Barangaroo unveils large-scale video installation celebrating rich history of Aboriginal culture in Sydney

Published by: The Press Society | 5-Jun-2019
Barangaroo Delivery Authority unveils a large-scale new video installation celebrating the rich history of Aboriginal culture in Sydney. The artwork celebrates Aboriginal people's deep connection to Country and honours the powerful rituals that have been practiced for thousands of years on this land. Commissioned by Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Wellama will be a temporary installation at Barangaroo Reserve.
Venue: The Cutaway, Barangaroo Reserve
Address: 1 Merriman St, Barangaroo NSW 2000
Time: 8am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday
Ticket: Free
Created by artists Alison Page and Nik Lachajczak, the video is a contemporary re-imagining of Welcome to Country. The work uses new media to bring to life this traditional practice in a contemporary new form. Wellama means 'to come back' in local language. Like the ceremony, the work is an invitation to experience the spirit of EORA country through art. The artwork warmly welcomes to Barangaroo the millions of people who visit Sydney and those who call it home.

The artists explain that connection to homelands and protocols that maintain that link are fundamental to identity for all Indigenous Australians. The Welcome to Country was created to put people at ease, but also to respect the responsibility Aboriginal people have in caring for the land. The artwork is a digital expression of those messages. It is not intended to ever replace the traditional welcome by elders, but to strengthen the meaning of that ceremony and enhance people's understanding of its importance among all Australians.

'Even if Sydney has piles of concrete and glass over the earth, it's really important that we dig through those layers and tell those stories and really celebrate the identity we had for 65 thousand years before colonisation. It's about our culture coming back to the surface and being amplified again after years of being quite dormant for a long time,' explains artist Alison Page.

The artwork has no beginning, middle or end. Instead it is on a ten-minute continuous loop. The artists selected that format to reflect the notions of time: unbroken and infinite, diving in and out of the past and present. The artists wanted to remind viewers that time is cyclical and 65 thousand years exists right here and right now on Sydney land.

The artwork also reflects the strength and resilience of the site's namesake, Barangaroo. The central narrative of the film rests on the story of Barangaroo and an Eora fisherwoman; the young girl is guided by the older women through her transition to womanhood. The traditional ceremony then moves in to modern Sydney. In both worlds, the older woman is there to teach the young girl about traditional medicinal practices, acknowledging the depth and breadth of traditional knowledge among Aboriginal cultures.

The video work was also inspired by the early paintings of Eora people on Sydney Harbour. The iconic artworks have become important cultural references for urban Indigenous communities whose traditional practices were not only disrupted but, in some cases, outlawed in the early colony. The artists wanted to recreate those scenes from the painting to bring them to life for contemporary audiences.

'It's important to remember that the Sydney foreshore was ground zero for the devastation of our culture. Therefore, I think it's up to us to also make it ground zero for the healing of culture. The artwork is a reminder that we don't have to lose that culture. Instead, we can help the people of Sydney to see this land in a new way and to reflect how it was for thousands of years. The artwork is a reclamation of that culture and a reflection of the strengthening of our identity and the cultural revival we are seeing across Australia,' says Page.

'Being connected to country is a two-way street. It's also about our responsibility to care for the land. I feel there has never been a greater moment in time for us to really dive in and share our culture, for people to hear our stories and really connect to Aboriginal knowledge. We have knowledge that needs to be shared, ecologically as much as anything, and the time to be doing so is now.'

Wellama Producer, Jade Christian, explains: 'We are thrilled to be premiering Wellama at Barangaroo. This important and exciting commission at Barangaroo Reserve harnesses new media and technology to deliver a powerful, traditional protocol, in a new and compelling form. Works such as Wellama honour the site's First Nations heritage and it is our hope that this work inspires the imaginations of the millions who visit Barangaroo Reserve and connects them with the heartbeat of the Country itself.'

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