4 March 2024

Ngarigo, Coomaditchie artworks to feature at Museum of Sydney

| Edwina Mason
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Man doing interview

Ngarigo/Ngarigu artist Peter Waples-Crowe. Image: Museum of Sydney screenshot.

The work of a Ngarigo visual and performance artist who has never lived on Ngarigo Country and a celebratory exhibition featuring the premier Aboriginal artists in the Illawarra are among a trio of thought-provoking exhibits by First Nations artists opening at the Museum of Sydney in March.

Ngarigo/Ngarigu artist Peter Waples-Crowe’s five-minute installation – a self-portrait titled Ngaya (I am) – includes historical photographs of the Snowy Mountains region, held in the NSW State Archives Collection.

Originally created by government to promote tourism, the photographs depict the region through the lens of mid-20th century officialdom which the multidisciplinary artist uses for what he describes as as ‘a cut-and-paste, punked-up look at my Country’.

Melding images of people and landscape with song, dance and humour Ngaya (I am) explores the multiple identities of Waples-Crowe, who was adopted and raised in the Illawarra region and later reconnected with his Ngarigo heritage.

A collaboration with cinematographer Rhian Hinkley and composer Harry Covill, the work was first commissioned by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) for How I See It: Blak Art and Fil.

Ngaya (I am), says Waples-Crowe, acts as a reinstatement of the artist in the landscape from which he was removed.

More so, it highlights the ongoing presence of the Ngarigo people in the land that still holds their stories despite pervasive Western imagery that would deny their existence, language and connection to Country.

“It’s a Country with conflicting narratives which this film explores through found footage and animation,” he says.

“It looks at Country from [my] insider-outsider perspective: [from] someone who at once belongs to this Country but who has never lived on Country for any extended time, and [who] has viewed it from Naarm/Melbourne for the past 20 years,” Waples-Crowe said.

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The Melbourne-based multidisciplinary artist, a descendent of Wiradjuri and Ngarigo nations, was born in Sydney and studied at Wollongong University.

Using found footage taken from YouTube, Ngaya (I am) speaks to the degradation of Country through tourism, including projects like the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the romantic notions of the high country with brumbies, and recent bushfires.

In one section of the work, a jet ski flies across choppy waters within the Eugene von Guerard painting North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko, 1863; a disco ball shines over Ngarigo Country as it burns.

“The ancestors and Country is still here pulsating with life and is continually trying to renew its ancient power in the face of adversity,” Waples-Crowe said.

“I want people to think about the snow Country, away from it being a holiday destination to be exploited,” he said. “I want you to think about the First People of the snow and fragility of Country.”

Ngaya (I am) opens at the Museum of Sydney on 16 March and runs until 25 August 2024.

Indigenous painting workshop

Aunty Lorraine Brown at the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation. Coomaditchie artists work collaboratively with community groups, schools, and university students in the Illawarra region to create art using murals, mosaics and public artworks. Image: Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation/Facebook.

Coomaditchie: The Art of Place is a showcase of paintings, ceramics and screen prints all speaking to life in and around the settlement of Coomaditchie, its history, ecology and local Dreaming stories, in the Illawarra region.

The exhibition, which first opened at Wollongong Art Gallery in March 2023, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding and impact of the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation, which provides support and services to the people of Coomaditchie and the broader South Coast of NSW communities.

The Coomaditchie works include the gallery’s outdoor panels, which tell the environmental stories of Coomaditchie Lagoon; three large canvas works that speak to the history of three decades of community engagement; ceramic hand-built platters by the two aunties and fellow Coomaditchie-based artist, Allison Day; as well as the recent ‘love letters to Coomaditchie’ works from the broader Illawarra community in the form of ceramic plates.

Also on display are original historical documents and a short film that reveal the social and political narrative of the founding of the current Coomaditchie settlement, which followed a long campaign for housing for local Aboriginal people.

Coomaditchie: The Art of Place is based on the exhibition commissioned by Wollongong Art Gallery in 2023.

It opens on 30 March and runs through until 25 August.

The third exhibition Cast in cast out is inspired by Sydney-based Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay artist Dennis Golding’s experiences and childhood memories of growing up in ‘The Block’, an Aboriginal community in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern.

The artwork ‘recasts’ Victorian-era ironwork panels – a distinctive feature of many 19th century houses in Redfern – as contemporary expressions of power and ownership.

Ten sculptural panels and fragments cast by the artist are suspended at varying heights, each one casting a shadow onto the vivid blue wall behind.

Fragments appear to float from the panels onto the ground, representing Golding’s dismantling of colonial symbols of division and control, the broken shards a means of reclaiming, transforming and breaking away from colonial constructs.

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The artist’s presence resonates through his photographic self-portrait, which provides the focal point for the display, his arresting gaze directed at visitors as they enter the gallery.

The display is accompanied by a 3D-printed replica of one of the panels, to give visitors an opportunity to feel its shapes and textures, as well as a filmed interview in which Golding discusses Cast in cast out and its genesis.

Cast in cast out will run from 16 March – 16 June.

Mary Darwell, CEO, Museums of History NSW said linking the artists to their artworks was their connection to ‘place’.

“Whether it’s The Block in Redfern, northwestern NSW, the Illawarra or Snowy Mountain regions, these works offer personal perspectives and comment on Country that is significant to each artist,” she said.

“It is important that we support and share different perspectives, voices, stories and culture in exploring our often-contested history.

“I am delighted that these exhibitions include photographs and advocacy documents from the NSW State Archives Collection. The addition of documentary evidence adds another layer to these exhibits and their importance to our understanding of the past.”

The Museum of Sydney is located at the corner of Phillip and Bridge streets in Sydney.

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