It was opening night, Friday the 29th of April, 2016, and after being thoroughly entertained and culturally enriched by the local Bunyarra Dance group, the audience paid homage to the organiser of the AUTUMN in Bundjalung Country Aboriginal Arts Exhibition, the well-loved Wakka Wakka lady- Belle Budden.
This was the third in a series of local art exhibitions which portrays local Aboriginal artists’ connection to country through the seasons. I was privileged in publishing a story of the SPRING exhibition at the Byron Bay Community Centre, 2015. I was gratefully invited once again by my friend Leanne Hamilton to the opening night in Mullumbimby, where her Arnhem Land RAARK inspired art was on display, along with the vibrant work of 14 local artists, some Arakwal, others from elsewhere who now call the lands of the Bundjalung home.
The AUTUMN exhibition runs until the 8th of May at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall. The AUTUMN theme communicated the local natural world, where many splendid creatures and life giving plants also provide for Dreamtime totemic relationships for the Bundjalung. By talking to the artists much intimate wisdom can be gained, where you can learn of the spiritual roles the totems play in the lives of the Arakwal. This includes how the sea life totems protect the Arakwal females. Other paintings communicate the importance of autumn bush tucker and the cultural heritage of the mystical subtropical landscape. I enjoy talking to the younger Bundjalung artists, as I can share with them my knowledge of the tribes from the tropical north and red centre of our continent. It’s all about sharing.
Gracefully opening the evening, microphone in hand in front of an inquisitive and thirsty for culture Byron Shire audience, Belle Budden welcomed all to the exhibition, and expressed her great privilege in being able to share her, and the other artists’ expression of love for country.
Belle Budden: “ We are 15 different artists with over 50 pieces of work on show. We need to do this regularly to showcase our young, talented artists. We are standing here witness to this incredible talent tonight. Please, buy some art and support us, so we can keep on going and going.”
Well, I did buy some art- Snake on tree from Leanne Hamilton and Lemon Myrtle from Belle Budden. They are part of my life’s journey now too. I also spoke in length with charismatic artist and culture man, Dhinawan Baker, who explained how he installs in the Bundjalung youth the realisation that they can make a good, healthy living from practising and sharing their love of culture and country.
Of course, the more this region continues to love and nurture the Arakwal, and other indigenous community members, the more their language and culture will flourish. So let’s do that right now. Here are two proud, talented Arakwal sisters, Nickolla and Kaitlyn Clark, who not only displayed their artistic devotions on canvas for all to see, but alongside their Aunty Delta Kay, and cousins- Sean Kay and Rikkara McGuiness, danced well in Bunyarra.
‘Family of Cockatoos’ by Arakwal artist Nickolla Clark:
Nickolla Clark: “ I was sitting with Kaitlyn painting at our house in Ocean Shores, it’s a real family thing for us painting together. A group of white cockatoos landed in the trees in front of our house and began eating ravenously, dropping seeds all over the ground. Cockatoos are not my totem animal, but they are around and I wanted to capture the spirit of the moment, even though I used various species on canvas, rather than just the white cockatoos.”
‘Wajung Spirit’ Girls Gathering by Nickolla Clark:
“This painting shows the Arakwal girls’ totem- the ‘dolphin’. As they are our protectors, we cannot harm our nurturing spirit the dolphin, so we protect them also. They are messengers for Arakwal females and they tell us everything they know as well. This painting also shows girls gathering as the green circles, where the four white circles are symbolic of our elders. The green lines are the ‘life spirit’, they also represent today’s generation, while also connecting through time with the ancestor lines, as seen here where the green line touches the elders’ white spirit-line.”
‘Autumn Leaves’ by Kaitlyn Clark:
“When I think of Autumn I think of leaves growing on trees, changing in colour and structure with time. This painting is an abstract of leaves in colour in autumn.”
‘Sea Turtles Migration’ by Kaitlyn Clark:
“The sea turtles’ breeding season is autumn. I really enjoy working with greens and blue colours. In this piece, I am showing the water moving as the turtles are swimming along. The big brown circles are part of their environment; it’s familiar to the dolphins, making them feel at home. We get these sea turtles around here a lot in the oceans around Byron Bay.”