westmead Health precinct art celebrates NAIDOC 2020, rich history

Each year, NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to celebrate the 65,000-plus year history of the First Nations, their voices, diversity and community.

Part of this community is Nicole Monks, a trans-disciplinary artist of Yamaji Wajarri, Dutch and English heritage.

Her collaborative work with Luke Russell and Scott Luschwitz in the forecourt of Westmead’s Central Acute Services Building (CASB) weaves together Aboriginal history and storytelling as a way to connect the past, present and future. It helps start a conversation within the community about the places and spaces where they live.

As we reflect on NAIDOC Week – celebrated this year from 8-15 November with the theme `Always was, Always will be.’ – Nicole says people are finally having conversations about First Nations’ continuing connection and custodianship of this country.

The new three-dimensional creation, Mudinga, the Dharug word for spear to hunt fish, is proudly displayed across two floors in the CASB’s Cultural Gathering Place, reflecting the underwater perspective of fish darting away as a spear hits the water. It connects with Gary Warner’s Sound of Water creation in the same space, providing visitors with the full sound and sight experience.

Nicole wants visitors to the new building to think about the story, because when they learn about it, they too can feel a connection and understanding of this place.

“I want people to feel connected, to ask questions and find out the stories about the river in their community, how local mob would have made spears and hunted along the banks of the river,” she said. “The spear in the artwork is made from iron bark, grasstree and gum, sinew and Gymea lily.

“This community has a strong connection to water, it’s the symbol of Parramatta and I wanted to bring that story to life through the three-dimensional work within the built environment. The moment the spear hits the water and the fish scatter away is a nice analogy about the rippling effect this story can have and the interconnection of all things, people, plants, animals and water.” 

Minimalist in design, Nicole worked with Architectural Graphics Public Art to bring the vision and story to life.

Working with the architecture of the space proved complex. Extensive work went into every measurement to ensure each steel slat and feature was perfectly placed to provide an authentic flow of waves and uninterrupted vision of the fish.

“I really wanted to pare back the work and highlight the simple fact that fishing on Parramatta’s rivers and waterways by Dharug people has been occurring since time immemorial,” she said. “This river is a life source and of sacred significance to local mob.

“These stories are so important to enable a depth of understanding and connectedness to this place and to bring our communities together.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to learn about where they live, have a voice, start a conversation and look to the future.”

Pictured: Nicole Monks views her artwork as videographer Martin Brown from the University of Sydney captures her initial response to Mundinga in situ at the Central Acute Services Building.

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