September 16, 2014


By Gina Fairley

This monumental commission by Ken Thaiday Snr is a celebration of Torres Strait Island culture.

Sydney’s Carriageworks and Performance Space have come together to realise a significant commission – the largest installation created by the celebrated Torres Strait Island artist, Ken Thaiday Snr.

What makes this project dynamic is that the work of Thaiday Snr will slide between and traverse the definitions of performance, installation, dance and kinetic sculpture – not to mention blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary artfroms.

Born in Erub (Darnley Island) in 1950, Thaiday’s work over the last two decades has become known, in particular, for his extraordinary headdresses, what he has termed “dance machines”.

They have become increasingly ambitious in scale since Thaiday established a dance group in Cairns in the 1980s, with other Torres Strait Islanders who had settled on the mainland, and this new suite of object-based dances for Carriageworks is striking, immersive and enchanting.

Standing at nearly four metres tall, Thaiday Snr has created an elaborate kinetic headdress as the exhibition’s centrepiece – signature to his unique language of dance regalia, which are today collected by museums internationally.

Thaiday’s latest version has been described as a commanding linear structure that incorporates moving components to suggest its dynamic state when activated through dance.

Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah, said: ‘Ken Thaiday Snr has long been one of the most recognised and respected artists to emerge from the Torres Strait. We are pleased to support the making and presentation of this ambitious new work.’

Based on the Dhari – the traditional form o depicted in white on the region’s flag – it is a symbol of cultural pride for the Torres Strait people.

‘Thaiday’s works are intricate and inventive interpretations of objects that evoke cultural lineages and the significance of the natural world in all domains of Torres Strait Islander life,’ described a gallery statement.

They are also deeply connected to Thaiday’s faith and the ritual of The Coming of the Light – a significant occasion for many Torres Strait Islanders, who are predominantly of Christian faith introduced by missionaries. Family, faith and culture remain intertwined.

In all of his sculptures Thaiday amalgamates traditional and contemporary materials, working with rubber tubing, cable ties, plywood, beads and fishing line.

Thaiday has choreographed three new works which will be performed by Torres Strait Islander dancers at the exhibition’s launch, and again at a special public program on 4 October where he will speak about his work.

Thaiday’s practice is interwoven with the traditional song and dance of the Torres Strait taught to him by his father, the choreographer and cultural leader Tat Thaiday.

Jeff Khan, Artistic Director of Performance Space, said: ‘Ken Thaiday Snr is one of the most innovative and important artists working in this realm today. This is a major installation that will present Thaiday’s work on a scale that Sydney audiences haven’t seen before.’

This project marks the first time Carriageworks and Performance Space have commissioned a work together.

Image: Ken Thaiday Snr.
Beizam headdress (Shark with bait fish) 1995
Plywood, enamel paint, wire, feathers, shark’s teeth, string
72 x 90.5 x 67.8cm (irreg.)
Purchased 1995. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation

Ken Thaiday Snr.
Presented by Carriageworks and Performance Space
Exhibition dates: 3 October – 23 November, 2014
Exhibition opening: 3 October at 6pm
Public events: 4 October, 11am Torres Strait Islander Dance and Ken Thaiday artist talk |

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