The Bankstown Arts Centre in New South Wales has kicked off the inaugural Bankstown Biennale. Titled, Symbiosis, the event weaves together artists from all walks of life into one main event that will exhibit across the city.

Running from October 10 until November 21, Symbiosis presents 20 artists examinations of recent times and current events. In a society impacted by environmental disaster, a global health crisis and now a recession, Symbiosis brings forward a mosaic of perspectives and understandings on how to better care for the planet.

A very female-dominant exhibition, Symbiosis provides a platform for Indigenous storytelling and perspectives.

Barkindji woman Maddison Gibbs is featured in the exhibit. Although raised in Dubbo on Wiradjuri Country, Gibbs now lives and works on Gadigal land. An emerging artist, Gibbs studies animation at the University of Technology Sydney.

“I do a lot of experimental art, a lot to do with activism. Experimenting with murals and stop motion animation; a lot of painting and drawing—I’m trying to get into public art,” Gibbs said.

Living near the heart of Aboriginal activism, Redfern, Gibbs noted the passion she has for mob—and how this fuels her creativity.

“I try to tell to truth about what happens in this country because it’s not known to the general public and this society is built on lies. We’re the Traditional Owners of the land and the oldest living culture in the world and we aren’t recognised, we aren’t acknowledged,” she said.

“We are still second-class citizens; it is time things changed. Having physical art on the street and public art is telling these stories in a way that is accessible for anyone.”

Some of Gibbs’ art for Symbiosis focuses on the Banksia. The artist regularly depicts native flowers in her work and draws upon Dreaming stories and traditional healing.

Gibbs has also completed a mural, made in collaboration with non-Indigenous artist, Joan Ross, and Aboriginal artist, Jason Wing.

“The opportunity to work with artists both Indigenous and non-Indigenous and telling the same story, in a way … it is building upon the importance of listening to Indigenous knowledge holders to care for Country,” said Gibbs.

“It is really nice knowing there are people on both sides doing that, being part of that moment is really exciting and meaningful. People aren’t here just making pretty work, it’s about real things.

“Now is the most important time for people to be listening to Indigenous knowledge holders and that is what we are all trying to do through our work—educate and tell the truth.”

Symbiosis is co-curated by Bankstown Art Centre Director, Vandana Ram, and independent artist and curator, Heidi Axelsen.

Ram spoke of the importance of art in deciphering unprecedented times.

“It was about opening up conversations but acknowledging the lessons we’re learning in the process—see it as an opportunity to change. Out of crisis comes positivity,” she said.

“We have to learn other ways of being.”

Bringing a large conversation into a localised place, Ram hopes Symbiosis inspires change at a grassroots level.

“It is about localising it; these are big issues and big questions and sometimes you can feel a bit overwhelmed. You think, what can I do? I’m just one little individual. But each person has offered something,” she said.

“Making it accessible is so important because each person can bring something, even a community member looking at it can connect with it and be pushed to make a change.”

For more information on Symbiosis, visit: https://www.cbcity.nsw.gov.au/arts-centre/whats-on/bankstown-biennale.

By Rachael Knowles