A group of talented Indigenous artists based in the Bega Valley Shire have shared some insight into the cultural importance of their artworks and messages embedded within.
On Saturday, May 28 members of the public were invited to a meet and greet with South Coast Indigenous artists at an exhibition hosted at Spiral Gallery in Bega.
One of the artists and Djiringanj man Marcus Mundy said he enjoyed sharing his culture with non-Indigenous people and said it was "the best way forward".
I think for non Aboriginal people they need to know that our artworks are not just drawings, there are stories behind them- Marcus Mundy
"I think for non-Aboriginal people they need to know that our artworks are not just drawings, there are stories behind them," he said.
Mr Mundy said the artworks had layered meaning as they not only represented the First Nations culture but also shared ecology messages.
"Our artworks don't just tell a story about our Dreaming but actually tell the story about sustaining life for the whole of Australia," he said.
Mr Mundy's artwork dubbed Strength of a Mother featured two blue whales, a mother and her baby swimming in a vibrant ocean.
"All the colours in the painting represent the vibrancy of our coastal seas here," he said.
Mr Mundy said the piece had been inspired by his grandmother and by the importance of caring for country.
Mr Mundy said he had been surrounded by aunts, his mother and the love from his grandmother who spent most of his childhood raising him.
"My grandmother really inspired me and took me along on her journey, teaching me everything," he said.
Mr Mundy said he had therefore chosen to paint the whale and her baby because of the matriarchal bond the species share.
"Whales are really significant because they carry their babies and stay with with them," he said.
"Without our mother whales we wouldn't have whales at all and that's why it's called the Strength of a Mother because they not only care for their babies but for all life on Earth."
Mr Mundy said he chose to paint whales due to their importance in creating balance in the ecosystem as well.
"Whales actually contribute more oxygen than people realise and overall they produce more oxygen than trees do," he said.
Their significance was reported in a recent IMF article that showed whales contribute greatly to CO2 capture and their main source of food, phytoplankton, contribute at least 50 per cent of all oxygen in the earth's atmosphere.
Mr Mundy used the traditional Yuin method of painting used by Indigenous artists on the South Coast, the 'stick figure style', which incorporates line patterns throughout the art.
Mr Mundy's aunt Ellen Mundy said the stick figure and line bar etching on the South Coast was the "true" culturally appropriate style.
Dot painting really is related to the desert style in the Northern Territory, whereas we have the hills and valleys down here, so we use stick figures- Ellen Mundy
Ms Mundy said while dot painting was a popular contemporary Aboriginal art style, it was important not to generalise the style to all Indigenous groups.
"Dot painting really is related to the desert style in the Northern Territory, whereas we have the hills and valleys down here, so we use stick figures" Ms Mundy said.
Another artist who said they took pride in sharing their culture was Emma Stewart who showcased a range of jewellery art pieces.
"My grandmother and aunties have always done shell work and I think for me by continuing that, it's keeping our cultural practice alive in contemporary ways," she said.
My grandmother and aunties have always done shell work and I think for me by continuing that, it's keeping our cultural practice alive in contemporary ways.- Emma Stewart
Ms Stewart said she also found it kept "my spirit strong" and helped her in feeling grounded.
Ms Stewart said she felt "empowered and honoured" to be involved with the exhibition, collaborating with other artists.
"That's what our culture is about, it's not just about the individual, it's about how we can connect, promote and empower each other," she said.
In attendance on the day was Bega Elder Aunty Colleen Dixon, who also had a range of her watercolour works on display.
Aunty Colleen said the artworks represented the connection to motherhood and the cycle of life.
In the artwork Aunty Colleen used a backdrop of autumn colours which she said she used to symbolise the leaves falling to the ground to become one with the earth and prompt regeneration.
She said the artworks were a result of her trying out watercolour for the first time, a medium she chose to represent that "water is connected to everything".
"Everything comes together as one, if you didn't have water, there wouldn't be any life on this earth, because water is life," she said.
"The water is in the leaves and as they fall off the tree, the old tree becomes a new tree and it starts the rebirth."
The exhibition also features artworks from eight other Indigenous artists including Natalie Bateman, Jidi Cooper, David Dixon, Robben Dixon, Michael Robinson, Alison Simpson, Rachel Smith, and Alison Walker.
The stunning works include paintings, prints, jewellery and shields, spears and boomerangs. Plus beautiful cards, teas, and honey. With most of the artworks available to purchase.
The exhibition will run from May 27 until Wednesday June 22.
The exhibition was launched in timing with the National Reconciliation Week which runs from May 27 until June 3. The 2022 theme is 'Be Brave. Make Change'.
Spiral gallery is located at 47 Church Street and open Monday to Friday from 10am until 4pm, and Saturday from 10am until 1pm.
The exhibition is presented with the financial support of South East Arts.
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