Celebrating First Nations women and promoting national narratives

New exhibitions at Hazelhurst Arts Centre present inspiring stories and images of female resilience and creativity.

‘First Nations artists and art are a core component of our exhibition programming,’ said Carrie Kibbler, curator, Hazelhurst Arts Centre.

Located in Gymea (NSW), Hazelhurst Arts Centre is a place of vision and creative energy that offers the local community and emerging artists a high-profile exhibition space in the main gallery, community and project space in the Broadhurst Gallery, and many exciting arts practice opportunities including six dedicated art studios for classes. Designed to encourage by the whole community, it has welcomed more than 3.5 million visitors since it opened in February 2000.

The exhibition program at Hazelhurst is diverse and champions contemporary Australian artists and local artists in the southern Sydney region. Each year, Hazelhurst partners with an Aboriginal-owned art centre to present a unique exhibition in the Broadhurst Gallery.

‘While Hazelhurst has developed several projects with a First Nations focus in recent years, other curated exhibitions here have featured First Nations artists because their work is intrinsic to critical dialogue around that particular curatorial rationale,’ Kibbler said.

Opening next month is Wuliwulawala: Dharawal Women Sharing Stories, a celebration of women of the Dharawal Nation of southern Sydney and a showcase of their resilience and creativity.

‘When we work with First Nations artists and communities our role is about support and open collaboration. The artists and communities have control and make decisions about the stories they want to tell and how it is presented. Our role at the Gallery is to facilitate that,’ said Kibbler.

Keith Stevens (left) and Ginger Wikilyiri (right) with their work Watiku Tjukurpa (Piltati and Kunamata) with fellow artist Witijiti George (centre). Image supplied.

Featuring historical content, interviews, and bold contemporary artworks, Wuliwulawala: Dharawal Women Sharing Stories highlights the importance of sharing stories, knowledge, and oral histories across generations, and recognises the perspectives of women connected to local and national narratives.

The exhibiting artists include Esme Timbery, Marilyn Timbery, Kerry Toomey, Annette Webb, Deanna Schreiber, Amy Hill, Caitlin Trindall, Dolly Brown, Gemma Brown, Phyllis Stewart, Suzanne Stewart, Julie Freeman, and Markeeta Freeman. Entry to the exhibition is free and guided tours are available.

‘This exhibition has been developed in consultation with the Sutherland Shire Council Aboriginal Advisory Committee, La Perouse Land Council, Gujaga Foundation, Kurranulla Aboriginal Corporation as well as the women elders from La Perouse and the Sutherland Shire region. We are thrilled to include works by the Strong Sisters, Aboriginal girls from the nearby Endeavour Sports High School.’

First Nations Women together working across country is another major exhibition scheduled for Hazelhurst, and will be presented in 2022. The exhibition highlights the importance of First Nations women holding cultural knowledge and passing this understanding and Indigenous ways of knowing to the next generation. It will include new works by the artists working with Tjanpi Desert Weavers, APY Art Centre Collective, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, Tangentyere Artists and Martumili Artists.

These exhibitions build on the success of Hazelhurst’s previous First Nations exhibitions. The very popular Nganampi Kililpil (Our Stars): Art from the APY Lands was the first major survey exhibition from the artists of the APY Lands.

Our Stars was incredibly well received with visitors travelling from across Sydney, the state, and even from interstate to view it. The total visitation was over 20,000 people, including 1,400 students, making it one of the most popular exhibitions we’ve ever held,’ Kibbler explained.

‘The opening event was very special with 14 of the artists from the APY Lands in attendance and performances by Nyukana Norris and Mary Katakjuku Pan. There were also artist talks in the gallery with a focus on the men’s and women’s collaborative works including the large scale paintings that are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia,’ she added.

The Hazelhurst and APY Art Centre Collective partnership project Weapons for the Solider: Protecting Country, Culture and Family, initiated by renowned artist Vincent Namatjira, was also a gallery highlight and has since been touring nationally. This exhibition was initiated by the young men of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. They invited 15 other Australian artists to exhibit alongside the Anangu artists by responding creatively to the themes of weaponry, warfare and protecting land and Country.

All these exhibitions aim to build respect and understanding through a sharing of lived experiences.

‘In the upcoming Wuliwulawala exhibition there are some wonderful interviews with women from across several generations who are descendants of Kate Saunders, Emma Timbery, and Biddy Giles. These women were important figures in the development of the La Perouse community, particularly Biddy Giles who lived at Sutherland for many years and was known for sharing stories with visitors and locals. These voices are so important. They talk about their connection to place, their families, and their history in this series of interviews that were commissioned for the exhibition,’ said Kibbler.

A new body of work by local artist Kerry Toomey is also on display. ‘These works focus on caps and hats and were inspired by stories of her family who grew up in northern NSW and her Auntie Josie Bri-Haines whose earthenware widows mourning cap is in the collection of the NGV. They are made from tissue paper interwoven with emu feathers, echidna quills, quandong seeds, and poker work patterns to signify a connection to her Kamilaroi culture and the stories that were passed down to her from generations of women.’

Speaking about her work, Kerry Toomey said, ‘I reflect on a time when my mother was told not to speak her language and their customs were forbidden and we are now reclaiming our histories and making it our own.’

Hazelhurst supports artists through commissions, exhibitions, catalogues, and other projects, and bring private and public collections to the Gallery. Many works are commissioned by Hazelhurst whilst others are loaned from artists and other institutions. In the upcoming exhibition, shell works by Esme Timbery and Phyllis Stewart on loan from the Wollongong Art Gallery are featured, as well as works from the University of Wollongong Art Collection, the University of New South Wales and the Sydney Opera House Trust.

Wuliwulawala: Dharawal Women Sharing Stories is showing at the Hazelhurst Arts Centre from Saturday 17 April – Monday 14 June 2021. Free entry and free guided tours available (bookings essential).

Dr Diana Carroll
About the Author
Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the SMH, the Oz, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.