Nine Girringun artists have completed an extraordinary outdoor installation of five sculptural Bagu, as part of a commission from the Cairns Performing Art Centre. Artists Clarence Kinjun, Emily and Debra Murray, Nephi and Philip Denham, Sally and John Murray and Eileen Tep and Melanie Muriata worked over a number of months to complete the works. They were privileged to work with local fabricator and master form maker Leon Ruedin during this process. Based on the ‘match sticks’ of the rainforest, the traditional fire-making tools of the Girringun region, these enormous Bagu have designs which reference traditional patterns and colours. Patterns such as these, were a form of signature, a way to identify the maker and their cultural connections. Very strict protocols were and still are relevant to who can use the traditional patterns and the associated storylines.
Fire was a very important part of daily life for the old people and these objects, the Bagu, were imbued with other significances beyond the use value of the tool to make fire. Fire, in the wettest place of Australia, was key to survival, central to social interaction, belief systems, hunting, food preparation, tool making, warmth, safety and for ceremony. By taking these figures back from the anthropological gaze and placing them into a contemporary and public space, the artists are re-claiming what has always been theirs, investing new stories and meaning to objects which have a continuum of tens of thousands of years.
In other news, Sabbia Gallery presented a major installation of over 50 Bagu artworks in September as part of the installation program at Sydney Contemporary. This installation was curated by Nina Miall and held prime position in the entry foyer of Carriageworks.
Main image credit: Sally Murray & John Murray work together on large Bagu for Cairns Performing Arts Centre. Image: Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre