gordon Syron, Raymond Meeks, Euphemia Bostock, Fiona Foley, Michael Riley and Jeffrey Samuels. These exhibitions were held on the margins of the art world. They have subsequently come to be seen as marking the origins of the first wave of a contemporary urban Indigenous art movement in Australia.
While the urban artists encountered resistance from the art establishment, they shared in the groundswell of optimism and excitement in the wider Aboriginal community during the late 1970s and 1980s. An explosion of pride and public confidence followed the launch of a number of community organisations in Redfern in the 1970s. It was against this backdrop that a group of Aboriginal artists from diverse backgrounds formed a cooperative in 1987 called Boomalli — meaning ‘to strike, to make a mark, to fight back, to light up,’ in the languages of the Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri and Bundjalung peoples of New South Wales.
As a body of work, the art of Boomalli members (which covers a variety of media including painting, sculpture, textiles, photography, video and mixed media) challenges common misconceptions about urban-based Aboriginal art and culture and celebrates the diversity of Indigenous artistic expression in Australia today.
Founding members of Boomali were: Michael Riley, Bronwyn Bancroft, Jeffrey Samuels, Fiona Foley, Tracey Moffatt, Arone Meeks, Euphemia Bostock, Avril Quail, Brenda L Croft & Fernanda Martens.