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New Ngurra (Belonging)

Source: Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre
Archived 10 Jul 2017 - Posted: 13 May 2017
In a collaborative project between Indigenous artist Graham Davis King, architect Craig Johnston and contemporary artist Billy Gruner, The Joan’s light-filled Atrium Foyer will become home to an installation titled New Ngurra, a contemporary reconstruction of a Ngurra: an Indigenous camp, both a place to take shelter and to engage with culture.

Ngurra have been made by Indigenous people for thousands of years to provide not only protection from the elements but a place for teaching and for stories to be re-told under the Wantangarua (starworld of totems seen in southern night sky).

Created under the banner of Modern Art Projects (MAP), where the crossover of art and architecture is explored, the New Ngurra designed by Indigenous Artist Project (IAP) will take place over a three-month period, and will be the centrepiece in a suite of Indigenous programming at The Joan, including The 7 Stages of Grieving on 16 and 17 June, a Friday Night Lights performance by young Indigenous singer Mi'Kaisha Masella on 16 June, and extending beyond the installation period to schools performances of Saltbush on 22 August.

The installation will also be accompanied by public programs, and underscores The Joan’s commitment to the quality, integrated Indigenous programming that saw the venue named one of the Top Twelve presenters of Indigenous work in a 2016 study by the Australia Council.

Long time collaborators Davis King and Gruner began the process of experimenting with Indigenous architectural forms by collecting timber and leaves from the Blue Mountains. With the juxtaposition of Gruners’ modern Punk Studio installation works, ideas began to form about merging the two similar processes to create a contemporary artistic, architectural Indigenous housing prototype where the place of the camp is as important as the home in it – a New Ngurra. Architect Craig Johnston joined them and they formed the Indigenous Artist Project and developed a prototype construction method.

The prototype needed to be both a modern and temporary dwelling and work as a star shelter to observe the Wantanganura (or skyworld) while producing a “stage” for continued storytelling or, Skyworld Dreaming. That is where the tracking of the stars representing specific tales and figures of the Mother Emu, the Eagles, Wombat, Wallaby, calendars, and the non terrestrial orchid spirit of the region’s forests in the story of the Wantanganura have been learned. Davis King says, “The work represents three concepts as one: the natural world, the environment and nature’s calendar, bringing people into the fourth dimensional universe, which is part of the Dreamtime or Marrathalpu.”

The New Ngurra will be constructed inside The Joan’s Atrium Foyer using modern inexpensive and easy-to-erect materials. The project has been made possible with funding from Arts NSW through NAVA and project support from Penrith Performing & Visual Arts.

“We consider The Joan to be a big community lounge room, a place for all to meet, share stories and culture. We are honoured to host this project which extends welcome and creates meaning in our otherwise somewhat impersonal foyer space,” says Joan CEO, Hania Radvan.

At the official opening ceremony to launch the New Ngurra installation at 5:30pm on Friday 19 May, Indigenous groups, patrons and the broader community will have an opportunity to experience the creativity and stories of Indigenous people with performances by Davis King and other Indigenous artists. The opening ceremony is a free event and everyone is welcome. The New Ngurra will be accessible during The Joan’s opening hours.

This project was assisted by a grant from Arts NSW, an agency of the New South Wales Government and supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments. The program is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

New Ngurra (Belonging)


19 May to end July 2017


Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, 597 High Street, Penrith.

This article archived 10 Jul 2017

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