Saturday, July 01, 2006

Woven opening

Opening of Woven by Gayle Maddigan and Megan Evans at Ballarat Fine Art Gallery 30 June 2006 This exhibition is a wonderful meeting of opposites—the outside of public art and the inside of the art gallery, the ground on which we stand as individuals and the stars that bring us together, the fifth generation Australian artist, and an artist whose people have been here for thousands of generations. Interesting things happen when you bring these opposites together. We normally understand the earth as the land we travel, and the stars as lights that guide our journey. But a little over fourteen years ago, Australia was blessed by a different knowledge. In the ground-breaking Mabo case (literally), the Australian High Court decided in favour of the people of Mer, the Meriam people, who followed the teachings of the ancestor Malo, which assigned rules of land tenure, succession and trespass. Witnesses such as Koiki Mabo for the Mer invoked the allegorical expression ‘Stars follow their own path . . .’ when giving their testimony. History may prescribe certain twists and turns in the fate of mankind, but the underlying rules of culture remain constant, just as stars follow their own path. Of course, this evening we are following the path of the southern cross. In fact, I came here from the newly renamed Southern Cross Station, launched by the Ballarat-born Premier Steve Bracks as a symbol of multiculturalism. We saw the ongoing energy of that symbol on Wednesday at the Workers Rights Rally, when United Firefighters Union of Australia state secretary Peter Marshall, a rally organiser, urged the crowd to repeat rebellion leader Peter Lalor’s oath: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’ So ingrained is the Southern Cross symbol in our sense of what is worth fighting for, that we can be excused for forgetting that the stars belong to no one story. They are a bridge between cultures. One of the wonders of the South Project is finding such links between countries that have been separated by the very thing they share in common. Like the flightless birds that grace our lands, countries like Australia and Brazil are so used to looking north that we don’t see each other. We only need to look up to the stars. This fact is very much in our face at the moment as we see the Brazilian flag proudly waved at the World Cup. The flag features the night sky above Rio as it was on 10:30am 15 November 1889. We can find the southern cross in the flags of New Guinea, New Zealand, Samoa... But my favourite story of the Southern Cross originates right here. As recorded by the grazier William Stanbridge, to the Philosophical Institute in Melbourne in 1857, the Boorong people see in the southern constellation a tree which protects Bunya, an opossum, who is pursued by Tchingal, an emu, represented by the Coal Sack. The Pointers are the two great hunters who kill the emu and their spears are stuck in the tree. A common feature of various Aboriginal stories of the stars is a tree that enables its heroes to move between heaven and earth. The connection between trees and the stars they point to is quite powerful in this exhibition. The artists have approached the link from many different angles. Gayle Maddigan has used the ash from the burnt branches to create quite visceral drawings on paper. Megan Evens has adopted a more craft-life approach in her meticulous oil paintings of gigantic leaves. Together they have produced an amazingly powerful white ochre landscape painted directly on the gallery wall opposite the Eureka flag. Woven is a wonderful journey that takes us back through the trauma of invasion to the timeless values of indigenous Australia. Here is a path for stars, and for us to guide our way to the future. I would like to conclude with four lines from Dante’s Divine Comedy, when we finally meets his beloved Beatrice: [Canto XXXIII] From that most holy wave I now returned to Beatrice; remade, as new trees are renewed when they bring forth new boughs, I was pure and prepared to climb into the stars Alighieri Dante The Divine Comedy (trans. Eugenio Montale) : Everyman Books, 1985 (orig. 1313), p. 375 Image of Gayle Maddigan, elder Murray Harrison and Megan Evans Posted by Picasa

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