Indigenous art lights up the Sydney Opera House

Updated 2nd July 2017
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Indigenous art lights up the Sydney Opera House
Written by Leanne Mirandilla, CNN
Indigenous art rarely takes center stage in Australia. But since late June, the work of five Aboriginal artists has been projected across one of the country's most recognizable buildings -- the Sydney Opera House.
The seven-minute animation titled "Badu Gili" -- which means "water light" in the indigenous Gadigal language -- will dance its way across the building's signature sails every evening.
Drawing on a range of Aboriginal artistic traditions, from rock painting to Melanesian patterns, the animation was created by acclaimed artists representing indigenous groups from across Australia.

An artistic message

The artists behind the project -- Frances Belle Parker, Alick Tipoti, Jenuarrie (Judith Warrie), the late Minnie Pwerle and Lin Onus (who died in 2006 and 1996 respectively) -- often created works themed around nature and storytelling. Still images from their works were animated and set to music.
But as well as lighting up the harbor, the artwork also focuses attention on questions about the history of Australian land. The site occupied by the Opera House was once a ceremonial gathering place for Sydney's Gadigal people.
"(This work is) a permanent message that reinforces that we're on Aboriginal land wherever we are in Australia," said participating artist Frances Belle Parker.
The animation also addresses environment concerns. The late Lin Onus's paintings depict water lilies -- the habitat of the southern corroboree frog, of which there are now fewer than 100 in the world.

'An inherited legacy'

The Sydney Opera House project has been launched to coincide with NAIDOC Week, a celebration of the culture and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a referendum in which Australians voted to include Aboriginal people in the census for the first time.
The "Badu Gili" artwork represents an important celebration of indigenous culture, says Rhoda Robert, the project's curator and Sydney Opera House's head of indigenous programming.
"There is this inherited legacy of Aboriginal culture in Australia that isn't seen, heard, or given voice," she told CNN. There are few international art museums dedicated to Aboriginal Australian art and (it rarely) features in the arenas of global art criticism.
"Australians don't realize what they have. They haven't been exposed to this culture and don't understand its depth. So it's really exciting to have Australian people being blown away by this art."
Over the next three years, Sydney Opera House staff will gauge reactions to artwork and update it accordingly. The curators hope to invite new Aboriginal artists to contribute to the display, with new additions expected as early as December.