Hannah Brontë<br/>
<em>EYE HEAR U MAGIK</em> 2020 <!-- (video still) --><br />

colour digital video, sound<br />
7 mins 36 secs<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with funds donated by Vicki Vidor OAM and Peter Avery, 2021<br />
2021.54<br />
© Hannah Brontë

Hannah Brontë EYE HEAR U MAGIK

My body is an eye,
Sharp as oyster shells.
Squid ink clouds,
She can still see the catch.
They whisper maps,
As we plunge through,
Birthing pearls,
Menstruating caviar,
Fat kelp softens my landing,
Arms wrap,
They laugh together n say,
So Eye hear U Magik?
– Hannah Brontë, 2021

Between 2019 and 2020 the world fundamentally changed. At the end of 2019, we experienced catastrophic bushfires that burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares of Australia and killed three billion animals. In March, the global COVID-19 pandemic radically changed the way we live our lives in Australia, driving lockdowns and border closures between states, and across the globe. And we also saw a spike around the world in Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis. Gold Coast–based creative Hannah Brontë, a DJ and video artist, created her work EYE HEAR U MAGIK during this year that changed everything.

Hannah Brontë’s immersive video and sound installation explores how ancestral intuition has been passed down in the wake of colonisation. Brontë uses music and film to unblock intuitive beliefs and tune into a deep sense of knowing, which she refers to by many names including ‘the knowing’, ‘the cunning’ and ‘illpunja’. Offering a foreboding sense of the future, this is her first commission by the NGV.

EYE HEAR U MAGIK is presented as a curved projection with a reflective black floor. The film is monumental in scale, and is Brontë’s most ambitious project to date. Brontë’s cast of performers sing and chant rhythmic meditations, set against an atmospheric backdrop that combines the footage of the cosmos with depths of the ocean. The abyssal depths in EYE HEAR U MAGIK are a fertile utopia, where pregnancy, matriarchy and childbirth are celebrated through a queer, musical framework. The intersection of motherhood and queerness are consistent themes throughout Brontë’s oeuvre and are inspired by her ongoing work as a doula.

EYE HEAR U MAGIK climaxes with a scene where a great, life-size, humpback whale morphs into the pregnant matriarch, vocally performed by Ofa Fanaika, while the figure floats horizontally in a celestial sea of galaxies. Tongan-born and Brisbane-based, Fanaika is a long-time collaborator of Brontë, and is also a well-known singer whose home village is right by the path where the humpback whales migrate. This climactic moment in the film draws a connection between the deep singing voice of Fanaika, and the navigational sounds sung by migratory whales that reverberate across oceans.

No matter the scale, Brontë’s work always packs a punch. Her soundscapes are somewhat uncontainable, the noise bleeds into other gallery spaces, and before you know it you are humming her tunes in the shower. Despite Black and queer artists generally being among the minority of who is represented in state collections, Brontë’s soundscapes are so pervasive that they take up space wherever you are. This is why artists like Brontë remain so vitally important. Brontë embraces the gaps that many of us have come to accept as standard, using her work as an antidote to everything that is missing. Through Hannah’s work, the presence of Black and queer women is powerfully expansive.

Myles Russell-Cook, Senior Curator, Australian and First Nations Art, National Gallery of Victoria