Finding identity through art: the Coe Gallery
Throughout 2022 Bristolians visiting the Vestibules art gallery at City Hall were mesmerised by an exhibition of artwork by 30-year-old Wiradjuri-British artist Jasmine Coe.
Although that exhibition of the Coe Gallery closed in August 2022, this July Bristol will once again play host to the gallery, forming a bridge between city and Aboriginal Australia including the Wiradjuri Nation, the largest Indigenous group in New South Wales, Australia.
Jasmine, who studied fine art at Bath Spa university, said that amongst her favourite pieces are the ‘Earth with Honeybees’ paintings which explore our relationship with the land and “the importance of connecting to the earth.”
The bees “act as symbols of hope reminding us we all have our parts to play in protecting our global home.”
The Coe Gallery was the UK’s first Aboriginal-owned art gallery. Jasmine said she had mixed emotions about opening the gallery due to the weight of the history between the UK and Aboriginal Australia and the historical erasure of a people and culture,
For Jasmine, the Coe Gallery was a space in which Aboriginal people were “able to represent ourselves and create and hold space for other Aboriginal artists and people to have their stories heard and shared how they would like to here in the UK.”
Throughout the exhibition, outside the gallery on College Green there flew an Aboriginal flag - symbolic of how through her artwork Jasmine finds connection with her own Aboriginal heritage
Since 2016, Jasmine has visited Wiradjuri country in Australia, where she has connected with her father, family and heritage. These trips, she said. are “a continuous source of inspiration.”
“My work is essentially a celebration of what I have learnt from connecting to my Aboriginal heritage. Through this journey I have learnt of self-acceptance which forms my understanding of self-identity,” Jasmine said.
“My work feels all the more powerful to me because I now know who I am and my work allows me to harmonise any internal personal conflicts I may feel by celebrating our natural world. “
Further, Jasmine believes that art can help others feeling the tension of identity in an often fractured world.
Art, she said, “can allow space for understanding of cross cultures and can provide a visual introduction to someone else’s experience. You have the potential to begin to see from someone else’s perspective if you are open to it.”
The Coe Gallery has also been a vehicle for Jasmine to explore her own Identity in her relationship with her father, Paul Coe, an Aboriginal activist after whom the gallery is named.
Paul Coe dedicated his life to reaching a place of equality and self-determination for Aboriginal people, and this work is a source of inspiration for Jasmine.
Paul was an inventive and committed activist. In 1976 he and a Bundjalung man named Cecil Patten travelled to England to challenge the Terra Nullius doctrine, meaning ‘empty land’, by staging a ‘claim’ of England as Aboriginal land, mirroring the claiming of Australia by the British in the 18th Century, despite the fact that Aboriginal people have lived on the continent for 65,000 years already.
Later, along with others, Paul established the Aboriginal Legal Service, and put forward a case to the United Nations challenging the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples. Although this case was ultimately unsuccessful, it did lay the foundation for the successful Mabo v Queensland case in 1992 which recognised the legal rights indigenous Australians have to their land. An exhibition at Tate Modern in London is currently exploring this in ‘A Year in Art: Australia 1992’
“It is a personal ambition of Coe Gallery to celebrate Paul Coe with the acknowledgements and appreciation for his dedication of work and commitment to reaching a place of equality. By existing as a space here in the UK, we are continuing to practise self-determination and share his values,” said Jasmine.
The next stop for the Coe Gallery is the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead on May 10-14. At last October’s Affordable Art Fair the Coe Gallery came runner up for the Curatorial Excellence Award. Coe Gallery subscribers can get complimentary tickets by signing up at www.coegallery.com.
And best of all the Coe Gallery will return to the Vestibules in July. More information will be available soon via Jasmine’s Instagram and website.