30 May public art in moree
Artist Tim Johnson and street art choreographer George Shaw came to Moree this year to begin research on the NEXUS public art project. Over a weekend we held bbqs in 4 parks – Sullivans, Stanley Village, Wales Park and Bottom Camp – to talk to the communities who surround the parks.
The four days in Moree working on the NEXUS art project were eye opening for me. We visited four sites and spent time in community consultation with locals. The sites are parks with almost nothing to identify them as community areas so there is a real need for them to be spaces that the community, especially kids, can use. I felt that artwork that recognised the Aboriginal heritage of the area and had contributions from local Aboriginal people would be a good way to go.
We came up with various ideas and proposals including where to use painting, where to place sculptural painted forms and how to make the parks more amenable.
My colleague George Shaw’s idea of assembling a group of street artists in Moree, all at one time, to create the work, making it into an event, was a great idea and Matty Priestley’s suggestion of using large poles anchored in the ground for the Top Camp site (Stanley Village) was another great idea. We also had to consider using materials and imagery that would survive. The more the community liked it and identified with it the longer it would last.
I decided to look at Aboriginal history in the Moree area, looking for imagery that we might be able to use. At the Dhiiyaan Centre I found a large collection of historical information and wondered if that could be a reference point. But I also felt that more consultation would be needed before using local history. Many artists, black and white, have painted Aboriginal history but there are certainly cultural issues to consider and respect. It is important to remember that public art needs to be contemporary and attention grabbing, bright and colourful … and positive about the future. It needs to express ideas that stay relevant in the future as well. With that in mind, abstract art, imagery from nature and making connections to local Aboriginal history and even to other indigenous peoples around the world could all be part of the work.
As we were visiting the sites I was thinking about other approaches, such as using mosaics (like Michael Nelson’s Parliament House forecourt mosaic), using light and sound as components, etched and cut metal or designs sand-blasted on to stone, some much needed landscaping, including large rocks and more paths in the parks, possibly referencing traditional designs as they do in Victoria Park in Sydney (using a design by Judy Watson).
As a first time visitor to Moree (I live in New Zealand) and having never met people from Aboriginal communities before, I was seriously impressed by the people that I shared time with.
I have spent the vast majority of my 55 years in the UK where strenuous efforts are made to work with minority communities and then the past eight years in NZ where the wrongs that the Indigenous peoples have suffered there have been unilaterally accepted and huge strides taken to help restore a sense of pride and place for Maori people. Both situations are far from perfect but there is a massive gulf between these situations and what I experienced in Moree.
In Moree the lands that belonged to the Indigenous communities of the area were stolen from them due to their fertility and commercial worth. These lands have since been exploited and little or none of the wealth generated from them has been directed to the people that still, effectively, have claim over it.
Today Moree is left with communities that are totally dislocated from wider society. The parks that we set up in were derelict, burned-out houses were commonplace and empty plots, where houses used to be, were everywhere. These areas suffer from total neglect; their people left to their own devices and they feel as much like refugee camps as local, small town neighbourhoods. Beyond the desperation, mistrust and drug abuse, amazingly the spirit and intellect within these indigenous communities has survived and is thriving and therein lays hope. It also seems that there is now some goodwill from the local council to make a start on improving some of the environments that we visited and hopefully this, alongside what Beyond Empathy are doing, will start to make a difference.
It is vital that the Nexus project is produced in partnership with the local communities and that the people we visited are directly involved in the conceptualisation and production. Whist in Moree Matty Priestley came up with the idea of using power poles to give the artwork scale and impact and Tim Johnson, with his extensive knowledge in this realm, is actively working with the local community to ensure that their ideas and artwork are fully represented.
Our hope is that NeXus has the scale and substance to wrestle interest beyond the local communities and that the attention that their artwork gets will be enjoyed and appreciated. We aim to create image and video documentation that, when released on social media, will grab the attention of a wide national/international audience.