Melbourne-based artist Joel Bray is a proud Wiradjuri man who began writing and dancing traditional Indigenous dances when he was 20 – a practice that led him to the National Library of Australia’s (NLA) Creative Arts Fellowship in 2019.
The Fellowships offer support writers and artists to spend four weeks in the Library developing an artistic concept, artwork or body of work inspired or informed by the collections.
The first fellowship is available for Australian writers while the second is open for artists working in any medium outside of literacy, including music, dance, visual arts and experimental artforms.
Successful recipients will undertake a four-week residency at the NLA in Canberra and receive $10,000 to cover travel, accommodation and project expenses.
Researching traditional ceremonies, Joel located over a dozen boxes of archives in the NLA that he has used as the foundation for a multitude of projects after the fellowship last year.
“I got onto the fellowship in this really organic way because I started to research this particular ceremony that my great, great grandfather would have been a part of and I found there was this anthropologist – RH Mathews – who wrote a lot about it,” he said.
“I stumbled on an actual bunch of archives – 14 boxes of the stuff – at the National Library of Australia.
“In the arts, when you apply for stuff you try and come up with ideas that fit the call out, but this was a really nice moment where I already knew exactly what I wanted to do and then I applied for the fellowship and it was amazing.”
For many artists and writers, the two 2021 fellowships would be a lifeline from the NLA amid the uncertainty and tribulation the pandemic has brought onto the industry.
Joel says it is the opportunity of a lifetime that extends well beyond the fellowship’s original tenure.
“Everything moves so fast that you struggle to get funding for more than one or two weeks [in the arts sector] so to have the time to be able to sit down for over a month without the pressure of having to make something was really beautiful,” he said.
“Even once you finish your fellowship you can always come back and they will always help you and let you use the office, which is really nice to know that the opportunity is there down the track.
“I found it super-rich and super rewarding. I have so much material from it I have not even processed a lot of it, I was just trying to capture as much as I could, and I have enough for a bunch of works in the future.”
A year later, Joel is now using the material he gathered from his time at the Library to create two new projects while he continues to work remotely because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“One is a much larger work that I am doing lots of consultation with my elders and my community over, and another one is a smaller work for poor performers, working with the musician,” he said.
“It has been an interesting moment not being able to get into the studio with people because I make live art, but I am trying to be as productive as possible. I have been doing a lot of writing and working with the composer on music.”
But all the research and preparation he is putting in at the moment means he will be ready to hit the ground running when restrictions are lifted, he said.
“It is a bit of a rare program where scholarship meets art and I think that is really great. I walked away with a bit more rigour to my research practice because you are surrounded by people doing their PhDs and researchers,” he said
“For an artist to be in that environment – it has made me a better artist for sure.”
Applications for the 2021 program close at 5:00 pm (AEST), Friday, 10 July 2020.
More information and the online application form are available from the National Library of Australia.