Exhibition celebrates Aboriginal women of the Northern Beaches

Heidi Lee Warta is the artist behind Ochre Woman, an exhibition of paintings of Aboriginal women, in Creative Space gallery, North Curl Curl. Photo: Alec Smart.

By ALEC SMART

Mixed media artist Heidi Lee Warta will be hosting an exhibition of her paintings at Creative Space gallery in North Curl Curl, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, from Friday, 27 August to Sunday, 5 September.

It was originally scheduled to take place in July to coincide with the annual NAIDOC Week of Indigenous-themed events and presentations, but new restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 meant it had to be postponed.

Titled Ochre Woman, the exhibition features 10 large portraits of First Nations women, who live in or are culturally associated with the Northern Beaches area, celebrating their lives and achievements.

The dynamic, highly detailed artworks were created using ochre, charcoal and pastel on eco-dyed fabrics utilising natural mediums within modern art techniques.

Heidi, who works in a range of artistic mediums, including paints, dyes, resins, wood, sculptures and clays, often incorporating found, natural materials, revealed to the Sentinel her inspiration behind Ochre Woman.

“I’ve been drawn to Aboriginal culture and I’ve found it hard to find information about this within the Northern Beaches region and to connect with First Nations people who are living here.

“At school I feel that I wasn’t taught the true history of Australia.  However, the more I’ve learned from different Aboriginal elders who have shared knowledge with me, I’ve become more aware and inspired by culture. This has led to my recent portrait exhibition.”

According to the Northern Beaches Council, “The Northern Beaches has more than 300 Aboriginal sites with the oldest dating back to 6,000 years ago. The hundreds of sites protected by Council include middens, rock carvings, camp sites, rock shelters and art. Some of the sites are even older than the pyramids!

“Aboriginal history resonates in our place names with many of our suburbs and areas having names of Aboriginal origin.”

A close-up section detailing one of Heidi’s portraits of Aboriginal women that appear in her Ochre Woman exhibition. Image: supplied.

Healing

The 2021 theme for the annual NAIDOC series of activities and shows is ‘Heal Country, Heal our Nation’, calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

“I want to make a difference in my own small way by capturing the beauty and strength of these amazing women in these portraits,” Heidi explained. “This event is about sharing, healing and connecting through a series of presentations and workshops that some of these women will offer as part of the exhibition.

“Through this project I’ve been learning about native plants and watching their transformation throughout different seasons, and enjoyed doing the eco-dying of the fabrics based on these seasonal changes. It’s a magical and spiritual experience that’s hard to explain.”

Along with an artist’s talk on 26 August, in which Heidi discusses her own inspiration, some of the ‘women in focus’ in her paintings will be discussing some of their stories and how they relate to this year’s NAIDOC theme ‘Heal Country’. This will include two traditional weaving workshops.

The exhibition is fully endorsed by the Gunyadu First Nations Women’s Aboriginal Corporation and supported by the Gaimaragal Group, which facilitates cultural understanding and communications between First Nations Australians and the greater community.

A close-up section detailing one of Heidi’s portraits of Aboriginal women that appear in her Ochre Woman exhibition. Image: supplied.

NAIDOC – what is it?

The annual NAIDOC week, which takes place between the first Sunday in July until the following Sunday, is an Australian cultural observance that was established in 1975. NAIDOC (derived from ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’), actually has its origins in the 1938 Day of Mourning, which marked 150 years since Europeans colonised the Australian continent and its brutal impact upon First Nations’ people.

Although it evolved from a week of protest activities, NAIDOC is now a national festival, celebrating a range of Indigenous-themed shows, cultural and sporting activities, and promoting the outstanding contributions and achievements of Indigenous Australians.

The highlight of NAIDOC week is the awards ceremony, which in 2021 recognises winners in 10 different categories, including Scholar, Sportsperson and Artist of the Year, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alice Springs was scheduled to host the awards event but renewed Covid-19 restrictions means it will now be televised-only with limited social interactions.

The Ochre Woman exhibition by Heidi Lee Warta is scheduled to run from Friday, 27 August to Sunday, 5 September at Creative Space, 105 Abbott Road, North Curl Curl. For more information, visit www.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/whats-on/ochre-woman-art-exhibition.

An artist talk with Heidi Lee Warta will take place on 26 Aug (workshop dates to be advised). For more information, visit https://heidileewarta.com.

Heidi Lee Warta can be followed on Instagram at www.instagram.com/heidileewarta and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/artistheidileewarta.

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