In weaving narrowly between meanings, green is representative of the landscape and natural form. In Australia in particular, its power and importance is complex, as well as ancient in scope. It holds the crux of humanity in its depth and has borne witness to the invasion, colonisation, dispersion and assimilation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. To the colonialists, settlers and pastoralists, the romanticised bucolic green of the Australian bush was hostile before it could be tamed; bearing itself to the genre of Australian Gothic.
This body of work uses the metaphor of invasive, introduced, hybrid, native and mythological species of flora and fauna within the landscape as reminders for a re-examined shared history of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australia. It is poignant in its use of symbols of flora and fauna, a reference to the botanical classification and collection of Indigenous people and cultural objects.
In reflecting a mirror to the past, the Crowned Cockatrose, is symbolic of an invasive mythical beast to be feared stalking in the bush, heralding a crown and a taste for land and sovereignty. The only way to kill such a beast – based on the legend of the Cockatrice – was for it to see its own reflection in a mirror.
Captain Phillip’s Acclimatisation-Greyhound Acacia Decora considers past European cultural practices of colonisation, sovereignty and institutional governance that attempted to shape and conform both landscape and culture, including the 19th Century Acclimatisation Societies who sought to “beautify” the landscape with the familiar and by Eurocentric agricultural methods. Similarly, the work references mid 20th century examples of cultural theft in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motifs were appropriated by non-Indigenous artists and designers to “decorate” domestic objects. The effects of such forms of sovereign control and imperial blindness are still in evidence today.
In looking towards the future, it is understood that we need to seek knowledge and connectedness. In Australia, we move closer to this knowledge as truths from history are revealed and recognised. Indigenous culture, language and wisdom of land are brought to the fore and celebrated.
"When we want to learn something we have to understand the underneath parts, the deep knowledge. ‘Pangirninjaku nganju’: ‘Nganju’ means root and ‘pangirninjaku’ is digging up. It means there are many layers to knowledge and you have to keep digging them up to find out-deep learning." - Wanta Jampijinpa Pawu-Kurlpurlurnu, Warlpiri elder (Pawu- Kurlpurlurnu WJ, Holmes M and Box L. 2008. Ngurra-kurlui: A way of working with Warlpiri people, DKCRC Report 41. Desert knowledge CRC, Alice Springs).
This body of work employs the technique of shaped tapestry weaving, whereby the symbolic weaving and reweaving of history and image takes place. The use of descriptive materials bears witness to power frameworks, histories and cultural beliefs: Australian camouflage, desert camo, urban camo, army issued wool blanket, institutional sheets, silk, linen, shoe laces, cotton, high-vis polar fleece, forestry tape, lycra and mirror.
The small tapestry weavings and video work look at honouring the gestural practices of Central and Western Desert Aboriginal language groups, including Anmatyerr, Kaytetye and Pitjantjatjara languages, in which hand gestures constitute a complex language system used in addition to spoken language . The weavings depict a shape from the dynamic form of hand actions used to express meaning. These works seek to celebrate, now and for the future Indigenous languages, and to honour the authority of Indigenous Knowledge and Culture.
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Gadigal clan of the Eora nations and the Darug and Guringai peoples, the traditional custodians of the land on which these works were created and are being exhibited. I would also like to acknowledge and kindly thank the following people for sharing their wisdom, knowledge and resources: Phillipa Roberton, Edward Horne, Gary Foley, April Campbell from Ti Tree Community, Jennifer Green and her hand sign illustrations, Margaret Carew, the Anmatyerr, Warlpiri, Ngaatjatjarra and Kaytetye Sign Language consultants who appear on iltyemiltyem.com, members of Docker River community who assisted with Pitjantjatjara signing on the video, John Carroll, Lydia Roberton, , H Morgan-Harris, Justin Russell, Chris Haywood, Azelia Maynard and Justin Maynard. I would like to acknowledge and thank for their wisdom, knowledge and inspiration: Wanta Jampijinpa Pawu-Kurlpurlurnu, r e a, Marcia Langton and Bruce Pascoe.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.