‘even if the race is fated to disappear’
My practice revolves around forced assimilation, not just during colonisation, but today. I watch country being dug up every day for the new housing estates. Country I grew up on, Country that I have a deep connection to, Country that talks to me. The magnificence of land and all that originates from it will be hard to find soon under all the concrete roads and buildings. Like my mother has always said ‘I can't breathe around all this concrete' – Hayley Millar-Baker
Hayley Millar-Baker can often be found on the road with a camera in hand, exploring landscapes and capturing moments on Country. It's where she feels at home. As a Gunditjmara artist born on Wathaurong land, she is well versed in the complexities of identity that stem from growing up Aboriginal in a contemporary urban culture. This experience, in life and learning, fuel Hayley's contemporary practice. Drawing inspiration from her embodied connection to the land of her ancestors and her birth Country, Hayley directs her lens in a way that reveals introspective re-imaginings of her story, her culture.
Her practice is distinctly influenced by her Koorie Heritage, duplicitous and displaced. A common reality for many First Nation peoples, forced to adapt given the dispossession and disconnection imposed by colonisation, and its continued ‘development'. With land taken, sold-off, cleared and settled, and the subsequent disappearance of sacred sites and familiar grounds, what is left? A determination, a resilience, embedded in tradition, custom, and culture, that has undeniably seen First Nation peoples adapt quickly to the impact and crisis of colonial ‘rule'.
This notion of ‘adaption' is characteristic of Hayley's practice. Her photographic works, for example, are ‘built' through a highly-considered process of deconstruction and reconstruction – transforming her captured moments and explorations of Country, into constructed conceptions of her story. She combines natural elements from both her ancestral and birth Country through the process of what she terms, ‘Country combination'; cropping and re-contextualising landscapes, flora, and fauna, from both places, to create new narratives, an adaption, and adoption of place. These created scenarios materialise as digitally layered photographic collages that deploy metaphoric representations of Indigenous presence through anthropomorphic characters and symbolic signifiers. The use of animal characters in place of human characters lends to the atmosphere of traditional story-telling, that through her country-combination, leads to a wider social comment exploring Indigenous identity and its inextricable link to the land.
Hayley's contemporary practice also extends into the realms of painting and installation, opening up the opportunity for new landscapes of knowledge to take form through constructed material interventions that mediate the past, present, and future stories of Aboriginal existence, resilience and history.
It is through the investigation and interrogation of poignant themes, including Sovereignty, displacement, and social confinement, that Hayley provides an aperture; one that speaks to a complex reality for many First Nation peoples, before and after Australia's colonisation. Her works take an introspective look at the complexity of identity and place, manifesting as intricate and multi-layered representations of self that for her, create a pacifying space – a place to breathe, but not forget.
Vida Ryan’s contemporary process and practice is fuelled by her lived experience, personally and socially. The places she traverses, the beauty she sees in the natural and urban environment, and the people and places she interacts with are rendered into poetic compositions that trigger the soul. Her abstract works are created with freedom, the paint applied directly to the canvas in layers that are guided and manipulated with a combination of paint brushes, studio materials and everyday objects, “whatever is at hand”, Ryan says to paint from within.
Contemporary Indigenous Photography at RMIT
Australia’s cultural landscape has endured a long and controversial history as a consequence of our ‘colonial’ past. A tainted and fragmented history has ensured public debate surrounding the misrepresentation, misunderstanding and misconception of Indigenous culture in our country. With a history written by the West, Indigenous Australian’s continue the pursuit for their identity in an attempt to make sense of their place in a society that publicises only part of the story. The disputes raised in the 1990’s by the History Wars branded the traditional account of our country’s history as biased, and acknowledged the importance of an Indigenous perspective, that is still missing today. Occident eyes roll and ignorance prevails as the History Wars continue to circulate and challenge Australia’s history books and public perception. Was Australia colonised or invaded?