This year, Norwegian oil giant Equinor stated that it would forge ahead with plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight – a decision that comes despite major concerns for the environmental impacts of the operation. The disregard for the dangers of a potential oil spill are not only astounding, but also ill-timed with global environmental protest movements dominating headlines. Modelling shows that an oil spill could spread as far as Bass Strait and on to The Pacific, and it’s unknown the effect seismic testing could have on marine life, or the noise pollution stemming from drilling and boat traffic.
The proposed drilling however doesn’t just threaten the environment. ACE Open artistic director Patrice Sharkey says that for the Mirning, Kokatha and Wirangu people from Ceduna, a coastal South Australian town, it’s a “threat to their home and their cultural identity, which is intrinsically tied to the lands and waters of the region.”
This impending incursion is the subject of a series of specially commissioned works by artists working out of Ceduna Arts and Culture Centre and Ku Arts, mentored by heavyweights Yhonnie Scarce and Ryan Presley. Scarce has maternal family connections to the Ceduna area, while Presley’s father’s family is Marri Ngarr from the Moyle River region in the Northern Territory. Both were brought in to encourage the exhibiting artists to explore new media and conceptual frameworks.
“A keystone work in No Black Seas is a collectively authored large-scale sculpture made from over 50 sand-casted glass [pieces],” says Sharkey. This mass installation represents the ocean bed with the translucent clean glass sculptures “laced with shades of black, evoking the devastation of an oil spill.” Whales and sea creatures feature in works that also document Dreaming stories from the area by artists including Yana Tschuna (Wirangu), Josephine Lennon (Matutjara), Joylene Haynes (Kokatha) and Beaver Lennon (Mirning).
This article was originally published in the November/December 2019 print edition of Art Guide Australia.