Parnati season: Bruce Nuske with exhibition design by Khai Liew and Dana Awartani
Samstag Museum of Art

The Samstag Museum of Art is currently showcasing two exceptional exhibitions as part of its Parnati season, which means autumn in the Kaurna language. A stunning presentation of works by South Australian ceramicist Bruce Nuske with exhibition design by the late Khai Liew features alongside moving image works by Saudi-Palestinian visual artist Dana Awartani. These exhibitions also celebrate the venue’s reopening after being closed for 12 months due to an unfortunate flooding event.

Although Nuske and Awartani’s presentations differ, they have a poetic connection and pay homage to the decorative arts.

With a career spanning more than 50 years, as both a teacher and practitioner, Nuske’s ceramic practice blurs the boundaries between functionality, fine art and craft. Focussing on the relationship between functional form and ornamentation, his works are very detailed and often playful.

In 2012, Nuske and Liew collaborated on the exhibition Irrational and Idiosyncratic at Samstag, which demonstrated their shared love of the Oriental. This latest exhibition continues to explore this aesthetic, offering an immersive and intimate space where viewers can take time to explore the detailed ceramic pieces by Nuske in a perfectly designed space by Liew.

“Even though we worked quite differently, we had lots of common ground when it came to an interest in the history of design,” explains Nuske. “Khai’s work was always very elegantly minimalist. He always pared things back, and my work has always been quite elaborate and decorated and very variable in the way it presents.”

Bruce Nuske with Khai Liew, 2024, installation view, Samstag Museum of Art. Photo: Grant Hancock, courtesy Samstag Museum

When Nuske retired from teaching around the time of COVID, he found himself spending a lot of time alone. This was the inspiration for many of the works in the exhibition which are presented as a teapot and a single drinking vessel.

“It was about me having spent my life teaching and giving myself to other people,” says Nuske. “I was then sitting down and thinking, ‘I’m going to give some of myself back to me’. It’s about having a cup of tea with yourself and reflecting and thinking about things.”

The teapot is a recurring motif in Nuske’s practice. He is fascinated by how it spans cultural and social boundaries and connects East to West. The teapot is steeped in the history of the tea trade, and reflects trends in style and fashion.

Teapots can be beautiful or ugly, functional or non-functional, badly made or beautifully made. Nuske’s teapots often have human-like characteristics and give the impression that they could come to life. Pieces such as Oracle Tea make the teapot the centrepiece of the table during the ritual of tea, with its ears listening to all the gossip and innuendo.

Bruce Nuske with Khai Liew, 2024, installation view, Samstag Museum of Art. Photo: Grant Hancock, courtesy Samstag Museum

Other works demonstrate how Nuske often incorporates a narrative into his presentations as a means to draw people in. For example, Never believe anything you hear and only half you see is inspired by something his mother used to say to him. While this work references his personal experiences it also reflects the idea that in today’s world, the truth is often distorted by technology, and we can’t always believe what we see and hear.

Dana Awartani, I Went Away and Forgot You. A While Ago I Remembered. I Remembered Iʼd Forgotten You. I Was Dreaming, 2017 (installation view, Samstag Museum, 2024). Photo: Sia Duff

In contrast, but at the same time complementing Nuske’s exhibition, is Awartani’s presentation. One of her works, I Went Away and Forgot You. A While Ago I Remembered. I Remembered Iʼd Forgotten You. I Was Dreaming is a two-part installation featuring a floor mosaic made of sand and a video projection.

In the video presentation, Awartani uses pigmented sand to create a geometric floor design inspired by traditional Islamic tile work which was once common in Arab and Islamic homes. Awartani is seen sweeping away the sand in a methodical manner. The same tessellated pattern made from sand is also re-created on Samstag’s ground floor. The meditative work celebrates the beauty of traditional Islamic design and architecture, and explores ideas around the destruction and fragility of cultural identity and heritage.

Also showing is the video work Listen to my Words, which features geometric embroidered silk panels and a voiceover of modern-day Saudi women reciting poetry. The pattern is inspired by jali and mashrabiya, which are traditional latticed screens used in Islamic architecture to regulate light, airflow and heat in many Middle Eastern countries. Through this work, Awartani shines the light on female poets from pre-Islamic times up to the 12th century who have often been overlooked.

Samstag has created a captivating gallery experience with its Parnati season. Audiences should take time to immerse themselves in both of these fascinating exhibitions.

Dana Awartani, I Went Away and Forgot You. A While Ago I Remembered. I Remembered Iʼd Forgotten You. I Was Dreaming, 2017, (detail, installation view at Samstag Museum of Art, 2024). Photo: Sia Duff, courtesy Samstag Museum

Samstag’s Parnati season, featuring works by Bruce Nuske and Dana Awartani, is at Samstag Museum of Art until May 10 and is part of the 2024 Adelaide Festival program.

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