You might not think that a 14-metre-long bamboo raft and an interactive karaoke den blasting nostalgic pop bangers have much in common with one another, but just you wait. Carriageworks has unveiled the first major solo exhibition by Sydney-based Australian-Fijian artist Salote Tawale – and across two spaces, the artist draws on her personal experience growing up in Australia as part of the Pacific diaspora to consider how identity is formed through memory.
In her work, Salote is a fiend for probing ideas of self-representation and humorously challenging stereotypes. Every other Sunday, you can find her down at Redfern’s neighbourhood art bar The Bearded Tit, where she hosts karaoke sessions for Sad Dyke Sundays (a casual weekly hangout skewed towards the queer and the butch). Over at Carriageworks, she has taken a multimedia approach in responding to the expansive scale of the location’s architecture. Conceived as a “memory bank”, I remember you is an ambitious presentation of new work that brings together paintings, sculpture, textiles – and, naturally – karaoke.
I remember you is a continuation of Tawale’s ongoing exploration of the relationship between the individual and the collective
Moored in Carriageworks’ public foyer is ‘No Location (2021)’, a full-scale recreation of a bilibili (a traditional Fijian watercraft). With the help of craftsmen experienced in the traditional, labour-intensive process of bundling and binding bamboo for the structure, Tawale also distinctly incorporates tarps and ropes – everyday materials typical of her work – alongside personal items chosen for the artist’s journey. In title and form, ‘No Location’ embodies Tawale’s experience of displacement.
Over in the Bay 21 gallery, you’ll encounter eclectic hanging cardboard masks; plywood cut-outs of people and plants placed like theatrical set pieces; a hibiscus floral pattern loosely painted across the gallery wall; and a partial replica of the artist’s Fijian family home, known as a vale – built on cinder blocks and clad with corrugated iron. Complete with a clothesline out the back, you’ll also hear pop songs streaming from a makeshift karaoke booth in the rear of the makeshift house. Visitors are invited to pick up a mic and sing along in the artificial glow of oscillating party lights, and homemade karaoke videos accompany the chart-topping music (including the familiar chords of ‘I Want it That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys) featuring Salote’s own home videos, as well as recordings of the artist and friends serving impassioned drag king performances. There’s also some fascinating textile history to be learned from a mismatched fisherman’s shirt hanging off the clothesline, whose ridiculously long sleeves stretch across the room.
Laced with an intentionally “incomplete” feel found in misremembered song lyrics, missing panels and faded flowers that materialise the fallibility of memory – I remember you is a continuation of Tawale’s ongoing exploration of the relationship between the individual and the collective. Parrallels can be drawn between Tawale's work and that of artist Newell Harry, whose major exhibition Esperanto (currently showing at MAMA in Albury, and well worth the trip) explores pivotal moments of the ’60s and ’70s in Australia and the Pacific.
We recommend having up to an hour set aside to potter around the exhibition (allowing for however long you are lured into the karaoke room). The experience is best paired with one of the free and ticketed events in the accompanying public program. This includes an art-making workshop and guided gallery experience for families led by FLENK Collective; a live cooking demonstration inspired by classic Fijian recipes at the Carriageworks Summer Seasonal Market with Tawale, Pasepa Morell and Bloodwood head chef and co-owner Claire Van Vuuren; an in-conversation between Tawale and art historian Verónica Tello; and a talanoa with Tawale and academic and social worker Jioji Ravulo, followed by a shared Fijian meal. Find out more about these events here.