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.
(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
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.
Resistance: Back to Country (2009-10) Dheerasekara captured the Alyawarre
walk-off and much more ...
(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" -
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
(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
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.
(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
(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
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.
(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
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
(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.
Stars Sky Trees Breeze
(Bed series 1-20)
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
Action Group in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.