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  • Jan 27, 2021

Indigenous artwork marks the Sydney Opera House on Invasion Day


On January 26, the Sydney Opera House was lit up at dawn with Indigenous multimedia artist Frances Belle Parker’s installation Angwirri (2021) during Australia Day’s dawn ceremony. The work was installed ahead of nation-wide Invasion Day protests that advocated for the abolishment of Australia Day as a national holiday and for restoring justice to the country’s First Nations people.

Projected onto the sails of the Opera House, Angwirri, meaning “begin to talk'' in the Yaygirr language of the Yaygirr Wadyarr peoples of Maclean, New South Wales (NSW), is inspired by Belle Parker’s intrinsic connection to the Australian landscape and coastline. Winding sets of curved, brown lines move across the sails of the institution in horizontal fashion, symbolizing a mapping of country and coastline, with the spaces in-between filled by a colorful array of linear Indigenous graphic motifs. Among these motifs, the circular symbols represent the country’s more than 250 Aboriginal language groups, which are interspersed with vertical markings representing the country’s 200 nationalities. Speaking of her work, the artist commented that, “Our sense of belonging to the land is something that is intrinsically embedded into our being, and as First Nations people we are responsible for sharing the truth of our history.”

Belle Parker is a Yaegl woman based in Yaygirr Wadyarr (Maclean) of Northern NSW. She works predominantly with paintings and installations, exploring her connection to the country and Indigenous heritage through her depictions of its landscapes. At age 18, she was the youngest winner and the first Indigenous artist to receive the prestigious Blake Prize in 2000 for her painting The Journey (2000), which combines the Christian cross with the rainbow serpent of Aboriginal culture.  

The Invasion Day protests occurred across the country’s major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane. January 26 has been a national holiday for the country since 1994, marking the day that the British First Fleet first claimed land on Sydney's shores in 1788. Protestors of all backgrounds gathered to acknowledge the invasion—rather than celebrate the settlement—of Australia by British colonizers and the systematic, nation-wide genocide of Aboriginal communities throughout the late 18th to early 20th century that resulted in the ongoing dispossession and inter-generational oppression of Indigenous Australians.

Yuna Lee is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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