In honour of the eucalypt, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney is presenting Eucalyptusdom, an exhibition that reflects the nation’s long history with the iconic gum tree.
The exhibition presents over 400 objects from the institution’s collection and 17 newly commissioned works. The contemporary commissions span from ceramics, photography, architecture and design to cinematography, fashion and woodwork.
“Eucalyptusdom is an exhibition which explores our changing relationship with the eucalypt through the intersection of the Powerhouse collection and a series of contemporary commissions,” said Powerhouse Museum’s First Nations Director Emily McDaniel.
McDaniel, a Wiradjuri woman, said the exhibition was particularly interesting to curate.
“When we started looking at some of the earlier objects that were in the Powerhouse’s collection, which features over 600 objects, I came to notice there was a significant lack of First Nations-made objects and representations.”
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Leaning into the absence and questioning why, McDaniel rested upon the reasons that First Nations peoples were not involved in the building of an industry around the eucalypt and that First Nations connection to the species had not been seen as a value.
“Rather than finding broader objects to fill that historic gap, we’ve left it bare and allowed that to be a point of discussion,” she said.
“We’ve instead looked to contemporary Indigenous artists from across Australia to respond to what the eucalypt means to them and their community and how it both holds and represents knowledge.”
McDaniel sees Eucalyptusdom as an opportunity for truth-telling on behalf of the Powerhouse.
“Rather than re-writing the past to feel comfortable about the presence, this is about acknowledging what is, leaning into the truth of it and allowing First Nations artists to tell their truth,” she said.
“This is about truth-telling, laying bare our history and being critical of it. It is also an opportunity for the museum to shift from simply a collection-based museum to one that is relational and relies on the relationships we have with communities, artists and makers.
“We can use this moment to have a conversation about our collection of objects. We can collect cultural belongings, but unless we have a relationship with the makers then really why are we holding and caring for those objects in the first place?”
First Nations commissioned artists include Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones and Wiradjuri Elder Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM, Wiradjuri poet Jazz Money, Yuwaalaraay artist Lucy Simpson, Yolngu artist from Eastern Arnhem Land and a member of the Marrakulu clan Wukun Wanambi, Yolngu man and member of the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land Bonhula Yunupingu, and designers from First Nations Fashion + Design (FNFD).
“We commissioned a number of new works from designers and worked closely with First Nations Fashion + Design. Those designs were presented at Afterpay Fashion Week, and opened the show and the conversation about First Nations self-determination and leadership in the fashion/design sector,” McDaniel said.
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In her role as curator, McDaniel has ensured First Nations people will find and connect to traces of Country within the exhibition.
“As First Nations peoples walk through this exhibition, they will see objects of Country. Timber samples, paper samples that have been created from Country,” she said.
“As First Nations people we look to the eucalypt trees as Ancestors, not as something that is separate to us. When I look at a tree, knowing that it is 600-years-old or 800-years-old, I think, what has it seen in its time? What does this tree remember?
“It becomes a marker of long time, that connects us to the past and lets the past be present with us.”
In line with NSW public health orders, the Powerhouse Museum will not be open until Saturday July 10.
By Rachael Knowles