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A cultural gateway

Therese Sweeney talks with Bronwyn Bancroft

Tess Sweeney is a photographer/filmmaker whose exhibition Bringelly: City on the Edge is showing at Liverpool City Library until March 06

Bronwyn Bancroft, mural Bronwyn Bancroft, mural
photo Chloe Wyatt
Sydney’s Marrickville Council engaged Bronwyn Bancroft to design a contemporary Aboriginal mural for the Robyn Webster Sports Centre at Tempe Reserve in 2004. The site was recommended for a public art work, based on community consultation conducted as part of the Marrickville Public Art Strategy, People, Place + Art in 2003. The mural also marks the sports centre as a gateway to Marrickville and, strikingly, for many visitors arriving at the airport, a gateway to Sydney and Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft is a Sydney based artist, Acting Chair of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative and the Convener of the Indigenous Artist Lobby Group, which is focused on contemporary Indigenous representation in Australia.

Can you outline the size of the centre?

The shed itself houses two basketball courts and is 100 metres in length, 15 metres high and 20 metres wide. The trees planted around the shed are still growing, so it looks quite bald and in-your-face. I like that, the work looks comfortable there, it looks like it’s going to grow there.

There are 5 symbols in the piece. What is their relevance?

In the centre there is a snake and on either side is a man and woman; within the context of a man and woman I’ve also done a transgender, the male with empty breasts. The reason for transgender is to reflect their presence in the local community and in all cultures. I set it up so that the man and woman epitomised Adam and Eve but also became the creation story with the rainbow serpent. The snake, again, was evident in the Bible. I make these analogies between different religions and between women and men.

On either side of the man and woman are fish which represent the midden, an archaeological site dating back 60,000-70,000 years. Marrickville Council saved a midden and I wanted to demonstrate this integrity by Council toward Aboriginal people. On the opposite side of the fish is a sand goanna, the totem of the Wangal people, the original inhabitants. Even though most died of smallpox or killings, I didn’t want them ignored. In these ways I tried to put quite a serious debate behind the images but also make the images so that they are easily read.

What contemporary influences do you bring to this design?

Humanity. For me the mural represents that man, woman and child are created from nature and ecology. These things have to be respected, not politics. I’m trying to bury divisiveness and create a link culturally. This mural reflects my philosophy on life. I evolve my work through the creative process and during that creative process what I take with me are the stories of the people that I’ve been involved with.

How has your background as a textile designer influenced this mural design?

Even though I haven’t designed fabric for 15 years, it seemed like an obvious, natural progression to have something very simple on that shed and something that people could read from a long distance away. The way I placed the units diagonally meant they formed a diamond effect, a shape very important to Aboriginal art in NSW. I wanted to accentuate the fact that NSW Aboriginals are also culturally progressive because the dominant focus [in Aboriginal art] remains on the Northern Territory.

Could you articulate the significance of the 2 colours chosen to paint the mural?

The colour base of the structure was an off-white—eggshell if you want to get technical. It wasn’t difficult to work out I was going to do a mono print. Black and white was too harsh; it was too politically and racially divisive. I wanted to use the symbolic colour of red because it not only symbolises the earth but also blood. When we cut ourselves we still bleed red, all of us. This to me signified the commonality of humanity. Paint was developed using red oxide like soil, so there’s actually pigmentation in the paint that allows it to sustain for 15 years. As a painter I use thousands of colours but with this it was so simple.

What is the religious significance of the piece?

In my family we practise Aboriginal spirituality as opposed to the Christian religious doctrine I grew up with. We believe in our ancestors and old people and they guide us. Aboriginal people are still recovering from past abuse that occurred through the church and I would like to increase the debate on that. However, people can read the piece from their own religious context.

Who are the people who act as Indigenous mentors in your life?

Sally Morgan does, she’s a mate of mine. The people I really admire are Uncle Lester Bostock who guides me as a male elder and his sister Euphemia Bostock who refers to herself as the black mum I never had. She brings to me an informed and political debate, having had the lived experience of the Tent Embassy movement from the 1970s. My cousin Robyn Bancroft, Aunty Elsie and my mum, who is a white woman. I admire people who do positive things in Aboriginal art and dislike people who undo all of the hard work that generations of Aboriginal people have fought for.

Bronwyn Bancroft, Commissioned Artist 2003-2005, Robyn Webster Sports Centre Aboriginal Mural, Marrickville City Council, Sydney

Tess Sweeney is a photographer/filmmaker whose exhibition Bringelly: City on the Edge is showing at Liverpool City Library until March 06

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 54

© Therese Sweeney; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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