Paola Balla Biography

Paola Balla is an award-winning artist, curator, academic & writer who works in community cultural development with over twenty years’ experience in First Nations community arts, board membership, festival & event experience & specialized First Nations art, culture & education in cultural, education, school & tertiary settings. Paola established the Indigenous Arts and Cultural Program & Wominjeka Festival at Footscray Community Arts Centre in 2010 with Indigenous Elders & community members.

Paola is a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where she is the inaugural Lisa Bellear Indigenous Research Scholar (2016-present). Her practice led research situates the ways Aboriginal women artists & activists/protectors disrupt artistic terra nullius by speaking back and ‘blak’ to patriarchal and colonial narratives.

Paola is a member of the research & academic team at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Centre, Victoria University where she lectures in Indigenous Studies & Indigenous Art, conducts community outreach and research and mentors’ other students.

Awards include the inaugural Nyerna Studies, Bachelor of Education Community Service Award, (2001) Victoria University, Trevor Nickolls Student Award, Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts & Cultural Development, (2004) Melbourne University, R.E. Trust Scholarship, Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts & Cultural Development, Melbourne University, Premier’s Award, Western Region Reconciliation Art Show (2007) Besen Family Foundation Scholarship, (2007) Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts & Cultural Development, Melbourne University, Lisa Bellear Indigenous Post Graduate Scholarship, (2016) Victoria University, shortlisted in the Victorian Indigenous Arts Awards, Creative Victoria, (2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), Winner of the Three Dimensional Award, Victorian Indigenous Arts Awards, Creative Victoria, (2011 & 2014), 2012 Arts Hub Australia Award, Most Outstanding Contribution to the Arts from an Organisation for Blak Side Story in collaboration with FCAC & Singing Bowl Media.

Highly Commended, Victorian Indigenous Arts Awards, Creative Victoria, 2015, Highly Commended MAGNA (Museums & Galleries National Awards), Australia and New Zealand for Indigenous Projects (2016) for Executed in Franklin Street, City Gallery, (2016).

Grants include City of Melbourne Indigenous Grants, (2010) Creative Victoria Project Funding (2015) Australia Council for the Arts International Market Development Fund (2018).

Paola’s writing appears in publications including; Etchings Indigenous, (2011) The Lifted Brow, (2015) Peril Magazine, (2015) Weather Stations for Tony Birch (2015) Victorian Writer (2017), Sovereignty, ACCA (2017) Unfinished Business, Perspectives on Art & Feminism (2018) Going Down Swinging (2018), Frieze (2018) SBS online (2018) Artlink Indigenous Kanarn Wangkiny/Wanggandi Karlto (Speaking from inside) (2018).

Speaking engagements include, CHOTRO Indigenous Languages and Art conference in Delhi and Chail (2010), WIPCE (World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education) Cusco, Peru (2011) Spoken Word, La Mama Theatre, Melbourne (2012) keynote for Community Development Network Place and Displacement Conference (2013) The Lifted Brow & Non Fiction Lab-RMIT (2016) Emerging Writers Festival (2017) keynote for WOW (Women of the World Festival)( 2017), Writing & Concepts Series (2017), Present Tense Non-Fiction Lab-RMIT, (2018), MADA Art Forum, (2018) MADA (Monash University Art & Design) WIPCE 2014, Honolulu, Hawaii, Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts & Cultural Development, Melbourne University (2016, 2017, 2018) Culture First Forum, ACCA (2017) WIPCE, Toronto, Canada, (2017) Forerunner Forum: Unfinished Business, Perspectives on art and feminism, ACCA, (2018) First Nations Dialogues, New York City, (2018), COIL Festival, Performance Space New York (2018), Sydney Biennale First Nations Summit (2018), Songlines Living Narratives Symposium, National Gallery Australia, Canberra (2018), Conversations Starters Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2018).

Paola has served on selection panels for Creative Victoria including chairing Regional Arts panels and served on the City of Melbourne’s Indigenous Arts selection panel and The City of Melbourne’s Creative Strategy (2018), and has judged the Koorie Art Show at The Koorie Heritage Trust (2017).

Paola serves on the Indigenous Advisory Group at Footscray Community Arts Centre, and was the first artist and First Nations person to be appointed to the board of the Melbourne Art Foundation as a Director of Melbourne Art Fair, and was a board member of Unprojects. Paola volunteers as an arts mentor to young & emerging Indigenous artists & curators.

Paola’s visual practice encapsulates art, identity and narrative realms. Her work focuses on Aboriginal women's stories and resistance, centring Aboriginal women’s voices and activism, sovereignty, matriarchy and First Nations ways of being, knowing and doing. Her work has been collected by City of Melbourne Art & Heritage Collection, Victoria University, Federation University & private collectors.

Recent group shows Paola features in include Next Matriarch (2017) at ACE Open for Taranthi Festival, Adelaide, Walan Yinaagirbang -Strong women, (2017) at First Draft, Sydney, State of the Nation, (2016) at Counihan Gallery, Smoke and Mirrors, (2016) at Art Realm Unframed (2016) Incinerator Gallery, In Good Company-with proppaNOW, Roslyn Smorgon Gallery FCAC (2016).

Paola’s solo shows include Her: Stories, Kingston Art Gallery (2016), Kalina Yaryins (2015) at Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide, Born into Sovereignty, Live in Sovereignty (2014) Manningham Gallery, Singin’ Up Country and Western, (2012) Koorie Heritage Trust, and Lost and Found (2010) at Trocadero Art Space.

Her recent commissioned curatorial projects include the acclaimed major exhibition Sovereignty, ACCA (2016) with ACCA Artistic Director & CEO, Max Delany, which featured over forty First Nations artists and focussed on South Eastern art and narratives and Executed in Franklin Street (2016) City Gallery, a group exhibition commemorating the public exhibition of Aboriginal freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, (Highly Commended MAGNA (Museums & Galleries National Awards), Australia and New Zealand for Indigenous Projects 2016). Paola was a senior Curator in the First Peoples award-winning gallery at Melbourne Museum for Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre (2013) and curated Incident in Swanston Street, City Gallery, (2013). Paola was a co-curator of Unfinished Business; Perspectives on art and feminism, ACCA, (2018).

Paola is regularly invited to contribute to arts publications and is a sought-after public speaker and consultant on community cultural development, First Nations art and cultural development and arts projects and has extensive workshop development and delivery experience.

Paola has presented locally and internationally by invitation and presents regularly in Melbourne’s arts community and is sought after as an artist, curator, consultant, speaker, facilitator and arts collaborator on a variety of projects.

Paola Balla

Wemba-Wemba & Gunditjmara First Nations

Born 1974