Unfinished Business exhibition sheds light on powerful stories of First Nations peoples with disabilities

16 May 2023
Healthy Community

For the first time, the Unfinished Business exhibition is coming to Victoria.

On loan from the Australian Museum, Manningham Art Gallery is excited to present the world-renowned exhibition in its free and accessible gallery, from Wednesday 24 May until Saturday 29 July.

Unfinished Business features the remarkable holographic-like portraits, film and self-narratives of 30 First Nations individuals living with disabilities. The exhibition is the culmination of a collaborative project between the participants and artists Belinda Mason OAM and Dieter Knierim.

The resulting thought-provoking exhibition deliberately touches raw nerves, challenging stigmas while promoting a better understanding of the impact of Australia's historical policies on the rates of disability seen in Australia's First Nations peoples.

One such story is that of Box Hill local Uncle John Baxter, a Latja Latja and Narungga child born in north-western Victoria in 1960. After receiving treatment for Spina Bifida in Melbourne, Uncle John was fostered into a non-Aboriginal family in the eastern suburbs. He didn't see his birth family again until his late teens.

After hearing about the project, Uncle John says he soon became involved, realising this project's potential to impact communities in Australia and around the world.

"The people whom artist Belinda Mason had reached out to are Elders and significant leaders within their communities; they are truly outstanding individuals. I felt she had captured 'lightning in a bottle' bringing those amazing personalities together," says Uncle John.

The exhibition originated from a 2013 World Health Organisation project in Geneva and has since gained international recognition. In 2014, Unfinished Business was showcased as part of the Australian Government's contribution at the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Persons in New York. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to listen to the voices of the individuals featured, as they share their personal stories through documentary film and written narratives.

For Uncle John, having Unfinished Business return home to Australia and be hosted by the Manningham Art Gallery holds particular significance. Uncle John emphasises how participant experiences can inspire others to challenge stigmas and pursue their goals. By fostering a better understanding of Australia's treatment of First Nations peoples, these stories aim to drive positive change and advocate for a more inclusive society.

"Disability is more often seen as a deficit, but this exhibition turns that on its head. These people are leaders. 'They're inventive and far more than you thought they had the capacity to be – they should be celebrated!!" says Uncle John.

Uncle John acknowledges that while progress has been made, much work remains to be done. Together with Belinda and Dieter, he believes that Unfinished Business can challenge the prevailing narrative surrounding disability in our culture.

Manningham Art Gallery invites everyone to come and experience Unfinished Business and engage with the empowering stories showcased within the exhibition. The exhibition is free and will run from Wednesday 24 May until Saturday 29 July.