How these whale tail sculptures connect artists and audiences to the land of Gadigal

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Currently, Sydney’s Western Harbor is hosting Whale Tales by the Water — a new outdoor exhibition that aims to strengthen our connection with the country of Gadigal, its people and its culture.

The free exhibition features 30 whale tail sculptures scattered along a six-kilometre path along the harbour, with each two-metre-tall replica tail painted by a different local artist. Each tail tells a unique story inspired by its location and the land, and allows audiences to step into a different story and gain a new perspective on Indigenous culture and history.

Uncle Graham Toomey, one of the exhibit’s two Indigenous curatorial advisors, says Whale Tales by the Water allows artists to engage with audiences through open dialogue and storytelling – a crucial part of preserving history.

“This project is a doorway that invites the public in to learn and connect with the spirit of Gadigal Country, its people and its culture. Gadigal Country is an old country with an enduring spirit that is strong and beautiful. This spirit is ancient in stories, ancient beliefs, values, traditions and practices. It is also a powerful tool that brings us all together as allies in trying to make the world a better place through sharing, understanding and creativity.

Uncle Toomey says the purpose of this project is for the public to understand what the country means to First Nations people and how important that knowledge is to the health and well-being of future generations.

“Indigenous peoples are not only related to the land and its water, but we are literally the land and the water. We are the ground and what lies beneath. We are its dust, flora, fauna and environment. By sharing our responsibilities as stewards of the country, we aim to educate those on the project, to understand that we have an obligation to care for the country and preserve the culture.”

Aunty Joanne Selfe, the exhibit’s other Indigenous curatorial advisor, says passing down knowledge and stories in oral form is an important tradition passed down from generation to generation – and that tradition is reflected in the experience of the exhibit. exhibition via audio stories accessible via the Whale Tales by the Water website.

“Visitors will hear directly from the artists, their thoughts and the message behind their work. Accompanying this is a First Nations audio narrative. In this narrative, First Nations perspectives and understandings of the country, people and place are shared with visitors, demonstrating the enduring connection and knowledge held within these oral traditions.”

A wide range of artists have been selected by the curators Art pharmacy to participate in this project, to produce works of art that represent the wide range of voices of the Sydney art world. Art Pharmacy collaborated with Toomey and Selfe to identify emerging and established artists who came from different backgrounds – including school groups, artists working with disabilities, CALD artists and even eco-warrior artists – each with their own unique story to tell. The programming includes Indigenous artists, street artists, illustrators and muralists, making for a very diverse body of work.

“We have selected an exciting program of artists – all local to Sydney and all with a unique story to share,” says Zeta Xu of Art Pharmacy. “The result was a whole range of stories of Sydney, water and whales told through beautiful life-sized tails. These range from stories of childhood nostalgia and memories of the ocean, to environmental concerns and Dreamtime storytelling. The range of styles, stories and stories means there is something for everyone who visits the trail.”

Geoff Parmenter, President of the New Sydney Waterfront Companyemphasizes the importance of having community events such as Whale Tales by the Water.

“In times of global pandemics and off-season weather events, these types of active, outdoor community events have never been more important.”

So what would he like visitors to take away from the exhibition?

“I would love for audiences to walk away with a little piece of the waterfront! Whether it be in the form of knowledge or just the feel-good factor that comes with experiencing beautiful art.”

Waterfront Whale Tales is on display at Western Harbor until Saturday, September 24. For more information, visit the website.