Keep your eyes peeled for bursts of colour when navigating around the gritty urban Sydney landscape. From politicised red, yellow and black to a contemporary bubble-gum pink, more and more colourful street murals and installations are continuing to crop up in our largest city. And they're telling the stories of Aboriginal culture.
This is largely thanks to the Eora Journey, a visionary project that celebrates the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Sydney. 'Eora' means 'the people' in the Gadigal language, one of the languages of modern-day Sydney, and as such, the "Eora Journey" translates as 'the people's journey'.
This project, overseen by art curator and writer Hetti Perkins, comprises seven major public art projects created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. It aims to reactivate the knowledge of specific places and events in Aboriginal history at key sites within the city. The project is one part Recognition of First Peoples in the Public Domain, and three other parts;
- An economic play to address the community's access to education, education and training opportunities.
- Construct an Aboriginal and Cultural centre to create opportunities for employment, tourism and sustainable industries
- Promote a cultural understanding amongst residents of Sydney and visitors.
Currently there are two permanent artworks and installations (as well as some temporary ones) within this project located around Sydney. Additionally, there are also several other Indigenous public artworks around the city, making a neat city-crawl for families, classes, tourists and anyone wanting to get a feel of the Sydney mob's arts scene.
In September 2015 the City of Sydney invited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to submit proposals for major public artworks to honour the Eora, cut to today and the outcomes are fantastic:
Welcome to Redfern - Reko Rennie & young Indigenous artists from the Redfern Community (2013)
Coming from a graffiti background, Gomeroi artist Reko Rennie is known for his innovative work in the public space.
Welcome to Redfern is the creative talents of Rennie, as well as young aspiring artists whom he taught street art workshops to in 2012/2013. The group explored stencilling, projection, freehand spray painting and paste-ups, as well as theory and developing themes and concepts.
The Eora piece, 'Welcome To Redfern' covers an entire terrace house in Redfern, serving as a landmark and monument to the neighbourhood’s Aboriginal history, activism, community and culture. Artist Reko Rennie and a his mob of local young Aboriginal artists transformed the Victorian-era terrace at The Block with vibrant graphic designs and murals of inspiring Aboriginal leaders.
Redfern Community Centre, 12-36 Caroline Street, REDFERN, 2016
YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall - Tony Albert (2015)
In the midst of Hyde Park, a site that was once a ritual contest ground, a crossroads for traditional walking trails and an important site for ceremony, gathering and camping (home to the ANZAC Memorial). Girramay and Kuku Yalanji artist and host of NITV's arts documentary, Colour Theory, Tony Albert acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who served in the nation’s military with four large scale standing bullets and three fallen shells.
A personal story behind the work, Albert’s family has over 80 years combined military service and his vision draws on the experiences of his family’s service in the Australian military.
The bullet is a universal signifier for conflict and the arrangement of the bullets, with some standing and some fallen, represents those who survived and those who were sacrificed. Albert's work also references the circumstances faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women when they returned to Australia and how they were treated differently from their white Australian comrades, in particular those given land for their service, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicepeople were still having their land taken away.
Sydney-based Aboriginal Girramay artist Tony Albert’s family has over 80 years combined military service. The concept for the artwork comes from the artist, whose vision draws on the experiences of his family’s service in the Australian military.
Hyde Park South, 120 Elizabeth Street, SYDNEY, 2000
More Indigenous public art to inspire Sydney-siders...
Welcome to Redfern - Reko Rennie (2012)
Another striking piece by Rennie, Always Was, Always Will Be is a fascinating mix of traditional imagery and contemporary techniques. The work features geometric diamonds, referencing the artist’s associations to north-western NSW and the traditional markings of the Gomeroi people.
Fluorescent paints in pink, black and blue are applied to the Flinders Street building, formerly a Commonwealth Bank built in 1910. The scale, bold design and vibrant colours overwhelm the architecture of the building and dominate Taylor Square and on the front of the building façade, neon text reading ‘Always was, always will be' – a reminder that this was Gadigal country and always will be Gadigal country.
Intersection with Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street, DARLINGHURST, 2010
United We Stand, Divided We Fail The Future - Bronwyn Bancroft & Dale Jones Evans (2008)
A unique collaboration between Bandjalang artist Bronwyn Bancroft, who has over 30 years experience in public art commissions, imagery design for private commission, and both authoring and illustrating children’s books, and Dale Jones-Evans, a long serving architect who has created award winning, globally recognised architecture and interior design.
The bright ‘fence’ forms a backdrop to the Hugo Street Reserve in Redfern and depicts Bronwyn's multicoloured custodian forms, who represent the spirits of the land who protect the people of today. Local children were involved in painting the spirit forms, which were developed as stencils, and Dale Jones-Evans’ laser cut screens make a kind of foliage of abstracted filtered light patterns.
Hugo & Vine Street Reserve, 2-40 Hugo Street, REDFERN, 2016
Butchella artist, Fiona Foley communicates history with three significant works in Redfern Park; Intuitive Play, Lotus Line and Possum Play. The various section stimulate the senses and invite imaginative play. With a strong connection to nature, Foley drew inspiration from walking around the local area and themed the work around the native flora; oversized seed pods from fig trees, for example, have been an important part of Indigenous people's diets for many years.
Two nearby inscriptions are central to the work, one includes an extract from the speech delivered by former Prime Minister Paul Keating in Redfern Park in 1992. Delivered to a crowd of predominantly Indigenous people, the speech dealt with the challenges faced by Aboriginal people. Although not given a lot of media attention at the time, it became known as the ‘Redfern Speech’ and is now regarded as one of the Australia's most momentous speeches. Keating was the first Australian Prime Minister to publicly acknowledge to Indigenous Australians that European settlers were responsible for the difficulties Australian Aboriginal communities continued to face.
Another nearby inscription commemorates artist Michael Riley (1960-2004) with a text written by Aboriginal curator, writer, artist and activist, Djon Mundine OAM.
Redfern Park, 51 Redfern Street, REDFERN, 2016
So if you're teacher looking for something important to share with your students, parent looking for a family activity on the week, a tourist wanting to get an understanding of Indigenous affairs and culture or a police officer, tradesperson, homemaker wanting take an interesting stroll around the neighbourhood, hop aboard the People's Journey.
Have we missed any quality Indigenous murals, installations or paintings in the public space? Comment on FB and let us know!
#ColourTheoryUG explores the world of Indigenous street art. Join host, Tony Albert as he meets some of Australia's most talented contemporary artists. Colour Theory Underground airs Tuesdays, 8.00pm on NITV Ch. 34