Explore the Maar nation culture at WAG

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Warrnambool Art Gallery continues to explore the rich culture of the Maar Nation in a visceral, immersive experience that brings together, sound, voice, animation and rituals to evoke truth telling and healing.

Upon the Breath Poyeempa is based on the powerful words of local Gunditjmara elder Charmaine Clarke, whose innate curiosity and fascination with slant rhyme has created a spoken word journey and an invitation to dream a shared future.

“For me we are at a crossroads in Victoria with our history, and Australia’s contemporary story. This show is to bring people together and look at the different layers of our experiences: they shouldn’t be colliding,” Ms Clarke said.

She said this history extended well before 1770.

“It is the history of the country, all of it, including when we first came here. The country is like your living body, like mother earth itself we are not separate from it.”

Upon the Breath Poyeempa has grown from Charmaine’s observation that many non-Aboriginal Australian people want to come into Aboriginal space, but don’t know how to.

“People don’t like living in concrete boxes, now with COVID-19, people are realising how restrictive concrete boxes are and how more important the connection to each other is,” she said.

Charmaine invites people to be brave and not just pick off the ‘Kumbaya’ moments, but to come closer to the pain.

“How can a person heal if they can’t express their pain?” she said.

As people pass through the poetry and animation, they come to a place where Charmaine invites them to come to country through a soundscape of music and singing performed by her cousin Brett Clarke, and Charmaine speaking in her deep baritone voice.

“It is a meditation in both English and Keerray Woorroong language where I invite them to come walk with me, it takes them to country, and we go on to talk about particular totems and ask them to create a new dreaming.

“Then we say can you hear it, it has begun. Then my cousin sings and you hear the clapping sticks of the dreaming.”

Each person is then invited to reach into a Coolamon cradle and take a medallion with a black hand painting on one side and a white hand painting on the other.

“It is for them to take home with them, to take that shared experience which has been uncomfortable, but also inviting and compassionate, and ask them to walk in the new dreaming with Aboriginal people, to take that within them in their lives,” Charmaine said.

She said Upon the Breath Poyeempa was initially to be only spoken words but as the project expanded she enjoyed the challenge of working collaboratively with music, animation and creating a new experience.

“It was a fundamental shift in how I see the power of words, rather than just standing up in front of a microphone, I enjoyed having it animated and creating a soundscape working with other artists.”

Warrnambool Mayor Cr Vicki Jellie said Poyeempa Upon the Breath provided a great opportunity to gain insights and understanding into Aboriginal knowledge and history of Australia.

“It’s an invitation to share in that history and it’s an invitation I would encourage people to accept,” Cr Jellie said.




Upon the Breath Poyeempa exhibition on show at WAG 19 June – 19 September 2021

Curated by Sherry Johnstone, WAG Curator of Cultural Engagement

Commissioned for the WAG Maar Nation Gallery, Songs of the Bones and What do you see when you see me? features poetry by Maar Nation artist Charmaine Clarke.

Filmed and edited by Tiny Empire Collective with animation by Lee Arkapaw.

WAG and the artist acknowledge the Traditional Owners the Eastern Maar People and Aboriginal communities of the Maar Nation.

We pay respect to Elders of today, emerging Elders of tomorrow and Elders of the past. We acknowledge the richness of Aboriginal cultures throughout Australia and their connection to country.

The WAG Maar Nation Gallery is supported by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Creative Victoria through the Engaging Audiences Program.

For more information or interviews please contact Vanessa Gerrans, Director, Warrnambool Art Gallery 0413 849 256.