The Wilam Biik exhibit at the TarraWarra Art Museum gives the Wurundjeri full control over the conservation process

The latest exhibit at the TarraWarra Art Museum begins with a room that Wurundjeri curator Stacie Piper calls “Welcome Home”. Songs of Djirri Djirri, a Wurundjeri women’s dance group formed in 2013 by Mandy Nicholson and members of her family, rise through the South Gallery.

While the viewer listens to the Woiwurrung language, they are invited to view the paintings of Wurundjeri man William Barak made at Coranderrk station between 1880 and 1900, some of which are embedded in a large-format photograph of a station scene. de Coranderrk in 1890.

This depiction of working life at the train station (on loan from the State Library of Victoria) lines the west wall of the gallery, reflecting a cinematic work of Djirri Djirris dancing over the countryside adjacent to the gallery.

This is a scene that Piper wanted to include in the exhibit, because while life at the station was a complex experience of colonial violence for the ancestors who resided there, it also represents a place of family bonding and political emancipation that she wanted to honor.

Wominjeka (2018-20) by the Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group (including the dancers Wurundjeri, Dja Dja wurrung, Ngurai illum-wurrung).(Provided: TarraWarra)

The exhibition is WILAM BIIK, the second major exhibition presented under the Yalingwa program: a partnership between the Victorian government, the Australian Center for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and the TarraWarra Museum of Art designed to support the development of works exceptional contemporary natives. the art and practice of conservation.

WILAM BIIK, named after the Woiwurrung expression for “country of origin,” celebrates the culture of the traditional custodians on whose lands the TarraWarra Art Museum is located – from works shown the way they are presented.

Some of Barak’s paintings, as well as his tools and personal items, have already been exhibited, notably in galleries in Victoria; However, Piper notes that this is probably the first time the works have been exhibited in the country, with the Wurundjeri in full control of the conservation process.

The south gallery also contains a group of tools, ornaments and paintings belonging to the Wurundjeri ancestors and other First Peoples of the south-eastern region, on loan from institutions such as Museums Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Queensland Art Gallery, and an anonymous private collection.

These artefacts, including parade shields, digging sticks, headbands, river reed necklaces, grindstones and emu feather skirts, are on display alongside works from the living community. Contemporary woven eel traps, jewelry, woven mats and digging sticks made by members of Djirri Djirri, in addition to Kim Wandin (Wurundjeri) and Joyce Moate (Taungurung), are placed among the ancestral objects.

An intricately woven ocher-red net hung from two long sticks of dark wood leaning against a teal gallery wall.
Drag Net (2021) by Glenda Nicholls (Waddi Waddi, Ngarrindjeri and Yorta Yorta).(Provided: TarraWarra)

The presence of ancestors throughout the exhibition gives the viewer the impression of walking through a family home rather than an art gallery.

The 19th century portraits of the Wurundjeri rulers of Coranderrk – William Barak, Annie Borate, Robert Wandoon and Jemima Burns Wandin Dunolly – are “wrapped in the country”: framed in wood reclaimed from native mountain ash and natural materials woven by wurundjeri artist Kim Wandin.

Yorta The woman Yorta Kimberley Moulton writes in the exhibition catalog that the encounter of these images and objects disrupts and displaces colonial time – “it is through the portals of the cultural materials of the elderly that I travel”.

As you walk through the gallery, seeing these images and possessions from previous generations creates a feeling that the ancestors are looking at.

Each of the personal items is dated and labeled with the word Woiwurrung “Liwik” (ancestor). It is important. In WILAM BIIK, ancestors are revered and honored as community artists and belonging to a community, rather than being recognized with an anonymous and objectified “unknown” label, as is common practice in museums around the world where ancestral objects are kept. .

A woman with long dark hair and brown eyes wears an olive green dress and looks curiously into a cabinet displaying Indigenous art.
Piper is also a dancer and educator in the Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri women’s dance group, featured in the Wominjeka video installation.(Provided: TarraWarra)

Museum protocols require that loaned items be displayed behind display cases, but those pieces are, Piper tells me, meant to be used and touched.

Headbands, emu feather skirts and river reed necklaces are part of the daily life of the Wurundjeri women of the Djirri Djirri dance group (of which Piper is a part).

“Exhibiting contemporary works here, rather than in showcases, shows that they are current,” Piper explains.

“It was difficult to choose which ones we were going to display here because we use them all the time. They are rural, they are made of trees and grass.”

This deliberate choice to represent Wurundjeri tools and ornaments as contemporary objects is one of the ways in which WILAM BIIK shows a necessary disruption of the authority of museums and other institutions to determine indigenous cultural practices.

This decomposition is made physical in the work Of the Earth by taungurung artist Steven Rhall, through the literal decomposition of one of the gallery walls.

“He really wanted to go through the wall,” Piper explains.

“The whole thought process around this was about the geological history of the country. Taungurung has a lot of large granite boulders in his country. I encouraged Steven to work with the connection between the boulders and the loaned stone tools, for these rocks have a chronology and history on them, and many of them on the land Wurundjeri and Taungurung have also been compromised by logging. They have coexisted for eons with the flora and fauna that surround them. “

Through a tear in a gray plaster wall is a brown wooden cabinet.  Above, a printed photo of bush and dirt held up by rocks
From the Earth (2021) by Steven Rhall (Taungurung) for installation at the TarraWarra Art Museum.(Provided: TarraWarra)

Reminders of threatened horizons, water lines, forest lines that are shared by the communities of the south-east confront the public throughout the show.

The urgent task behind WILAM BIIK is to ask non-indigenous people to consider their connection to the country, inviting them to a sense of shared responsibility with the traditional caretakers.

By asking “How do we see Country? How do you listen to Country? How do you connect to Country? ”, The ten artists of the show explore the connection lines between many First Peoples of the Southeast.

These connections extend from the land of Wurundjeri to the land of Barkandji in the north, the land of Yorta Yorta, the land of Ngarrandjeri, the land of Gunnai / Kurnai and the land of Trawlwoolway.

Many performing artists are involved in the active fight against the loss of culturally vital ecosystems in the South East.

An ongoing fight against logging involving members of the Taungurung, Wurundjeri and Gunnai / Kurnai communities continued during the pandemic, and – as shown in Rhall’s stunning photograph of part of the endangered area of ​​the country of Taungurung – the grief that surrounds it is close to the surface in WILAM BIIK.

Piper says: “They are still there every day, despite the pandemic, destroying biodiversity. They are cleaning up vast swathes of country and subsequently incinerating it. The fires are reaching several meters underground.”

WILAM BIIK is also a celebratory gathering of the peoples of the Southeast who claim that they are, rather than divided by border lines, connected by old water lines, song lines and forest lines.

In the work Six Layers of Country, the dancers Djirri Djirri sing on the ground, the earth, the water, the air, the sky and the animals which reside in the elements of the country which connect the First Peoples of the region.

Handmade kelp water carriers by Trawlwoolway and Tyereelore artist Nannette Shaw express concern for the shrinking seaweed forests of Bass Strait, while also illustrating her own understanding of the line waterline from the ocean that connects southeast Victoria to Tasmania, where a land bridge once connected the island to the mainland.

A taupe silk organza tent sits in a gallery space in front of a landscape painting of a ghost gum tree and ocher plains.
Murrup (Ghost) Weaving in Rosie Kuka Lar (Grandma’s Camp) (2021) by Paola Balla (Wemba Wemba, Gunditijmara) and Untitled Wallpaper (c. 1978) by Rosie Tang.(Provided: TarraWarra)

Dr Paola Balla, a Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara artist, uses bush-dyed organza silks to adorn a tent, in a work that aims “to show what healing spaces might look like, where restorative aesthetics, cultural acts and sovereign art weave through time, ”she explains.

The Barkindji man, Kent Morris, represents the land of the sky and the creation story of two sisters, the kiinki (corellas), who “ascended to the stars.”

Piper points out that by fostering the connection to where they live, WILAM BIIK is asking viewers to take their responsibility to the country seriously.

“We hope that a wider conversation can emerge from the show. The integrity of the country is still not taken into account.”

WILAM BIIK takes place from October 30 to November 21 at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, Wurundjeri Country, Healesville, Victoria.

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