Salote Tawale talks performance, photomedia and funding

Salote Tawale, inaugural NSW 2017 Visual Arts Mid-career/Established Fellow with her work Very Specific Feelings #2 at Artbank Exhibition Sydney, 2016.

Create NSW spoke with Fijian-born artist Salote Tawale who was awarded the inaugural NSW Visual Artist Mid-career/Established Fellowship.

Salote, whose work uses performance, photomedia, drawing and installation, was presented the prestigious Fellowship at the opening of an exhibition featuring the six shortlisted artists at Artbank, Sydney. We spoke to Salote to find out how the fellowship is progressing and to learn about her successful application to the Visual Arts Established Fellowship.


Can you tell us what inspired you to apply for the Visual Arts Established Fellowship, what was your motivation?

It was word of mouth that lead me to look at the application form for the NSW Visual Arts (Mid-career/Established) Fellowship.  When looking at the three main sections of the application it really was a fantastic opportunity. A financially supported, self-devised professional development program, the chance to be collected into the national art collecting body, and a residency at Murray Art Museum Albury in regional NSW – an institution with its own really interesting collection.

When you have been practicing for over 10 years its great to feel that there is support out there for professional development and an opportunity to develop your practice.


What did you do to make your application for support for this project?

The application process is quite detailed. Whilst putting together a professional development program I was sending out emails and ringing people to tell them about what I wanted to do to see if they were interested in supporting my application.  It took a couple of weeks of email conversations, especially for the international contacts. I was quite fortunate to gain support letters from Candice Hopkins, an international curator who I met at the Banff Centre in Canada, at the Indigenous visual Arts Residency, in January 2016. Candice is an associate curator for Documenta this year.

Tracey Moffat and Lisa Reihana who are both representing their countries at the Venice Biennale also supported my application. I have been fortunate to meet these awesome women over the past few years. Europe is so far from Australia and I really wanted to make the most of my time being there, so I also contacted Laura Castagnini, London based curator from Melbourne. We have worked together in the past and are keen to work on projects together again.


The competition for this opportunity always includes many outstanding applications; can you tell us how you made your application stand out?

I think the timing of the activities proposed in my application where right.  The support letters I had were really amazing. It really could have been any of the six amazing finalists who I’m sure had also written great applications for the Fellowship.


As part of the Fellowship you will develop your networks in Fiji, London and Venice – how do you feel it will develop your career?

 I have just returned from Fiji and it was a great opportunity to expand my networks with not only artists and curators from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand but also with researchers that work with Fijian artifacts in European museums, this has extended my research into family histories much further than I had anticipated, this coupled with the knowledge of Fijian history and botanics has already had an affect on my future works.

I was invited by Laura Castagnini to partake in an Artist in Conversation series at the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) in London, and I am meeting with artists, directors and curators. It is a great opportunity to participate and things will develop from there.


As part of the Fellowship Artbank also commissioned a new work from you. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

I’m still in discussion with Artbank about the commission, but I’m excited to see what happens in this space.


What other opportunities have helped shape your career?

I would say being a part of News from Islands, a show curated by Aaron Seeto at Campbelltown Art Centre in 2007, was great opportunity in the initial stages of my practice, my participation in Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival through Footscray Community Art Centre, and definitely moving to Sydney to do my Master of Fine Arts (MFA).


Your cultural identity is a constant focus of your artwork; what unique challenges do you feel are barriers to building a career as a Culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) artist in NSW?

Part of why I moved to NSW was the diversity of arts practises, especially artists who use performance in their work, many of whom come from CaLD backgrounds. I am a current Parramatta Artist Studio’s artist, so I feel quite supported as a CaLD artist in NSW.


You were recently named by Australian Art Collector as one of the top artists to watch out for. How does that feel? 

Its pretty surprising and much appreciated.


What is the process behind developing your art works?

I start from a personal experience and develop the form of the artwork through the meanings implied by the materials I choose and the actions I take with my own body. The development of an artwork can depend on many different variables but I am interested in using easily accessible materials that have a relationship to my history or present. The medium is always dictated by the idea.


Can you tell us how you got started in Visual Arts?

I had an interest in drawing and photography growing up and was fortunate to have an excellent high school photography teacher.  I then studied at the Photographic Imaging College and then Media Arts at RMIT and I exhibited quite a bit in my undergraduate. After completing an MFA (coursework) and exhibiting for a few years I moved to Sydney to do a Masters at Sydney College of the Arts.


What advice would you have for someone starting out?

Give yourself time to develop your processes, look out for opportunities and expect it to be hard work.

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Published: 12 April 2017