2013 Blacktown Native Institute exhibition
Text by Brook Andrew and Paul Howard
Native Institute Exhibition, installation shot. L-R: Karla Dickens, Jason Wing, Daniel Boyd, Leanne Tobin © 2013 Blacktown Arts Centre. Photo: J Leahy
The Native Institute Project 2013
Daniel Boyd, Robyn Caughlan, Karla Dickens, r e a , Leanne Tobin, Jason Wing
In 2012 the Native Institute Project set out to activate and pay homage to the importance of a site in Australian history that is in many cases forgotten and disregarded. This is the site of the Blacktown Native Insititute, a place where children were taken from Aboriginal families in order to experiment with educating them in the British way.
It was in Blacktown during 1823 that a boarding school became active after it was moved from its original site in Parramatta and after six years of operation the Blacktown Native Instiute was recognised as a failed experiment. The place around the Native Institute was known as ‘The Black Town’.
The Blacktown Native Institute for the Aboriginal community is a key site symbolising dispossession, child removal and enduring links to the land. For some members of the Aboriginal community it represents a landmark in Aboriginal-European relations, symbolising the continuing need for reconciliation and understanding between blacks and whites.”
NSW State Heritage Register
This place has profound meaning for Darug people. The site is also an early tangible link with the colonial history of trans-Tasman cultural relations and with the history of Maori children who were also removed to the Institution. The site today appears as nothing more than a fenced patch of grass that history has rendered invisible to present day passers-by.
Through dialogue with local community and historians, the Project, led by artist Brook Andrew, revealed the results of six Aboriginal artists who have taken the role as mirrors and finders of a history once forgotten. Their work tackled the difficult tasks of dealing with hidden and disturbing practices towards Aboriginal children and their families which resulted in the inter-generational trauma seen today.
Sites of Experimentation
In addition to the exhibition at Blacktown Arts Centre, artists created ephemeral site-specific works and artistic ‘happenings’ at the original site of the Native Institute site in order to activate and raise awareness to local people – in effect creating a moving and celebrational memorial. The artworks were active on the site in July and August 2013, on the corner of Richmond Road and Rooty Hill Road North to the north of Blacktown CBD, in the suburb of Oakhurst.
Sites of Experimentation was a direct reference to Governor Macquarie’s and William Shelley’s intentions of Europeanising Aboriginal people. The artists’ responses to the space were based on their collective research as well as the imagined lives of its past inhabitants.
Native Institute Project, Sites of Experimentation
‘Double Crossing’, Jason Wing, aluminium sign, vinyl, flowers, © 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Blacktown Native Institution site. Photo: J Leahy
‘Men in Black’, Leanne Tobin , wood, paint, © 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Blacktown Native Institution site. Photo: S Tobin
‘Native’, r e a , LED sign, © 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Blacktown Native Institution site. Photo: S Tobin
In the spirit of history, research and personal artistic development, each artist displayed an archive box to show their process in creating artworks for exhibition and on the original site of the Blacktown Native Institute. The archival boxes, along with their own works, focused attention on the revitalisation of sensitive and important historical sites and how local people and visitors to Blacktown can connect to these significant places. Australia has many sites of historical importance; the Native Institute site is one that evidently marks the beginning of dramatic change for local Aboriginal people and which reverberated throughout Australia. It is a significant site of memory and memorial.
Native Institute Exhibition, installation shot, Archival Boxes and documentation of Sites of Experimentation, 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Photo: J Leahy
Native Institute Exhibition, ‘Bible Series’, Karla Dickens, mixed media, © 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Photo: J Leahy
Native Institute Exhibition, ‘Work Horse’, Karla Dickens, vintage horse harness, raffia, acrylic, © 2013, Blacktown Arts Centre. Photo: J Leahy