RISING Festival’s First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams take to the tracks

Amina-Briggs'-design-for-the-2023-Melbourne-Art-Trams-programSix specially crafted trams have begun to roll out across the city from today as part of the 2023 First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams program.

The vibrant initiative, presented by RISING in collaboration with Creative Victoria, Department of Transport and Planning and Yarra Trams, showcases the artistic brilliance of First Peoples artists from right across Victoria.

This is the third consecutive year vibrant artworks have been on Melbourne’s iconic trams as part of the RISING Festival. This year, the trams’ energetic designs have been created by a diverse group of First Peoples artists in a travelling celebration and exploration of history, Country, community, and connection.

This year’s theme is Blak Futurism and artists were asked to envision a better future for Australia’s First Peoples. Renowned visual artist Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba) – who had artwork featured in on a tram as part of the 2021 RISING Festival – curated this program for the second time.

“Seeing First Peoples art rolling throughout the city for many months is a perfect example of how we can integrate culture into our daily lives and extend out beyond the galleries of the CBD,” said RISING co-artistic directors Gideon Obarzanaek and Hannah Fox.

“Art Trams curator, Jarra Karalina Steel, has done an incredible job of creating a theme that resonates with a diverse group of contemporary First Peoples artists who have responded with their visions of imagined futures – blak, bright and beautiful.”

The inaugural tram unveiled today showcases an awe-inspiring design from Amina Briggs, a Boonwurrung/Erub artist known for her multidisciplinary and digital works. Briggs’ stunning artwork portrays Bunjil the creator and Waa the protector, integral figures in Boonwurrung culture.

Accompanied by their symbolic animals, the Australian raven and the wedge-tailed eagle, Briggs’ creation is surrounded by the traditional Boonwurrung symbol, the diamond. Together, they symbolise the reclamation of Biik (Land), extending their reach to demonstrate their profound connection.

Over the next 10 days, the remaining five trams will join Melbourne’s tram network, showcasing distinct designs from a diverse group of Victoria’s leading artists, including:

Rubii Red, a Lama Lama woman, who pays tribute to Naarm (Melbourne) and its protests, music scene, and vibrant nightlife.

Lyn Thorpe, a Yorta Yorta/Wurundjeri/Wamba Wemba/Wadi Wadi woman, and her son Coree Thorpe Yorta Yorta/Wurundjeri/Gunnai/Gunditjmara whose artwork highlights the Aboriginal continuum, the connection to ancestors, and the caretaking of knowledge.

Charlotte Allingham of Wiradjuri and Ngiyampaa heritage who is a member of the LGBTIQ community and lives with autism envisions Blak Present, Blak Future, Blak Eternity to celebrate Blak freedom and a future where self-expression, sustainability and innovation are valued.

Jay Van Nus, a proud Pibelman Noongar and Chilean Australian brotherboy, presents Ngank Yira whose design represents the unity of diverse skills and ideologies towards a better future, grounded in Indigenous knowledge and community.

Peter Waples-Crowe, a Ngarigu artist who explores Blak futurism by restoring Indigenous knowledge and celebrating the alpine dingo as a symbol of ecosystem restoration.

“This year’s First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams truly embody the transformative narratives of First Peoples Artists’ creative expression, and the diversity that is often overlooked when it comes to Aboriginal Art in Australia.” said curator Jarra Karalina Steel.

“For me, the theme this year “Blak Futurism” is about reclaiming and taking back space, and breaking the status quo while maintaining culture and connection to country. It’ also about learning from our past and those who came before.”

Blak Futurism plays with nostalgia, pop culture and the desire to see ourselves represented in a world where we feel unseen and heard. Changing the way we are seen and the way we see ourselves. I was looking for works that truthfully spoke to how these artists saw a Blak bright future for their community, families and country.

“This year’s Art Trams will provide a world of colour to our grey city streets, exploring themes of community, togetherness, intergenerational collaboration, protection and care for country and our animals, future folklore, nostalgia, representation, and pay tribute to our beloved city,” said Jarra Karalina Steel.

The newly commissioned Melbourne Art Trams will be on the tracks until June 2024. The RISING Festival continues to 18 June 2023. For more information, visit: www.rising.melbourne for details.

Image: Amina Briggs’ design for the 2023 Melbourne Art Trams program – photo by James Morgan