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30 June - 17 July

Stars Sky Trees Breeze | Jagath Dheerasekara | Curated by Djon Mundine



Stars, Sky, Trees, Breeze

(Jagath's Journey 2010)

Jagath Dheerasekara

Curated by Djon Mundine

30 June - 17 July 2011

.........................


ATVP celebrates NAIDOC Week with a specially curated exhibition by eminent contemporary aboriginal art curator Djon Mundine OAM.

 

Stars Sky Trees Breeze 's focal point is a photographic series (of the same title) by Jagath Dheerekara, a Sydney-based documentary and reportage photographic artist of Lankan origin. Dheerasekara has captured a series of makeshift outdoor beds, on an invited stay during 2009 and 2010 with the Alyawarr people in the central Australia's Ampilatwatja community, Northern Territory.


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(Images: Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 1-3, 2010)


Ampilatwatja, located 320km northeast of Alice Springs, is home for less than 1000 Alyawarre people. Their struggle to survive 200+ years of colonisation has been complicated further since 2007 by the introduction of the Northern Territory Intervention - of which Ampilatwatja is a prescribed community.

 

Many in Amplilatwatja consider the intervention as "an invasion, total disempowerment and a revoking of hard won land rights" and in July 2009, Alyawarr elders of Ampilatwatja walked off the prescribed area controlled by the government and camped on Aboriginal freehold land out of the control of the intervention.

 

"On July 14 2009 we, Elders from the Ampilatwatja community, walked out of our houses and set up camp in the bush. We are fed up with the federal government's Northern Territory Intervention, controls and measures, visions and goals forced onto us from outside. We felt we were outcasts and isolated from all decision making - there has been no meaningful consultation ... We therefore have no intention of going back there. We intend to stay here until our demands are met. " Richard Downs, Alyawarr community spokesperson, October 2009.

 

In Alyawarre Resistance: Back to Country (2009-10) Dheerasekara captured the Alyawarre walk-off and much more ...


 

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(Images: Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 4-6, 2010)

"My main purpose of being there was to capture the Walk-off. Meanwhile, during my many walks around the community I noticed that almost all Aboriginal families in the community had a makeshift bed in the open air. My queries about the use of these outdoor beds were met with replies in which the words 'stars, sky, trees, breeze' echoed again and again" - Jagath Dheerasekara.

 

Stars, Sky, Trees, Breeze is a reflection of the conflict between coloniser-imposed confines on one hand and on the other, the unbreakable bond between Aboriginal people with their lands and nature.




Sky Stars Trees Breeze

It's not a cliche in the saying that 'although we are in the gutter some of us are looking to the stars'. Someone once asked me what was the biggest issue in Aboriginal housing programs. Most probably magnitude was what I replied. 'Appropriate' housing, consultation and respect seem to be vexed questions when it comes to Aboriginal people. The design of the house, its practicality, the cost of each building, who builds the buildings, and who gets the 'new finished house' are very loaded political questions.


Just the basic initial design is debated hotly - theories of 'interiority', living space and living attachment and living arrangements are an entire field of academic study within themselves now. This can be, could be, fruitful if it doesn't merely become an industry to itself and actually advanced into an applied, practical use. 

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(Images:
Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 7-9, 2010)

This exhibition, at its heart, deals with the idea of 'interiority' - from one perspective, the idea of an internal 'feeling' of security, place, space and spiritual well being. As we in our modern technologically rich society move from place to place cocooned in our womb-like motor vehicles and secure houses, we may wonder at a society where people spend most of their socializing, eating and sleep without fear of the world outside. Where people engage matter of factually in observation, enjoyment and everyday interaction, stimulation and imagining.  


The concept of 'interiority' was discussed as far back as Rousseau [1712-1778] as part of a set ideas of an individual/state 'social contract', power, and morality of 'the state'. If the state doesn't act morally it loses it's right to demand the observance by individuals of it's laws, social customs and conventions.


Rousseau however, it would seem, erroneously worked on the idea of a 'primitive man'; a free man, free of society, and its attendant rules and structures. Societies without material wealth are not without intelligence, sophistication and their own strict rules to live by. Aboriginal societies observe and lead their lives by a complex set of rules, religious beliefs, personal, politic and social mores. The societies create individuals to be personally and economically independent yet schooled in a sense to live and act communally.

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(Images:
Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 10-12, 2010)

Aboriginal - State relations around housing issues have always involved a power interaction. In policies of 'transitional' housing for example Aboriginal families were rewarded or punished as a result of their degree of 'civilised' assimilated behavior in the use and maintenance of the houses given to them.

From the press it was reported that as part of the NT intervention, Ampilatwatja was one of the communities acquired by the federal government under a five-year lease. This was supposed to allow the government to quickly supply housing and infrastructure. In reality, while some housing repairs have been made, not a single new house had been built in any Aboriginal community as a result of the intervention.


On July 22, National Indigenous Times published an analysis of a leaked memo to Minister Jenny Macklin, from within her department, that claimed the government's housing program would be unlikely to deliver any new houses in remote Aboriginal communities until 2011, at the earliest.


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(Images:
Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 13-15, 2010)

The memo was written in May 2008 and also warned that the tendering process was flawed and would drive the cost of housing up across the region. It was also unlikely to meet its target of 20% Aboriginal employment for the construction work. All this is despite the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars without any construction and no thought of the restoration of the human rights removed in the action of the NT Intervention in 2007. Meanwhile Aboriginal people still look to the stars.


Djon Mundine OAM, Independent Aboriginal curator.



Artist's statement

Stars Sky Trees Breeze


My journey to Ampilatwatja was a coincidence as much as this "Stars, Sky, Trees, Breeze" photo series is. In January 2010 I had the opportunity to listen to an Aboriginal Elder Richard Downs in Sydney when he was on a speaking tour. At the tea break I spoke with him. He told me about many things. The Northern Territory National Emergency Response (commonly known as NT Intervention) and his people's Walk-off against it. Richard invited me to visit his community, Ampilatwatja. In February, I joined a group of volunteers of a solidarity brigade from Sydney who left for Ampilatwatja to help the community build their first house or the coordinating centre. Everybody called it the Protest House. There were many volunteers coming from different states to help build it.


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(Images:
Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 16-18, 2010)

In July 2009, the Alyawarr people of Ampilatwatja walked off from the Prescribed Area controlled by the government, and began to build a new community on their homeland with the support of Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians.


My main purpose of being there was to capture the Walk-off. While doing it, I also wandered about the community when I had time. Quite soon the trust that built up between the members of the community and me led some to invite me to their homes - sometimes for a tea or sometimes for a casual chat. Later I received help and guidance from some young Aboriginal men to go around the community. Some tried teaching me a few key words and wanted to know the words from my mother tongue, Sinhalese. Once we had dinner together with members from the community who came to watch a film that was being screened at the camp. It was my turn for doing dinner and I cooked rice and two curries. I was having dinner with a group of young men sitting on the ground outdoor. They asked me "you eat with fingers? Is that your way?" I showed them how we eat rice and curry in Sri Lanka. The young men said "it is our way as well" and kept forks aside to eat with fingers. There were occasions where more senior women related Dreamtime Stories to me and got me to tell them folk stories of Sri Lanka, particularly stories of seafare. On many occasions I received bush tucker such as wild berries and cherries. One day a senior woman brought me a plastic bucket of berries and cherries she had plucked from the bush saying "this is for your kids". Men tried hard to persuade me to taste barbequed tails of freshly hunted kangaroos explaining how lean and tasty this delicacy was when I sat with them at fire.


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(Images:
Jagath Dheerasekara, Stars Sky Trees Breeze 19-20, 2010)

Even before arriving in Ampilatwatja I had a tentative idea of photographing fridges. I could only find one fridge in the community, the owner of which who happened to be an artist gladly gave me permission to photograph it. Perhaps there were others of which I did not come across. However, I had to abandon the idea of photographing fridges. Meanwhile, during my many walks around the community I noticed that almost all Aboriginal families in the community had a make shift bed in open air. My queries about the use of these outdoor beds were met with replies in which the words 'stars, sky, trees, breeze' echoed again and again. I could not help but marvel at the fact that while I went in side the house at sunset to sleep, the Alyawarr people actually came out of the house to sleep under the night sky. I continued to talk to them in a bid to understand the dimensions of their deep-rooted relationship with the nature. This photo series, 'Stars, Sky, Trees, Breeze', in my mind is a reflection of the conflict between colonizer-imposed confines of a house and fences on one hand and on the other, the unbreakable bond of the aboriginal people with the land and nature in their traditional way of life.


Jagath Dheerasekara

 



Stars Sky Trees Breeze (Bed series 1-20)

Jagath Dheerasekara

2010 / pigment print on archival photo paper / 41 x 61cm

$300 each (editions of 5)


* All profits from this exhibition will be donated to the Intervention Rollback Action Group in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.


For further information please contact ATVP.


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