Grace Moulding was a close and integral member of the ONCA staff community where she volunteered from autumn 2021 to winter 2022, during and after her studies for an MA in Curating Collections and Heritage at the University of Brighton, from which she graduated with distinction.
Grace was a huge ONCA enthusiast and gave the organisation her time and energy with great generosity, throwing herself into all aspects of the life of the gallery – ranging from talking to visitors to writing audio descriptions, hanging works and maintaining the space; from staffing talks to clearing up Saturday night’s mess from the doorstep on a Monday morning. She helped run community workshops, managed challenging situations sensitively, approached conversations with curiosity, and defused potential tensions with – well, with grace.
Grace said yes and joined in with everything. One of the last things we did together was to hold an impromptu funeral for all the pieces of dried seaweed, shells, mermaids’ purses and curious stones that had accumulated on board our community venue the Barge, when we had been given notice and had to move off the boat. Grace, Maddy and I gathered a carrier bag full of these tiny treasures and sat in the low winter sun on the marina wall, dropping the talismans into the sea one by one, offering benedictions and little prayers of gratitude, and shrieking whenever one got picked off by a gull.
And yet alongside her cheerful and generous good humour, from the moment we first met Grace we felt her gravitas: Grace was a serious person and a deep thinker. In her application to ONCA she wrote of her ‘vehemence’ about decolonising heritage and collections. She was a person who thought deeply about the things that matter. Her values were closely aligned with ONCA’s, but she brought with her an additional, exciting specific area of focus and learning: Aboriginal Australian art and its role in land rights activist movements there.
She had formed a devoted connection with a community of artists in the Northern Territory during a trip there in 2020, which had influenced her curatorial thinking and her wish to research the use of art in relation to Aboriginal land rights. She was passionate about the politics of Aboriginal painting and particularly the Utopia Batik Movement of the 1970s, and hoped to complete a PhD exploring womxn’s agency (Grace’s terminology) and art-making in Aboriginal land claims and story-sharing.
I was disappointed when Grace’s PhD proposal was not selected – for Grace, for the field, and for ONCA, because ONCA would have been a project partner. The research would have expanded the community of artists with whom ONCA might work, we would have witnessed and learned from Grace’s research and it would have been exciting to be part of her energetic bridge-building between indigenous Australian artists’ stories and audiences in the UK. But it was not to be.
However, not long afterwards, Grace was thrilled to be offered the position of Centre Manager at the Artists of Ampilatwatja Gallery, an art space where she had already volunteered in a tiny community in the Northern Territory of Australia. This was a senior and very responsible position: it was up to Grace to support the artists, market their work and maintain the archive on site. This was clearly a huge honouring and recognising of her unique vocational sensibility and passion for this community and this work. Grace moved to Ampilatwatja and started in the post in February. Her love for the work and the place shone through everything she shared about it online.
We were absolutely heartbroken to learn that Grace died in June in an accident in Australia. Far, far too young and far too soon. The loss of her loving energy, intelligence and devotion are a huge blow not only to the people who knew and adored her, but to the movement to decolonise arts and heritage studies which was only just beginning to hear her voice.
We feel acutely the disappointment that we know Grace would have felt at the failure of the referendum campaign for Indigenous recognition in the Australian constitution in October 2023.
We were honoured that Grace called us ‘My ONCA family’, we mourn for her alongside the rest of her Brighton community, and we send our deepest condolences to her parents Janet and Ron.
Photo: Grace (on the left) with ONCA colleague Ishtar during a staff picnic in the garden, summer 2022