AN EXHIBITION opening soon in Geelong will share some of the many stories of the first Australians in this part of the world.
The Journey on Wadawurrung Country exhibition and installation is a collaboration between Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation cultural education manager Corrina Eccles, art director and photographer Ferne Millen and musician, sound artist and field recordist Vicki Hallett to capture the stories of the traditional custodians of Wadawurrung land.
The multidisciplinary exhibition featuring installations includes a formal welcome and dance, sound, visual arts and lighting in the Ryrie Street entrance foyer of the Geelong Arts Centre.
Ms Millen’s fine art prints of portraits of some Wadawurrung Elders and landscapes of this country will be displayed and interwoven with Ms Hallett’s sound recordings of Wadawurrung Country, and the interviews, activating the foyer space into a full, sensory and immersive cultural learning experience for the public, to see the portraits and know the faces of Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, living on their country.
Ms Millen said an online talk she and Ms Eccles participated in during July 2020 as part of Portal (the virtual Surf Coast Arts Trail) was an important step for the project.
Ms Eccles gave her time for the initial project, but wanted to see it engage Wadawurrung Elders and hopefully continue to grow and increase the portraits and stories from Elders down to the future generation of leaders.
“It really helped us configure it, with Harriet (moderator Harriet Gaffney) as the sounding board with her experience in the arts and having also worked with Aboriginal people and communities across Australia; it was good to get her feedback and get a sense of where it could go,” Ms Millen said.
The exhibition and installation was a collection of what had been gathered so far rather than a completed product, with the project supported by several grants and plans to apply for several more.
“It’s bit like a smoking ceremony, a welcoming ceremony to welcome the project rather than a small-scale project. It’s more of a turning of the sod, if you like,” Ms Millen said.
Ms Millen has completed her last photoshoot for this exhibition, and is now in the production phase ahead of the opening.
She said 2020 was difficult in different ways for many people in the arts but did not expect everything to snap back to “normal” this year.
“What will change for me is that life’s too short to sit and wonder whether you should do this; you’ve just got to grab the bull by the horns and run with it, and I’m really grateful the Wadawurrung community trusts me to help them, work with them, collaborate with them to deliver their stories.
“It’s an honour to have their trust. Ballarat Town Hall lent me their hall the other day because they know this project is worth doing, so all of a sudden you’ve got them helping you so that I can photograph a 93-year-old Wadawurrung woman; just to hear those stories is incredible.
“I can’t believe her wealth of information and her sitting for me, Her spirit, passion, and managing to crack me up – she’s got the energy of a 70-year-old and the skin of a 60-year-old; I wanted to know everything!
“I hope the project can grow as we have only captured a couple of portraits and stories, there are many other Wadawurrung Elders and generations; I would love to be able to capture many more.
“For me, my project work with socially active artwork is framed to improve our life, not to make it worse.
“The best part of those project to me was delivering some truths and delivering the faces, it’s as simple as that, We all should know who are the Traditional owners of the country we live on. They’re the longest living generation.”
Journey on Wadawurrung Country will be open at the Geelong Arts Centre from February 8-12, February 15-19 and February 22-26 from 9am-5pm. Entry is free.
For more information, head to geelongartscentre.org.au.