Exhibition Essay: Time 2010
BRONWYN BANCROFT - TIME
Approaching the concept for this exhibition, I was drawn to the idea of time. The existence of a day run by time is an alien concept for me when I return to my people’s country at the base of the Bundjalung Nation. I have just returned from several weeks, spending time with my 89-year-old Uncle Pat, the annual Smoking Ceremony with family and friends, where we gathered by the banks of the Washpool Creek and cleansed each other for the year ahead. This is a time to bond, to share mutual family histories and to pour over old photographs, reminiscing, laughing and thoroughly enjoying our time together.
This introduction into the portal of my cultural identity highlights the importance of country and family, and the continual reinvigoration of the basic reality of life and existence.
When I return to Lionsville, it is always a time of attending to the greater theatre of nature: time of night skies littered with the voluminous carpet of stars, the wild, electrical storms and the bird songs. My uncle says, ‘Each bird has its own song, singing all at once.’ Water lizards, goannas, kookaburras and snakes are a continuous unfolding story that is internalised with our existence as human beings. I feel disengaged from this in Sydney and my time becomes an asset for other people. When I return, I always feel claustrophobic for the first couple of days until I become accustomed to the sounds and complexity of the swelling belly of humanity in all of its elements – harsh, uncompromising and noisy – it assaults the senses.
This exhibition reflects my exploration of my own family, the incredible story that is my family. The marriages, black with white, the stoic resilience against the conservative elements at social and historical junctures. It always occurs to me that the old cliché, You have to be in the right place at the right time, echoes down the tunnel of history to taunt us. To explore what it must have been like to be an Aboriginal woman marrying an Englishman in 1920 would have astounded the societal constraints in regional Australia that existed at that time.
What it would have been like to be an Aboriginal soldier and enlisting with your brothers in arms and returning to Australia to still not have essential human rights that are afforded other Australians at that time, prior to 1967, before citizenship referendum. To be alienated from back and white because it was not accepted that a non-Aboriginal person would consider marrying Aboriginal or Aboriginal would consider marrying outside the community, to emerge as a family with hundreds of descents, the proud continuum of one great, great, grandmother who resisted and survived the massacre of her clan in our area by EDS Ogilvy who assumed and acquired our land by illegal acquisition all qualified by family magistrates who used their position to validate the dispossession.
These are not new themes in my personal work or in the general political and social history of Aboriginal Australia, but theories that I will explore in my art until I can no longer create. This historical, familial and social engagement and exploration through the timeline of my family’s history allows for a detailed understanding of what was happening to Aboriginal Australia. Since before the marauding of colonies crawling over our country as other Aboriginal peoples and staking claim, all illegally and authenticated by the judicial system at that time.
When I am walking through my old peoples’ land or swimming in the Washpool Creek, I feel blessed that I am still able to return. Multiple visits every year reinvigorate my essential being and allow me to draw inspiration form the pure essence of nature and the ongoing inspiration of family survival.
My Uncle Pat, whom I asked to become my ‘stand-in’ Dad when my father died 20 years ago, has been a mentor, a teacher and a constant historian who teaches me to read the skies for storms, to assess when rain comes in if you have to leave because of flooding. We survived a major flood this year and he was talking about the last big flood back in 1928.
I often have to clarify with him what century he is talking about when we discuss historical events of the area – the 1800s or 1900s. He has a terrific memory for all events of the area and still works everyday because he started to work for his father, my grandfather, at the age of eight in the goldmines that allowed our family to stay in our traditional lands by being able to buy back the land.
All of this information gives you an understanding of my background. All that is me, the sum of my creativity is surrounded by the light of this history. This land, my family and my people are my inspiration.
I have always said that I would never become a solid painter until I was 50 years old. This philosophy was imbedded and express to me by my Dad who believed that you had to have some age on you to know what people assume to know. Acquired knowledge is not personally related to the history of who you are. When you have directly experienced the plethora of events that affect you, direct you, exploit you and explore you, you become the sponge that draws the moisture of life into you, the core of your being, your centre of gravity and your impetus for creativity. I have never thought of never being an artist. I remember constantly drawing as a young child of six years. I remember hounding my mother for art supplies and wanting to saturate my life with all sense of creativity.
There are times when I am frustrated by political manoeuvres on behalf of other players in the art scene but these chess pieces are only being played out by the outsider hand. It is always essential to keep your eye on the prize and that is not a self-searching evaluation of awards and primping by art dealers and galleries. The reward is the essential satisfaction of just creating and completing works of art. It is personally a brilliant opportunity to explore the lateral matrix of my mind, my heart and my life, and to return these imaginings to you as the viewer to enjoy, explore, admire or dislike is an opportunity to find common ground and work towards an increased understanding of at least one individual female Aboriginal artist’s life.