Fresh Festival Celebrates First Nations Culture

Nancy Bates. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Broken Hill Regional Gallery has announced the inaugural ‘Fresh Water’ Festival celebrating First Nations art, culture and life through music, dance, visual arts, and food.

The ‘Festival for the Barka’ has been conceived to accompany the 23rd Biennale of Sydney’s theme ‘Rivus’ encompassing Rivers, wetlands and salt and freshwater ecosystems.

Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery Programs Officer Hester Lyon said that the Festival is about celebrating the many First Nations artists in the regions, including Uncle Badger Bates.

The work with Wilcannia Students of the latter has been included in the upcoming Sydney Biennale.

The event will also be a chance for the community to gather as part of the 2022 Maari Ma Indigenous Art Awards.

“The festival came about through the Gallery’s longstanding relationship with the Art Gallery of NSW and their Djamu Program.”

“In 2020, this program facilitated the canoe cut by Uncle Badger and Wilcannia Central School students,” she said

“That canoe was the first Barkindji canoe cut in 70 years, and it will be presented as part of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney alongside an installation of Mr Bates’ lino prints.”

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Liam Keenan (Gomeroi), the Assistant Programs Producer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW, will be one of two guest judges of the 2022 Maari Ma Indigenous Art Awards.

He said that the Festival and the biennale are great ways for indigenous people to celebrate their culture and for non-indigenous people to connect and learn about indigenous cultural connections to the Barka River.

“Festivals like this and the Maari Ma art awards all help to open lanes for more interaction with indigenous cultures and knowledge systems”, he said

“It’s a great way for places like Broken Hill to find a deep appreciation for the place.”

Fresh Water Festival performing musician Nancy Bates emphasized the importance of the Broken Hill community celebrating local First Nations artists and musicians telling stories about the region.

“It’s an opportunity to share stories, discuss art-making and build culture through connection”.

Ms Bates, who grew up in Menindee and now lives in Adelaide, said that she has had the opportunity in recent years to build connections with other First Nations People doing reconciliatory and activist work that has expanded her cultural horizons, relationships and value of the knowledge that Indigenous people hold.

“First Nations People can understand things, in really valuable ways, we can look at facts and figures and statistics and waterflows, policies and procedures of how water is managed and mismanaged in this country, but when it gets down to, it art provides a medium to tell stories in such a human way”.

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“Art is a great way to talk about caring for country, to talk about climate action, to talk about gender equality, particularly through the knowledge of First Nations People.”

Ms Bates said that she would like to see Broken Hill better celebrate First Nations culture and history through events like Fresh water.

“If you go around town, there is a lot of colonial history, but there is a huge lacking of First Nations cultural history displayed, and yet that is the richest history!”

Ms Bates said that people in Far Western NSW often tell stories about Aboriginal people regarding life expectancy or other difficult statistics.

“These statistics can detract from the fact that we are strong enough and capable enough to talk for the river, we are fighting for the river, we do have an ongoing connection and we want all Australians to have a sacred connection with the river.”

“We want all Australians to understand the stories of Far Western NSW.”

Ms Lyon said that the Festival for the Barka is especially important for the Broken Hill Regional Gallery as the first event the gallery will be able to host since the 2021 lockdown.

“These types of events allow people to come together and see the diverse and committed community of artists and creatives that make up the Far West of NSW.”

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“It is an opportunity to share stories, discuss art-making and build culture through connection.”

Fresh Water: Festival for the Barka is a collaboration between Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, Biennale of Sydney and the Art Gallery of New South Wales and will be held at the GeoCentre in Broken Hill on April 9th.

The festival line-up includes Nancy Bates, Leroy Johnson and the Waterbag Band and will include award announcements for the 2022 Maari Ma Indigenous Art Prize.

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