First Nations art exhibition shines a spotlight on native plants

Brad Darkson at the ACE Studios (2023). Photography by Thomas McCammon.
A new First Nations art exhibition which shines a spotlight on the important native plants and trees often dismissed by early European settlers opens today at Adelaide Botanic Garden.

Ruled Us, Ruled Us, Ruled Us is a new, specially commissioned exhibition by multi-disciplinary artist Brad Darkson in consultation with Aunty Lynette Crocker, Ngangki Burka Senior Kaurna woman, and Uncle Moogy Sumner.

The exhibition debuts as part of the South Australia Living Arts Festival and has been commissioned by Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE) in conjunction with the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium (BGSH).

Melding sound, sculpture and digital collage, the exhibition responds to the way South Australia’s cultural and physical environment has transformed since first contact with European settlers.

The Museum’s cases hold objects brought into the space by Darkson, his family and members of the community as well as cultural artefacts – including coolamons, shields and spears – carved from native trees within the living collection of the Botanic Gardens.

Brad Darkson, ‘spear thrower’ (2023), digital collage. Courtesy the artist.

The objects are presented alongside archival photographs of the garden which have been digitally manipulated to highlight the glaring gaps in the historical narrative, where stories have been ignored and significant plants and trees overlooked.

Aunty Lynette’s voice resonates inside the Museum, reflecting on the ongoing impact of colonisation on First Nations people, but also on the plants and animals that live on Country.

BGSH Deputy Director – Public Engagement, Allison Russell said the new exhibition is important cultural learning opportunity for all garden visitors.

Brad Darkson, ‘shelter tree’ (2023), film photograph, digitally manipulated. Courtesy the artist and the State Library of South Australia.

“It is highly significant to have new cultural objects on display in the garden that have been created from our living collection. It provides a chance for visitors to reflect on the impacts of colonisation on First Nations people and their Country,” she said.

“It’s an important opportunity for Reconciliation for an institution which has traditionally viewed plants through a Western lens.”

ACE Artistic Director Patrice Sharkey said it approached Mr Darkson to create a new work which would draw upon his capacity to engage site and sound in simply but effective ways.

“ACE is proud to partner with BGSH and together our organisations have supported Brad to undertake important and, at times, difficult conversations concerning land, power, Western economies, and the importance of keeping culture alive,” Sharkey said.

The exhibition is supported by Arts South Australia’s Arts Recovery Fund and the City of Adelaide’s Public Art Grant.

Ruled Us, Ruled Us, Ruled Us

until 1 October 2023

Museum of Economic Botany, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

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We would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the lands and waters of the Adelaide region.

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