Joel Sam


7 Jul –
22 Oct 2023

Joel Sam was born in 1977 on Thursday Island, Torres Strait, Queensland. Sam is a Saibai artist of the Sui Baidam clan. 

Exodus is a personal account of the mass movement of people in the 1940s from the island of Saibai in the Torres Strait to Mutee Heads on Cape York Peninsula. Saibai is a large low-lying island 5km south of Papua New Guinea and is a north western island of the Zenadh Kes archipelago.  

While on active duty during WWII, a group of young Saibai soldiers identified the tip of Cape York as a place for future settlement because the island of Saibai was facing increasing hardship due to monsoonal flooding, a scarcity of good drinking water and firewood, and limited accommodation. After a series of meetings between the young men and their Elders, it was decided that the people of Saibai should relocate to the Australian mainland where a new settlement would be established at the tip of Cape York Peninsula.

In 1946, several luggers were purchased to facilitate the move some 164km away. MV Millard carried the Samu clan, Macoy carried the Umay clan, and S.S. Donna carried the Dhoeybaw clan. By 1949 almost 300 Saibai Islanders had been moved to the peninsula, first to Mutee Heads, then to Bamaga and later to Seisia. Despite their relocation their connections to Saibai cultural ways have never been lost.

This exhibition is supported through a Cairns RSL Club Artist Fellowship that enabled Joel Sam to develop new linocuts, etchings, dhibal (feathered headdresses), dibi dibi (pearl shell pendants), and an outrigger canoe which represent the songs, dance and ceremonies that the families took to their new mudth, their new home on mainland Australia.

by Brian Robinson


Exhibition Room Brochure

Joel Sam, Exodus



More to Explore


Artist Showcase Program

An online resource for artists, curators, collectors, and the public that provides information about contemporary artists from the region, many of whom are represented in the Gallery's Permanent Collection. 

This initiative extends the Gallery’s support of the outstanding arts practice of artists from our region.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

Read more

Artist Fellowship Program

Supporting regional artists with grants of $7,500 to develop a new body of work for a future exhibition.

To date, Fellowships have been awarded to Francesca RosaMaharlina Gorospe-LockieJanet FieldhouseSimone ArnolJason WeggerNaomi HobsonHeather KoowoothaJoel SamDaniel Wallwork, Monique Burkead, Tommy Pau and Sonya Creek.

The Artist Fellowship Award is proudly supported by the Cairns RSL Club.





This exhibition has been supported through a Cairns RSL Club Artist Fellowship Award

1: Joel SAM
Kongasu 2023
60 x 100 cm
Courtesy of the artist
Photo: Michael Marzik

2: Joel SAM
Thabu Ganaw (Snake skin) 2010
etching, chine colle
92 x 49cm
NorthSite Contemporary Art Collection
Photo: Michael Marzik

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