Their artwork may have ties back to time immemorial, but artists from Maningrida’s Babbarra Women’s Centre have been struggling to prove their identity to the Australian Government for more than a year.
- It’s been a year-long struggle for Aboriginal artists to obtain Australian passports
- A lack of identification documents is common in Maningrida and many older people do not have birth certificates
- The textile exhibition will be held at the Australian Embassy in Paris in October
The women have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to exhibit their work at the Australian Embassy in Paris in October and a group of the artists have finally submitted their completed passport applications.
But others will miss out, finding the bureaucratic process too difficult to navigate due to their lack of identification records.
Assistant manager and exhibition co-curator Jessica Phillip said it had been a hard time to get enough evidence together for a group to go see their artworks hung in Europe.
“Most of our artists have been born on country so birth certificates were not recorded accurately back in the day, so it was a bit difficult to obtain the birth certificates. They’d either have their surnames missing or the date of birth was incorrect,” she said.
“Most of them didn’t have their parents’ birth certificates either.
“They were just never recorded.”
Her curating counterpart and centre manager Ingrid Johanson said the issue was something that adversely affected people in the remote community.
“It’s been a bit of a nightmare to push past bureaucratic conditions that are quite inflexible and continue to discriminate,” she said.
“A lot of the identification just doesn’t exist out here, whether people were born and just never given a birth certificate or whether people have various names on ID for cultural reasons. People may have also changed their names for cultural reasons.”
Eight-hour drive for last-minute application
Ms Johnson said they had spent nearly two years working to gather enough information for five artists to submit completed applications, with some women unable to get their applications across the line.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the artists who were really enthusiastic and would have been great ambassadors for our women’s centre, due to the fact that they didn’t have a birth certificate or other bureaucratic reasons, that it was all too difficult to go down the path of getting a passport,” she said.
“A lot of the applications are paper-based, they are in English and not in any Indigenous languages.
“It is very difficult and expensive to get into Darwin.
“It absolutely affects Aboriginal people in a more severe way than mainstream Australia and it also affects remote people.”
But after several months and an eight-hour drive from Maningrida to Darwin to submit the final applications, there is hope among the women that they will get to see the city of love.
For most of them, it will be their first time travelling overseas.
“I’m feeling good and this is going to be my first time that I am going and with some of the other ladies,” artist Elizabeth Kala Kala said.
Babbarra Women’s Centre, which operates as a part of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, will be running a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of obtaining their passports and travel expenses.