Current Issue #488

Nexus Arts adapts in the face of border and venue closure

Aaron Schuppan
Wamala Kyeyune Joseph, The Guardian

This week Nexus Arts launches a new online exhibition from Uganda-based artist Wamala Kyeyune Joseph, the product of perhaps one of the last international artist residencies Adelaide will see for some time.

“It’s been a wild ride – we were in the process of physically installing the exhibition when the restrictions came in,” artistic director Emily Tulloch tells The Adelaide Review.

A joint initiative with Sanaa Festival, Wamala Kyeyune Joseph spent seven weeks completing a residency at Nexus’ Adelaide studio before the onset of COVID-19 brought his stay, like so many things, grinding to a halt. “We had to cut it short and get him on a plane 10 hours before his country closed the borders – some very hurried goodbyes, but we’re just doing what everybody’s having to do.”

This week I Am Because You Are: Illustrations Of Existence, the exhibition Joseph was working towards, will launch in an online form. In addition to Joseph’s work, this joint exhibition will feature work from Adelaide artist Tailor Winston.

“He was really keen to engage with some local creatives while he was here,” Tulloch explains. “We brought on board Tailor Winston, an emerging South Australian artist, and she spent some time with Wamala in conversation in the studio with him, she involved him in one of her works, an installation called The Skeleton Tree which involves plaster casts of people’s hands.”

The collaboration was also meant to extend to the exhibition’s visitors, something that the Nexus team has been able to partially translate online. “Both Wamala and Tailor have works in the exhibition that were intended to be contributed to by audiences. We’ve been able to pivot Wamala’s to an online form; basically it’s a replication of the graffiti art that happens naturally around a city. He ties this corrugated iron theme through all his work, it sits in the backdrop of his figures and represents what [barriers] people put up, and what they hide behind them.

Andre Lawrence
Tailor Winston and Wamala Kyeyune Joseph

“There was going to be paint set up in the venue that people could paint directly onto the iron, now we’re inviting people to contribute sketches made on any kind of drawing app on their phones and upload them, and we’ll layer them over the image over the course of the exhibition.”

The online exhibition will include footage shot by Nexus’ venue manager Aaron Schuppan, a filmmaker by trade whose role was quickly redirected to creating digital materials. “We’re lucky enough to have a filmmaker on staff, so we’ve taken video portraits and a walk-through video. It’s given us something really dynamic; it’s not just a set of images, and it’s really nice that we’ve been able to document it in that way.”

For the most part Nexus has been spared from the worst consequences of COVID-19 closures faced by many in the arts sector, with the organisation’s state government funding allowing it to continue to employ its core staff, and many of its venue staff eligible for JobKeeper. But, while the gallery may join AGSA in reopening by June, its venue and regular programming will remain affected for some time to come.

“My understanding of the roadmap out will mean that we can have a capacity of 40 people, which of course will be completely unviable for anybody to hire,” she says of the ongoing four square metre distancing that will limit the venue’s capacity even when mass gathering caps are raised.

“So we can’t see anything happening in the venue for a while, but the gallery we can see opening potentially from that 8 June time. We’re a small gallery, we don’t have a huge amount of traffic – we rarely have more than a few people in the space at a given time –  so we think there’s a chance we’ll be able to start opening the gallery physically.

“Our next exhibition we’re anticipating at the moment both digital and physical – but digital will be its primary delivery.”

I Am Because You Are: Illustrations Of Existence will be presented digitally at Thursday 14 May

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer and editor living on Kaurna Country.

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