Monumental artwork to honour First Peoples of Australia

CoS bara - Image courtesy of Judy Watson and UAP MEDIAGovernor David Hurley and Lord Mayor Clover Moore have unveiled plans for a major new artwork overlooking Sydney Harbour that will celebrate and honour the First Peoples of Australia.

Acknowledging the clans of the Eora Nation and Elders past and present, the work, bara by Aboriginal artist Judy Watson will take pride of place on the Tarpeian Precinct Lawn above Dubbagullee, also known as Bennelong Point.

Commissioned by the City of Sydney, the artwork is modelled after the crescent shapes of ‘bara’ – traditional fish hooks crafted and used by Gadigal women for thousands of years. The crescent shapes also recall the curve of the moon, the natural coves of Sydney Harbour and the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The work will have a gleaming finish reminiscent of local seashells and stand more than six metres tall.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said bara is a tribute to the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and will become one of the most significant artworks in Sydney’s history. “Our community has made clear that they wanted meaningful recognition of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories in the public domain,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Alongside our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel and communities, we created the Eora Journey, which includes a seven-part public art program to embed the stories of the First Peoples of Australia in the heart of Sydney. bara will look upon the Eora Nation and honour the enduring strength and resilience of the Gadigal people.

“The artwork’s prominent position overlooking Sydney Harbour reflects the cultural significance of this site and the deep connection of Gadigal people to Country. It also honours the role and importance of Aboriginal women, who fished in the harbour from their ‘nawi’ (canoes) with ‘bara’ – the Gadigal word for shell hook.

“The location also means that the artwork will be seen by thousands of Sydneysiders and visitors every day – a permanent reminder of the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Sydney and Australia.”

Artist Judy Watson was the 2015 recipient of the Australia Council’s visual arts award and her work is held in major Australian and international collections. She has exhibited widely over the past 25 years, including representing Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997.

“My concept for bara reimagines ancient gathering spaces where people sat by fires on the headlands and feasted,” said Watson. “Looking down they would see the nawi (canoes) with fishing families crisscrossing the harbour, scarifying the water with their passage.”

“Bara shell hooks are still being unearthed around these waterways, making themselves known to archaeologists and the community, reasserting the Aboriginal presence and history of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. bara will provide a quiet space for ceremony, reflection and contemplation in a busy and ever changing city. It will be inspiring and educational, beautiful and transformative.”

The City’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel has been involved in the Eora Journey public art program since its inception. The panel provided valuable input to the artist brief and supported the project at key stages.

Co-chair of the City’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, Tracey Duncan, said the artwork will not only look amazing but also honour the significance of the site. “This site is significant and means a lot to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Sydney and the wider community,” said Duncan.

“We will finally have a presence of this magnitude, that includes recognition in the public domain and an opportunity to share our culture, our history, our knowledge with others who come to view it.”

Curatorial advisor, Hetti Perkins, said Sydney has one of the world’s most beautiful harbours and the countless engravings on the foreshore testify to the world’s oldest continuous cultural tradition. “Judy Watson’s monument for the Eora, bara, will take its place in this cultural landscape to symbolically and visually connect the timeless traditions of Aboriginal peoples with the contemporary landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge,” said Perkins.

After an extensive artist selection process, a 10-member independent expert panel, which included six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, endorsed Judy Watson’s proposal for the project. The artist and her team at Brisbane-based urban arts company UAP consulted with local Elders Uncle Allen and Charles (Chicka) Madden, the City’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel and the City’s Public Art Advisory Panel in developing her concept.

bara is the fourth public art project in the Eora Journey and is part of the City’s public art program, City Art. Recent Eora Journey projects include YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall by Tony Albert in Hyde Park, which honours Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women, and the landmark mural Welcome to Redfern by Reko Rennie.

The City of Sydney will work closely with Judy Watson, cultural custodians and the community to deliver bara, as well as undertake a comprehensive community engagement program in partnership with the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation. The work is expected to be unveiled by mid-2020.

For more information about the Eora Journey, visit: www.cityartsydney.com.au for details.

Image: Artist Impression of bara – courtesy of Judy Watson and UAP MEDIA

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