Drawn to graffiti
Narisha ‘Nish’ Cash is descended from the Jingili and Mudburra people from the Katherine region of the Northern Territory. Well recognised for her practice as a graffiti artist in South Australia, Nish is known mostly for murals, canvas work, and community projects. The exhibition Sketch Fetish at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute focuses on the preliminary ideas and concepts behind the artist’s public art orientated practice, exposing the behind-the-scenes, the candid, the experimental, and the survival of images once the public work has disappeared; a selection of sketches has been presented in the gallery to form two large-scale words SKETCH FETISH that title the show. The exhibition also includes selected paintings on canvas as well as painted ready-made objects including mannequins and a model train. A suite of six artist multiples and a graffiti wall-work have been created especially for Sketch Fetish.
Like most artists who create graffiti work, Nish is self-taught: not an attendee of art school, but learned through experimentation and by cultural immersion with other practitioners whose canvases and galleries are the city – perhaps a role-reversal in which art schools, museums and art galleries are the fringes.
The reputation of the artist’s work is on the rise, gaining national attention as graffiti is regaining momentum as not only legitimate art practice, but also commissioned, planned for, collected by the ‘state’ and its institutions, and embraced by local governments. Indeed Nish Cash’s practice should be recognised if the ‘graffiti movement’ is to more fully embrace its diversities and take itself seriously as a multi-faceted discipline.
Mural works, especially the genre of graffiti, are usually ephemeral – the sites for murals are usually exposed to ultra-violet, wind, rain, and pollution – all of which deteriorate the work. Sites evolve – works are washed over, repainted, replenished with new images, or are demolished to make way for new structures where graffiti and graffiti art are once again forbidden. The images remain only in memory and documentation, either by the artist or the passersby who are drawn to the image in its location. Versions of the images, specifically pre-designs and ideas, are sometimes more permanent because they have been created by more everlasting materials that include pencil and pen in notebooks and sketchpads used and kept by artists.
Graffiti has a gendered cultural history and continues to be dominated by men. But it is not only men who spray. The emergence of women in the genre has enabled the work of women to be seen in more public spaces. Cash’s images, which include representations of the artist’s body, extend to a performative act of gendering male-dominated spaces with female bodies, aesthetics, designs, and desires. The artist’s images make present Aboriginality in urban spaces that have been ‘white-washed’ with import architecture. Colonisation promotes the notion that Aboriginal people are not from cities and that urban spaces are not Aboriginal land. The work of Nish Cash decolonises and de-genders ‘white-male’ spaces by offering alter/native visualisations that demonstrate the artist’s belonging as an Aboriginal woman and artist.
As a practice for Aboriginal artistic expression, graffiti work can be traced to the ancient practices of painting in caves and rock escarpments – the works that have survived and are most intact have been kept safe from the elements of sun, rain, and wind exposure, and from the imposition of colonial occupation, pollution, and industrial ‘progress’. Unlike the preliminary and draft drawings kept by the artist and exhibited in Sketch Fetish, there is no evidence of preliminary designs by the Aboriginal people or ancestral spiritual beings credited for creating ancient rock art. This is likely because the markings created in ceremonies were performed directly onto country, were ephemeral, not intended to be permanent artefacts, but embodied by Aboriginal people and country.
‘Sketch fetish’ is a term employed by the artist to name her sketch/drawing practice that is also colloquially referred to as ‘doodling’. Her use of the word ‘fetish’ highlights her compulsiveness to sketch, but also, I think, builds upon readings of femininity located in the artists work, bringing to the forefront sexuality, desire, and performance.
Other themes the artist explores in Sketch Fetish are diverse and include motherhood, hip-hop culture, alienation, and spiritual connectivity with flora and fauna. The exhibition is an example of the multiple and varied interests of Aboriginal peoples. It is affirming to see Aboriginal people continuing to push barriers to be recognised in all spaces of Australian society.
July 2016, Adelaide