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In a land scarred by mining, Elders weave rugs to reclaim Ngurra

Emma Ruben -

Born out of being surrounded by gaping mining holes left on their Ngurra, Ngalia elders in Leonora are taking the grief from mining and sealing these holes with a large-scale, vibrant artwork using woven rugs.

Reclaim the Void started as a small project and now involves the community who are able to contribute to the restoration of the scarred physical and cultural landscape of WA's Goldfields.

Reclaim the Void creative director Vivienne Robertson said mining holes have impacted Country all over Australia.

"I do know that across Australia we've dug 50,000 mining holes," she said.

"They say that in five years there won't be a single natural ridge left."

Ms Robertson said Reclaim the Void came about from a conversation with the Ngalia elders in Leonora.

"While we were talking with the elders and the community...I asked this question 'what is your deepest pain?' and the response from one of the aunties was 'it's all those mining holes left all over our Country'," she said.

"And there was just this silence and this pause and that silence just had so much gravitas and was so heart rendering.

"And immediately I just saw like let's cover one of the holes with an artwork and it would have the print of your story of country on it."

The materials for the artwork are handmade circular rag-rugs woven from discarded fabric to create a large-scale dot artwork.

The rugs will be joined together to create a giant textile artwork that will depict a pattern reflecting the story of the Tjukurrpa of the Country on which the pit is situated.

Robertson said it was a conscious decision to use discarded fabric as the materials.

"We're calling it cross-cultural...but we're clear that we're using a technique that has come from the modern world using discarded fabrics," she said.

"We actually discard 500,000 tonnes of fabric a year in Australia and a lot of what we're having to do is to dig huge holes in order to put all the fabric into more holes.

"The symbolic reclamation is the key to the project and raising awareness that country has a story.

"But in terms of the fabric, it's actually also raising awareness of a sense of overconsumption."

Robertson said after beginning this initiative in mid 2021, they found running rug-making camps had been a personal way to engage with the wider community.

"We started with a school residency in Leonora and we're going to keep returning back to the school," she said.

"The camps on Country are really critical because that's actually taking people out to give them the experience of being on Country.

"What we've found is that when people go out on Country and hear the stories and be there and really feel into it, when they go home they then want to start making rugs and tell their friends about it."

Reclaim the Void will be exhibiting their work towards the end of 2023 in Perth and Kalgoorlie.

More rug-making camps led by Ngalia traditional owner Kado Muir, Robertson and other project artists will be held in May and August/September of this year.

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