Barka the Forgotten River
Badger Bates and Justine Muller
Foyer Gallery > 13 June – 21 July 2019
Opening night | 6pm Thursday 13 June 2019
Barka the Forgotten River: Discussion | 1:30-3:30pm Friday 14 June 2019
With works spanning nearly three decades, Barka the Forgotten River is a timeline of the love artists Badger Bates and Justine Muller have for the Barka, or Darling River – “our mother and the blood in our veins” – and its people, the Barkandji.
Early works are a celebration of the life force and cultural, social and economic values of the Barka and its tributaries, while later works look back and remember what life used to be like living on the river, and how it gave everything that was needed; fresh water, food, bark, wood and enjoyment. Moments of significance are recorded here, such as the loss of catfish, the first fish that seemed to disappear nearly 20 years ago, and the 2010 flood (after the 2002-2009 drought) that brought an abundance of life back to the river and lakes, with fish, birds and plants all spawning, breeding, growing and flowering in the beautiful fresh floodwater.
The 2018 works tell a different story; one of desperate fear for the river and its ecology, for the cultural, social and economic life of the Barkandji people as the river disappears before their eyes and turns into a cesspool of algae, death and destruction. It also tells the story of the Barkandji people’s determination to fight for their river, a statement of the belief that they will be able to override the greed of the cotton growers; “cotton growers beware, as our ancestors are powerful!”
Barka the Forgotten River: Discussion >
1:30-3:30pm Friday 14 June 2019
Award-winning artists Badger Bates (a Barkandji spokesperson) and Justine Muller (a non-Indigenous artist who lived in Wilcannia for 3 years working with the community while producing her insightful contributions to the exhibition) will be joined by Dr Matt Colloff – a senior lecturer at the ANU’s Fenner School, with research, teaching and great insights and experience in Red Gum riverine systems, river flows, wetlands and floodwaters; and Paul Adcock – Community Development Practitioner in Regional & Remote Areas, who will encourage discussion.
Badger Bates and Justine Muller’s exhibition provides an excellent backdrop for a discussion on the artists’ work and the cultural and scientific insights into what is now an existential challenge for the future of the Barka River and her people. The Barka or Darling River and the Menindee Lakes are dying and this cannot be allowed to happen without comment. This year saw millions of fish die in the Menindee weir pool and over 2,000 km of dry riverbed stretching throughout Barkandji country and north up to the Queensland border. The artists depict through various mediums the story of the cultural significance of the Barka and the despair felt by the communities watching their mother die.
Canberra is the largest population centre in the Murray/Darling Basin and, as we emerge from a summer of Basin-wide blue-green algae, it is a good time for us to reflect on and speak out for the Barka. There is a profound need for us to consider ways in which we can address issues of over-allocation of water, lack of transparency, and neglect of basic human rights.
About the artists >
Badger Bates was born on the Darling River at Wilcannia in 1947. He was brought up by his extended family and his grandmother, Granny Moysey, who spoke several languages and knew many traditional songs and stories. With his grandmother, he travelled the country learning about the language, history and culture of the Barkandji people from the Barka, or Darling River.
Badger is an established artist using the mediums of linocut print, wood, emu egg, mosaic, stone carving and metalwork. His art reflects the motifs, landforms, animals, plants and stories of Barkandji country. He mixes the traditional and contemporary to create a style that portrays a strong sense of identity and association with the land and waters.
Badger’s work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Manly Art Gallery, UNSW Galleries, Monash University, Mildura City Council, Flinders University Print Collection, NSW Parliament House, Federal Parliament House Art Collection, The Australian Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), in addition to regional art galleries and private collectors. In 2015 Badger won the esteemed Outback Art Prize with the collaborative work Caillin and Tunjili – Steamers Point Wilcannia with Jodie Daley.
Justine Muller completed her bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Art School in Sydney (2007). Muller is represented in both state and private collections, including the Macquarie Bank Group Collection and Sydney City Archives State Library. Group exhibitions include the Art Gallery of New South Wales Dobell Drawing Prize (2012/2013), Portia Geach Memorial Prize (2013), Paddington Art Prize (2014/2017), City of Sydney Art and About Festival (2014) and the Moran Photographic Prize (2015/2018). Muller’s solo exhibition Understanding My Country was a feature of HeadOn Festival in 2017, the same year she achieved recognition in The Guardian Australia’s list of best and most important photos.