The complex nature of ‘home’ fascinates First Nations curator Stacie Piper, who has brought together nine contemporary Aboriginal artists to explore connections with Country. Piper’s focus is on work relating to south-east Australia, which takes in about 38 different clans and incorporates, as she describes it, a myriad of “songlines, waterlines and bushlines”.
“The first conversations I had about the exhibition were around how we connect to Country and how we see it,” Piper says. “But I also wanted to go into how we hear country. We have a language word around ‘listening deeply’, but it is about not just listening with your ears, but listening with your eyes and your heart.”
Piper says most exhibitions tend to encourage visitors to observe and analyse art, while WILAM BIIK aims for open-hearted receptiveness. “This can be about how non-First Nations people, too, can connect to Country through their deep listening; and hopefully see their homes as we do, and their connection to it.”
One artist, Paola Balla, is collecting—along with her daughters and her mother— bush plants, gum leaves and flowers on their Wemba-Wemba Country to dye silk chiffon. From this they will create a light-filled tent, which the artist says will be resonant with rust, heat and plant markings from Country. Balla is also installing a large wallpaper print of paintings made by her grandmother Rosie Tangs, a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara self-taught artist, to form a matriarchal and intergenerational “memory-scape of Country”. Steven Rhall, by contrast, incorporates a sculptural working of TarraWarra’s architectural structure, using non-gallery spaces, and will create a photographic-based installation.
Along with work by the seven other artists, Piper has incorporated historic art works throughout WILAM BIIK, most notably by famed Elder William Barak (1824-1903), plus relevant ancestral tools borrowed from Museums Victoria, to further explore the layered themes of home, Country, and listening.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.