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Powerhouse Castle Hill announces new Alchemy exhibition featuring First Nations artists

Phoebe Blogg -

Produced in partnership with Agency, this week Powerhouse Castle Hill announced Alchemy; the first exhibition to be unveiled in its new $44 million state-of-the-art facility.

Featuring new commissions from independent Indigenous artists Kay Lee Williams (Kamilaroi peoples), Lucy Simpson (Yuwaalaraay peoples) and art centres Milingimbi Arts and Culture, Marrawuddi Arts and Culture, Durrmu Arts Aboriginal Corporation and Anindilyakwa Arts, Alchemy is a celebration of the raw artistic talent coming from Australia top performing First Nations creatives.

Alchemy aims to uncover the processes involved in producing endemic botanical dyes and the deep social and cultural knowledge that informs it. Making the magical tangible, participating Indigenous Art Centres have chosen to work intergenerationally and collaboratively to realise works that have not been attempted in decades or are of completely new design.

Exhibition curator, Coby Edgar said Alchemy "is an experiment".

"There are no wall labels, there are biographical essays detailing the relationship between maker and museum. You won’t find the recipes for colours, botanical names, or translations into English if the women chose not to speak English. I travelled to every community and walked Country with them. What I saw. What I heard. What I was shown, is exactly what I brought back,” she said.

"If your questions can’t be answered by what you see the process can remain a seemingly magic one to you and me both. This is how we teach and learn. This is how we work and live together.”  

Artwork by Kay Lee Williams. (Image by Tim Hillier.) 

Powerhouse chief executive Lisa Havilah shared her excitement about being able to showcase these new, commissions from several female-led First Nations collectives, communities and artists, further stating that this exhibition is as educational as it is enticing.

"It is an honour for Powerhouse to present new commissions by these female-led First Nations collectives, communities and artists. The first exhibition to open at the new Powerhouse Castle Hill building will provide visitors an opportunity to engage with this traditional practice and learn about its enduring significance to culture and connection to Country,” she said.  

Whilst there is numeours talented First Nations artists, art centres and collectives involved in Alchemy, Kay Lee Williams and Lucy Simpson are two artists the public undoubtedly love and regularly support.  


Kay Lee Williams and Coby Edgar. (Image: Tim Hillier)


Kay Lee Williams, a Kamilaroi artist living, working, and creating on Bundjalung country, employs a multidisciplinary art practice including slow dyeing textiles using gathered natural materials from the bush to the coast.

She sourced foliage from the Bundjalung Nation, where she lives, all the way to the Dharug Nation, where she was raised. Williams presents a study on Eucalyptus botanicals, experimenting with pigments and prints achievable in various vessels, seeping fabrics in rainwater in a slow dyeing process she refines by using time.

Lucy Simpson will present a new series of five wearable merino wool works, hand-dyed and painted with botanicals and earth pigments endemic to eastern inland river ecologies.

Present within this ‘Big Story’ is the migration of the Bogong moth from the birthing grounds of the Birrga grub in Simpson’s ngurrambaa (family country) to the cooler climates of the south – an important indicator of seasonal change. This age-old pathway is a story of country, relationships, movement and ceremony, for the moth and the communities of life connected to it, sustained by it.

Rivers, stars, winds and soil all converge throughout these works as Simpson considers the ways country is dynamic and interconnected across contemporary boundaries and borders, focusing on the things that connect us over time and space. This work is a continuation of a story 80 generations old.

Behind the scenes with artist Lucy Simpson. (Image: Tim Hillier) 


Aside from an impressive new First Nations exhibition, the $44 million Powerhouse Castle Hill expansion will also welcome a brand new almost 8,000 sqm building – which will provide state-of-the-art facilities for the storage and care of the Powerhouse collection.

Powerhouse Castle Hill will also house flexible spaces for education and public programs, a photography and digitisation studio, workshops and exhibition prep spaces, conservation labs as well as spaces for viewing objects.

Powerhouse Castle Hill is a major project of the entire Powerhouse renewal. The popular museum sits at the intersection of arts, design, science and technology and plays a critical role in engaging communities with contemporary ideas and issues. With that comes a responsibility to present a modern up to date, building infrastructure, interior setting and public space; something the Powerhouse Team confirm they are en-route to achieving.

“We are undertaking a landmark $1.2 billion infrastructure renewal program, spearheaded by the creation of the new museum, Powerhouse Parramatta; expanded research and public facilities at Powerhouse Castle Hill; the renewal of the iconic Powerhouse in Ultimo; and the ongoing operation of Sydney Observatory,” the Powerhouse Team said in a statement.

“The museum is custodian to over half a million objects of national and international significance and is considered one of the finest and most diverse collections in Australia. We are also undertaking an expansive digitisation project that will provide new levels of access to the Powerhouse Collection.”

Anindilyakwa Arts artists. (Image by Tim Hillier).


In addition to being the first exhibition unveiled at the new $44 million state-of-the-art facility, Alchemy has also drawn the attention of art-goers in its own right.

Expected to attract art critics, lovers and buyers from around the globe, Alchemy is not just an exhibition of First Nations art but a presentation of storytelling, experience and knowledge sharing.

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