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Art With Country

The Earth is alive - a macrocosm of our small bodies bound together by regulatory ecosystems and diverse organisms that to a Planet are microbiological. I believe that Country - the living Earth - is also inherently imaginative and creative. The way that waves, tides, and currents tumble ancient stone into particular shapes and compounds, the way that wind moves particles of earth to erode patterns into the landscape and physical bodies of living beings, the way that hot fire from within the Planet melts, molds, and sculpts the world around us - it's all art.

Much of my making process is inspired by Country Itself. People assume that means something big and impressive, the kind of grand scale that you'd expect from planetary inspiration! Yet most often, it's small and simple, and very specific to a particular place and moment in time. The materials have to be present, provided by the Earth in just the right way and just the right configuration for something collaborative to emerge.

On the calm shores of a bay where my Ancestors gathered food, swam, and told stories about the Grey Nurse Shark mothers and pups who use this place as a birthing sanctuary, my eyes are drawn to the smooth stones texturing the sand beneath them. My pattern-finding eyes start to identify familiar shapes amongst the stones as I walk amongst them. I pick some up, gather them together on a clear canvas of sand, and I begin to put them together. The lapping waves create a rhythm that I work to, and I think about the young Grey Nurse wulimbura who I met here not long ago. Suddenly, my pile of rocks resembles her and I can't help but feel like wulimbura, the rocks, and the bay itself have all helped create a simple, but profound piece of art with me.

To say that I am the sole creator of works like these is to ignore the active role of Country in its making. Without the Country, there would be no rocks to make in, no bay to make at, no wulimbura to make. From every moment of inspiration to the provision of the raw materials - Country has been involved as a collaborator. The bay, the rocks, and the Sharks themselves have all been makers, without them the work would not exist. Recognising this has always been at the core of my making process.

The materials themselves make me wonder where this work could go, what it could ask and learn and share. The earthly rocks shaped by immeasurable time being hurled around under the turbulent wetness of the ocean make me wonder how the depths shaped Sharks into the beings they are. Sandpaper scales that look as smooth as grey satin and that fear-inspiring fin that provides bodily stability and direction to wulimbura are re-imagined in the hard smoothness and still, steady weight of the stones. The salty waves reaching ever closer will eventually take our dry land rendition back into the arms of the ocean where the real wulimbura live, and that makes me think about the significance of Indigenous cultural stone carvings of ocean animals - a way of connecting land and sea through image, process, and collaborative commitments between the human and non-human Country.

Art with Country is opportunistic. Arguably, it's something that you are invited into. I go to my local Bat camp every week to sit and draw the Flying Foxes there. I bring my paper and pencils each time.

Then, one day, there's a lightning struck tree with some fragments of charcoal scattered about. The Bats witnessed this event, they're watching me as I inspect the tree and begin to understand the story here. I pick up a piece of charcoal and drag a satisfying, bold black line along the sandstone surface shadowed by the Fruit Bats hanging overhead. I draw another. And another. I draw a Bat in charcoal on sandstone underneath a sleepy Bat camp beside a tree recently struck by lightning. Fire from the sky has forged a tool from a tree, providing me with the materials needed to make this drawing, to represent an animal I have a strong relationship with. The charcoal makes me think of the ways in which the disasters and threats being faced by Bats are being turned into opportunities to talk about them, to educate people and bring them back into positive relationships with Country. The boldness of the charcoal lines on ancient, weathered sandstone surface make me think of the boldness Bats give me, the confidence they lend to my sense of self and identity, and how that identity is overlaid on countless generations of my Indigenous ancestry.

Art with Country is not necessarily about big and grandiose, or about incredible awe-inspiring skills. Very often, it is simply - yet profoundly - a moment of connection in a particular time and place where Country invited us into collaborative thought, imagination, and creativity with no specific purpose other than to draw in our awareness and appreciation of that place and the beings, ecosystems, and natural processes that enliven it. It's about sharing in that momentary story, being part of places and lives other than our own for a moment, and belonging to those stories so that they become part of our lives too. Art with Country reminds me that I am Country, we all are. Even when drawing up a comic at my home desk, I have to acknowledge that the pigment, the water, the ink, the plastic shell of my pen, the paper, the desk, the physical structure of my home and the ingredients that go into the tea and food that nourishes me while I work all have come from Country, from somewhere. I wonder where, and at what/who's expense. And I then wonder how the art I make will contribute something to balance out - or challenge - that cost. Because we can always do better - Country provides everything we need, if we just listen and allow ourselves to be guided.

*Artworks and images of artworks belong to Sara Kian-Judge 2022.

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Randy Eady
Randy Eady
14 nov. 2023

Shark SoulSpace Sharing... The blending of human and animal traits in this figure shows us that the Chancay people were keen observers of nature, and that their beliefs were combined with what they knew about the natural world.

Sharing Shark Soul­-space | Randy Eady -

Female whale sharks can produce large litters of pups, perhaps also linking them with fertility in the minds of the Chancay people and making this the spiritual power that the whale shark (as spiritual alter ego or as lineage ancestor) was thought to wield.

Her wide, staring eyes may allude to trance or spiritual sight (the ability to see into the spirit world), but they also dovetail with the whale shark’s ability to roll…

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