First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

A new art exhibition acknowledges First Nations heritage and history while celebrating culture and Country. ‘Remembering Who I Was’ brings nine regional First Nations artists to Wadjar Regional Indigenous Gallery at Corindi. The exhibition coincides with the unveiling of a new mural by Gumbaynggirr artist YOWA (Alanna Shorter). We speak to artist and Director of Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Gumbaynggirr woman Alison Williams.

First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

Acknowledging the Past

“There are a variety of works in the exhibition that speak to Country, that speak to family histories or heritage and stories that strike a personal chord,” says Alison Williams. “Our ancestors had to endure so much more than we’ve had to, and we need to acknowledge that.” 

‘Remembering Who I Was’ opened during NAIDOC week and ties into the theme ‘Heal Country’. Alison says Country includes people, animals and nature and the importance of fostering that connection cannot be understated. She believes acknowledging the hurt and trauma of the past facilitates healing. The inclusion of photographs by German man John William Lindt are an example of this. His studio portraits feature Goori people who resided in the Clarence Valley in the late 1800s. Alison says many of them are ancestors to people who now live on Gumbaynggirr Country. 

“It was a time of huge change and quite significant trauma because a lot of people were displaced and a lot of cultural practices ceased,” she explains. “There’s no guilt to be felt but things that should be acknowledged and learnt from and understood.”

First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

Connection to Ancestors

Gumbaynggirr woman Lilly Clegg is one of the exhibiting artists. She originally planned to paint a portrait of her Aunty but she ended up drawing on her collection of foraged shells, driftwood and palm flowers. Her works include a hanging mobile and woven objects.  

“I love to get out with my dog and climb along the rocks and sift through the shells,” she says. “When I walk across this land and walk through the trees, I feel my ancestors walking with me – I feel like they’re a part of me.” 

First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

Lilly says the exhibition theme deeply resonates with her. She’s surrounded by reminders of her ancestors’ cultural practices and values.

“These are things we’ve kind of lost over the years and over the course of our dark history,” Lilly explains. “But I’m surrounded by constant reminders of the importance of keeping those values.”

Lilly works at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre and says it’s a privilege to share knowledge and weaving skills. 

“I’m really glad I can be in a place where lots of people are coming through and have questions about culture and I can share stories,” she says. “I love being here and selling my art and running cultural events and workshops.”

First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

A Mural for the Meeting Place

The exhibition opening coincides with the unveiling of a new mural by Gumbaynggirr artist YOWA (Alanna Shorter). YOWA says she wanted to create a bright, contemporary design that appealed to people of all ages. 

“I took inspiration from Country and chose two local birds that are well known and loved in the community,” she explains. “These feathered characters along with flowing patterns and engaging colours make the mural a piece of art that can be enjoyed by all and a welcoming backdrop to the meeting place that is Wadjar Gallery.”

First Nations Ancestors Celebrated Through Art

Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre recently won the Community Organisation/Business of the Year Award at the Aunty Grace Roberts Community Awards. Alison would like the Gallery and Cultural Centre to continue to show a versatile range of contemporary work, highlighting saltwater and freshwater Aboriginal art.  

“Regardless of what exhibition we have on, we want to engage the audience and give them a stronger sense of the Country they’re on and the embedded history,” she explains. “Whether they’re going through the museum and the collection, whether they’re sitting in the storytelling pods and listening to language and hearing songs — it’s really about sharing culture and knowledge and art celebrating that.”

Remembering Who I Was is on show until August 28.