Powerhouse of Indigenous protest celebrated in art

An artwork that will continue to grow is among the highlights of an art exhibition honouring 40 years of the Aboriginal tent embassy.

The tent embassy was erected in Canberra in 1972 to protest against a court decision over mining operations on Aboriginal land and other social equality issues. Many battles and struggles later, the embassy has become a heritage-listed landmark for Aboriginal protest.

"The students have grasped a strong understanding of the roots of the tent embassy ...

Koori Art Expressions 2012, which opened last month at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, contains artworks created by Sydney school students from Kindergarten to Year 12.

More than 70 works and 26 schools were represented in the exhibition that was inspired by this year's theme for NAIDOC Week - the Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years.

Cultural understanding

Sydney regional director Dr Phil Lambert said the annual program aimed to develop an understanding of Aboriginal culture and heritage among all students.

"This year's selection sees a greater representation of three-dimensional works, which has given students more freedom for creative and artistic expression," Dr Lambert said.

Paintings, photography, textiles, sculptures and ceramics were among the diverse works on show.

One of the highlights was 'Forty celebration disks so far' by Botany Public School (Kindergarten to Year 2).

The work contained 40 clay disks featuring Aboriginal symbols of fire, resting camps, men and women that were strung together to commemorate each of the tent's 40 years.

However the work was designed to allow more disks to be added each year the tent embassy remains in front of Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Lessons from the past

In developing the art works, students were asked by teachers to reflect on the statement: "To move forward, we must acknowledge our forebears, learn from their experiences and ask ourselves what their sacrifices mean to me and my family today."

Powerhouse Museum Koori history and culture curator James Wilson-Miller said he was impressed by the original ideas portrayed in the works.

"The students have grasped a strong understanding of the roots of the tent embassy and thoughtfully translated its meaning in the context of Australian society today," Mr Wilson-Miller said.

"The founders of the Aboriginal tent embassy 40 years ago would be proud of the young artistic talents showcased in this exhibition that have so beautifully captured the spirit of the tent embassy."

Koori Art Expressions 2012 is showing at the Powerhouse Museum until 28 January.

View a slideshow of the artwork.

Photo: Ashfield Boys High School student Ray Dean Bowden. Photo by Ann Cairns.

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