Barka exhibit at the Australian Museum urges Sydneysiders to save the Darling River
Raking and kneading the clay from the river bed Barkanamed after the mighty Darling River, visual artist Justine Muller developed a severe rash that forced her to seek medical attention.
Toxins from blue-green algae in the Darling’s mud, where the river had puddled, made Muller’s skin burn.
The river’s clay has since been burned into 200 footprints and arranged around a sandy ‘River of Hope’ created for the Australian Museum’s First Nation exhibit Barka, The Forgotten RiverOpening on Thursday.
Floods over the summer have washed the river clean, but the Darling River continues to be threatened by over-abstraction of water for irrigation, run-off from pesticides and along with declining water quality there are reports of mass fish die-offs, says Uncle Badger Bates, the elder Barkandji Principal artist and Muller’s mentor.
“Back in Wilcannia, sometimes we can’t eat yabbies,” he says. “It’s like a lobster but smaller, but when the legs turn white like your fingernails you can’t eat it. Something is wrong, and that’s exactly what’s happening with the cotton spray. I know that in Australia we need development to keep going, but greed can’t do anything for you.”
Barka brings together museum collection items from western NSW, carvings, sculptures including intricately carved emu eggs and paintings by the two artists, telling the stories of the communities that depend on the life-giving properties of the river system, which stretches 1472 kilometers from its headwaters in the north NSW.
Bates has been fighting for the Barka for 25 years, but the genesis of the show came when he met Muller eight years ago. Muller, a multimedia artist, had gone to paint the landscape around Broken Hill, and on the way back, near Bates’ hometown of Wilcannia, her car broke down.
“A series of unfortunate events got me stuck out there and we formed a friendship through our interest in activism,” says Muller. “My godfather was Jack Mundey, who Uncle Badger looked up to. We were both artists and we bonded on that level and he quickly took me under his wing and became a mentor to me.”
Within days of meeting them, Bates took Muller to hunt kangaroos to test their mettle. “He made me hold the kangaroo up while we skinned it.” When asked if she was squeamish, Muller says she once rode a horse across Tasmania with her father. “I’m pretty resilient.”
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/art-and-design/from-unfortunate-events-to-forging-an-extraordinary-exhibition-bond-20230313-p5crq6.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Barka exhibit at the Australian Museum urges Sydneysiders to save the Darling River