WINDOWSPACE-BEEAC APRIL 2017
Bronwyn Razem, Eel Traps, Sovereignty, ACCA, (2016 - 17)
A basket is like a mother – the gift of Bronwyn Razem
(warning this is a personal story)
A basket is like a mother, a fold in the hills, a lap to nestle in, a neck to nuzzle, reassurance, a reliable joy … a good basket embraces its contents, holds them well, safely securely, comfortably. A basket made by hand, has a history, holds a story, is testimony to the time and place of its making. A basket made by hand is a sociable act, formed in a circle of activity and conversation, functional, possibly also spiritual.
Imagine for a moment what has happened here, (here could be anywhere but I will locate us). Here, where we stand – at this window space, for example. Turn your body around 360 degrees – what do you see? At this window space for the moment we are lucky and can see the ‘hills’ across the road – their simple child-like line drawn against the sky. Lunettes. Sand dunes. Burial places. Embankments of sands blown from Lake Beeac – years and years ago.
It’s time to re-imagine this place – to see with fresh and generous eyes the home of the Gulidjan. Imagine ourselves not here for a moment, for longer if possible. Only by this imagining can we begin to glimpse what was, what has arrived and what has been lost. While people and politics are stuck in a mess the glimpsing is hard, but then ‘art beckons as a healing place’ (Paola Balla,) a bridge, a hand, an act, a necessity offering pause and hope.
What amazes this writer is the generosity of the original peoples – people I ‘see’, when I pause, look hard around me, or quickly glance, strip away the dross and impositions – shadowy but there, these people move across the landscape, at one with it, it. Their generosity amazes, but so too and more so, their profound lack of rage. There is a wry humour in the indigenous spirit – in this land now, of so many hard surfaces, wheels, cogs, capital. Reverse for a moment the incursor and the residents’ positions – it is hard, but only when that reversal has happened, in your head, in mine, again and again, will the degree of generosity and goodwill of indigenous people be glimpsed and a treaty of equal minds become possible. Another puts it bluntly:
‘In a society stuck within a colonial mindset … Sovereignty is a word and a concept beyond understanding.’ (Tony Birch)
Fibre artist Bronwyn Razem and her work has a special place in this writer’s heart and soul, for the most human of instincts – comfort, (not an armchair, rather a tender instinctive holding). Some years ago when I was incredibly broken – I reached for a card I had kept for some time, a card with a name and a number on it. The name was that of a ‘basket-maker’ (at least that’s how I recall it) – through the haze of my misery I knew I needed to try this number. The number was Bronwyn Razem’s. I explained to her that I thought I needed the soothing ‘rhythm’ of some making (a basket). Bronwyn heard the years of pain in my voice – we had never spoken before. She said she thought I had better come to her and I did. Like a mother she embraced me – me, she had never met. I moved toward her as though she were a magnet.
Together we went gathering – Bron knew where the flax plant was and we went to it. Then we sat in her living area and she showed me how to divide the long broad strap of a leaf. That done she showed me how to bundle and bind the fibres and how to join those lengths, so bundled, in a coil – and a basket began. Someone I had not met before had invited me to her home, taken me out gathering, sat me down and gifted me the knowledge her mother had given her. Generous, comforting, embracing – an inspirational spirit, an indelibly unrankerous act.
Deservedly, so deservedly, some years later the spirit of Bronwyn’s work is being acknowledged. She along with her ‘sisters’ were selected to participate in the Festival of Pacific Arts, Guam, (2016) – Georgia Maguire, Deanne Gilson, Glenda Nicholls and Bronwyn Razem are Ngardang Girri Kalat Mimini, Mother Aunty Sister Woman, and ‘committed to promoting the unique art practices of Indigenous women in Victoria, Australia … (they) … aim to support each other professionally, culturally and spiritually … (in) … the continuation of traditional cultural practices in a contemporary art space, through engaging in collaborative projects, such as exhibitions and workshops.’
Most recently Bronwyn Razem has contributed to Sovereignty, at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. She is presently preparing work for the Warrnambool Gallery (see below). Locally Razem continues to hold her arms out – to share, to show, even to embrace – those among us who try to ‘see’. Her cheeky characterful indigenous ‘toys’ induce laughter, help us wake up to whose place this is, and how much we have to share and learn and do together.
Razem invites the participation of others in the work she will prepare for WINDOWSPACE-BEEAC this April. There will be a making day on Thursday 6 April (sadly I could not list this in time because my system has been off and on for weeks, mostly off), at the window, 79 Main Street, BEEAC.
Quotes above from Paola Balla and Tony Birch from Sovereignty, catalogue to the eponymous show at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 17 Dec 2016 – 26 March 2017; other from Festival of Pacific Arts Guam, 2016, exhibition background notes.
Bronwyn Razem, Ink drawing for Warrnambool Gallery, 2017