Awabakal - An Art Installation by Graham Wilson

We worship on Awabakal land. What does that awareness do to the manner in which we share the bread and wine in this place?
Awabakal, art installation, carved wood - detail. Photo by John Cliff

Awabakal, art installation, carved wood - detail. Photo by John Cliff

Awabakal - An Art Installation by Graham Wilson

- Rev Dr Rod Pattenden

Introducing contemporary art into the Church is an intervention that offers expanded perspectives as well as dissonance and unresolved tensions. Bringing visual elements into liturgical settings is usually conducted in a far safer manner through being tied to the dominant symbol system. Objects on the table, banners, arts and crafts all work to enhance the overriding narrative of worship. The current project Altar/d, being developed at Adamstown Uniting Church, introduces contemporary art in a manner that allows for interruption, and the non resolution of discordant elements. This strategy simply reminds people of the disruption and complexity they experience in their everyday lives. But also present in this activity is the hope that such disconnections might find resolution through the signs of the presence of God enacted out in the form of the Liturgy. Here worship pushes us forward into the future.

The second in the series of these art installations was developed by wood and stone carver Graham Wilson, whose work ‘Awabakal’ was installed along the front wall of the liturgical space. It provided a vast panorama of the wild heath coast line of the local region. It was rendered in fine carved lines dynamically cut into wood that had been painted a dense black colour. One could trace the lively wind swept surface of low stunted plants that characterise the coastline, with the vast ocean and clouds in the background. A delightful scurry of fine marks led the eye on a beautiful journey through this vast field. One could easily imagine the whoosh of the wind through this fine mesh of vegetation. The term Awabakal refers to the tribal name of the local indigenous people who were here on this land at the time of colonial settlement. So the work offers both a present and a past view of this familiar coastline.

Awabakal 1.jpg

This land is Awabakal land, but they are nowhere in sight. It is as if they have retreated to the very edge of the densely black panels. For us, a mainly white Anglo-Saxon congregation, we see a picturesque vista, and take in the beauty of this land. It is an easy task for us to command this space through our eyes as if we occupy it. But what is missing is the indigenous inhabitants. It therefore becomes a space of silence and absence, without the people who once walked our backyards and fished in our water streams. With great beauty Graham Wilson gives us a vista to inhabit with one gesture and then in another he makes us aware of our own colonial training to take the land for our own possession. This kind of view is about us, because what we see is the wild and natural beauty of the scene. This is a scene however that has been populated and cultivated for thousands of years. We see, but we are blind.

This eloquent panorama was installed in the church during the month of June this year and coincided with National Reconciliation Week focusing on relationships with Aboriginal people. This annual event provides an opportunity to acknowledge the past and build a more just future. Graham Wilson’s work made present this disruptive horizon of our national past. His beautiful landscape was initially welcomed and easily tucked into our familiar view. Over time, however, it became an increasingly difficult and challenging view to behold. This art work provided a horizon of awareness that took people’s eye-sight out from the familiar signs of worship to incorporate the local landscape and its layered history. Australians readily see their landscape as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. This work reminds us that the land we live in was cultured and inhabited for a very long time before its occupation by colonial settlement and economic interests. The difficult truth is that we worship on Awabakal land. What does that awareness do to the manner in which we share the bread and wine in this place? The introduction of this work into the space does not allow us an easy answer to that question.

... a horizon of awareness
This land is Awabakal land

By Rev Dr Rod Pattenden
Art installation by Graham Wilson

Photography by John Cliff

About the artist: more of Graham Wilson's work can be seen here, including further links to his work:

More about the Altar/D art series, at Adamstown Uniting Church: