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Reclamation – culture, spirit and place

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Indigenous arts
BY SANDRA HILL
I was commissioned to do this artwork in 2004, collaborating with Ngunnawal artist Jim Williams and non-Indigenous ceramic artist Jenny Dawson. I was responsible for all design, utilizing a few of Jim’s drawings and fortunately was able to use the stainless steel silos already onsite. The mosaic was made at the J Shed Ceramic Art Studio in Fremantle, Perth.
Jenny Dawson and I have been working together on public art projects for the past ten years. The mosaic was made from wet clay, rolled on the slab. The design was transferred onto the clay and cut to the grid. Each clay tile was numbered to this grid and fits together like a jigsaw. While the tiles were still wet, the imagery was etched into the clay. The tiles were then dried, cleaned, hand-glazed and fired in the kiln at stoneware temperatures.
Tony Pankiw, a prominent metal artist from Perth, made the steel components that cover the silos. Large silk screens translated the designs to scale. These were then chemically printed onto the steel, which was then acid etched onto the metal plates. The plates were dissected using a plasma cutter and then electro plated. Once this process was completed, printing ink was rubbed into the low areas to produce the colour. The steel art work has been sealed with an epoxy anti-graffiti coating and will not deteriorate over time. Some of the panels are of rusted steel but these get better over time, like the copper of the Molonglo River.
It was a privilege to work on this project, being a Ngoongar from W.A. it is significant that another tribe invested in me and trusted me to express their culture and traditions. They trusted me to tell their story visually, in an appropriate and acceptable manner to all of the community and this is highly unusual for indigenous groups. It was an extraordinary experience to be accepted in this way by the Ngunnawal people and I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Matilda House, Jim Williams and members of the local Indigenous community for this honour. My thanks also go to ArtsACT and the Chief Minister’s office for their ongoing support.
“Reclamation; Culture, Spirit and Place”.
Reclamation acknowledges the traditional owners of this place, the Ngunnawal people. The two steel plinths feature imagery that incorporates and reflects the rich cultural history and traditions of the original custodians of the Molonglo River, it’s waterways and tribal lands.
The four panels reference the many facets of Ngunnawal culture and heritage. Some of the animals represented are; the Eagle, totem animal of the Ngunnawal people, the Crow, Owl, Black Cockatoo, Goanna, Frog and the Crane. The Bogong Moth holds a significant place in the Ngunnawal traditions as an important food source.
The original path of the Molonglo River and the ancient rock paintings from the ‘Yankee Hat’ rock shelters in the Namadji National Park are featured in one of the panels. The animals represented are; the Dingo, Kangaroo, Echidna and Koala, all are important food sources for the local people.
The mosaic reflects past, present and future. The figures participate in a dance, representing cultural traditions of the past. The two arcs signify coolamons or ‘holding vessels’. One represents the maintenance of Ngunnawal culture, the keeping of the record and the strong and ongoing connection to their lands. The strips represent the Ngunnawal people; moving forward into the future, tall, strong and proud. The coloured tiles represent the natural environment; the land, the sea, the heavens, the earth and the blood of the people. The ‘campfire’ symbol represents home, family and community.
The artwork celebrates the survival of the spirit, the courage and the dignity shown by the Ngunnawal people, as they move forward into the future.
Principal Artist: Sandra Hill (Nyoongar)
Collaborative Artist: Jim Williams (Ngunnawal).
Ceramic Artist: Jenny Dawson
Metal Artist: Tony Pankiw

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