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Photographs by @CharandevSingh

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Photographs by @CharandevSingh

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The medium of pyrography is  beautiful and sensitive. The pelts are visually striking and resonate as a way to explore aspects of our cultural identity, social and political history. These are intended to be artworks in their own right - not cultural artifacts. The strength of the medium allows for powerful discussion around the fiction of terra nullius, and other myths that uphold white supremacy and in our identity as a land of colonisers and genocidal programs. They also evoke strong memories from my childhood in the Wimmerra Mallee of pelts stretched out and drying on fences and nailed to shed walls.  The  pelts are sourced from New Zealand where brush tailed possums are an invasive pest.

 


Pyrography is drawing or writing by carefully burning the surface of an object. It has been utilised across the globe for as long as humans have been making images. Pyrography on possum skins is an artistic practise from South Eastern Australia  that has gained resurgence in the last few decades. The decorated skins are traditionally used for possum skin cloaks and ceremonial purposes. You can read more about Aboriginal pyrography here.

 

One of the great fictions consistently retold in Australia is that at the time of the British invasion. Aboriginal people subsisted as ‘hunter-gatherers’ and lived a transient lifestyle. Both of these propositions are false. At the time of invasion there were over 250 distinct language groups all of whom have complex property rights over areas of land and water. Dwellings for both seasonal and permanent homes were common and there is a long history of agriculture and land management. The body of work 'terra culta' is inspired by Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu explores these themes of pre-invasion cultivated land and resource management. 

I am not Aboriginal. My pyrography is not Aboriginal art.  Aboriginal identity in Australia is a tripart system that requires biological descent from an Aboriginal ancestor, cultural  recognition by an Aboriginal Nation and personal identification as an Aboriginal person. I do not make possum skin cloaks and I have no cultural authority within that tradition.  If you would like to purchase work from a contemporary Aboriginal artist, please consider artists represented by an Aboriginal owned and controlled artists’ cooperatives or purchasing directly from Aboriginal artists. Some of my favourite contemporary First Nations Australian artists include Haus of Dizzy, Hayley Millar-Baker and Charlotte Allingham. You can buy from them all directly.