Julia Mage’au Gray / Mekeo people, Central Province / Papua New Guinea/Australia b.1973 / Best foot forward 2011 / Single-channel HD video: 2:26 minutes, looped, colour, sound / Purchased 2015. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Julia Mage’au Gray

Julia Mage’au Gray
Best foot forward 2011

On Display: QAG, Gallery 17

This work was part of the Sunameke performance group’s piece Who born you? It explored the dancers’ connection to their Papuan mothers and grandmothers and involved film, original music and movement drawn from all over the Pacific. With Best foot forward, the artists wanted to talk about how they need to be able to survive in two different worlds.

‘When you live in Australia, you could easily just forget about Papua New Guinea — not worry about your actions or how you behave — but we can’t, because we have family who we are connected to. You’ve got your grass skirt and your heels and you are constantly trying to make the balance, because you can’t have one without the other.’

Best foot forward features Gray’s sister Yolanda walking along an Australian road dressed in a Mekeo skirt customarily worn for performance, which contrasts with her red high heels.

Julia Mage’au Gray is a dancer, choreographer, tattooist, photographer and filmmaker, who explores her Papuan and, specifically, Mekeo heritage in an urban context. Central to her practice is her reflection that dance and art are not separate concepts in her Papuan culture. Dress or adornment, including the marking of the body with tatu (tattoo), is of particular significance in Gray’s performances and films.

Gray’s production company Sunameke brings together Pacific Island artists based in Australia and New Zealand to engage in performances, workshops and research projects.


Discussion Questions

1. Describe which aspects of Yolanda’s dress and performance reflect on her Papuan heritage and which on her Australian heritage?

2. Describe the location where this performance takes place. What does this location say about the performers living between two worlds?

3. Discuss how Julia Mage’au Gray explores identity and place in her practice.

Classroom Activities

1. Clothing contributes to the way people present their personalities and identities, both as individuals and as belonging to groups. Design an item of clothing to reflect your identity. Consider colour, texture, patterns, fabric shape and form. Using found materials, cardboard, masking tape or papier-mache, create an element of your design. Take a variety of portrait photographs wearing this item, or hold a class fashion parade modelling your new designs.

2. Julia Mage’au Gray identifies as having Australian and Mekeo or Papuan heritage. The Mekeo people’s lands are in Central Province, Papua New Guinea, an area that was officially called Papua from 1901–75. Research how the term Papua came into being and the number of different cultural groups that are considered Papuan. Can you locate the Mekeo area on the map?