As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, National Indigenous Times shines a spotlight on Australia’s incredible First Nations women.

A celebration of First Nations art, culture and survival, Terra inFirma is on at Blacktown Arts in NSW. The exhibition explores expansion, voyage and discovery during the 250th commemorative year of James Cook’s arrival in Botany Bay.

The exhibition features work from First Nations artists that show the impact of Cook on the local Dharug community and those within the Asia Pacific region who now call Blacktown home.

Terra inFirma seeks to acknowledge strongly that this land was never ceded and brings forward perspectives and histories that exist outside of the legacy of European expansionism.

The exhibition showcases work from Dharug-Dharawal artist, Venessa Possum. Her installation, accompanied by video pieces, explores murura, meaning pathways, and the importance of water.

Possum works predominantly on Country, drawing inspiration from her lineage and connection to land.

“I don’t have a traditional studio as such, I have van and I carry my art supplies around so I [can] work on Country,” Possum said.

“My family history is very important. With my Dharug and Dharawal [heritage], there is this thing about borders. This is Dharawal and this is Dharug, well that is problematic for me because my Country from my ancestors is really on that line.”

“How can there be a line? It’s like putting a line down the middle of my body … it doesn’t make sense to me.

“I’m exploring that through my artwork, the work murura. The word muru means ‘pathways’ but I’ve expanded that to murura with advice from language people to mean more than one pathway.

“[Whether that be] pathways of knowledge, pathways of cultural walking tracks … emotional pathways of things we have been through as Dharug people.”

Her work is large-scale cloak, made similarly to a possum cloak, that feature colonial tea-towels.

“I’ve used a stitch called Banga Bibia … in English it’d be herring bone. But to me, it is this connection to the spine, the songlines of DNA. When we are stitching, we are communicating with our ancestors.”

“There are big lines of ochre all the way across the mapping of our river systems [to] show that we are all connected.

“This conquer and divide thing; I’m addressing that because I feel that now is the time we all really need to come together as one big mob and stop letting colonisation affect our health as one people.

“We are all connected … we all have stories. I’m putting the love in there and I really want to bring that to the surface.”

Possum has also paired a video element with her piece.

“I made a video that coincides with the physical artefact that I created that shows my process so I can engage with the audience. So I can have that creative dialogue and make them think more about it.”

Although a large artwork, Possum struggled with creating the piece as large as she had wanted.

“I wanted to make a presence; I think I could have gone bigger. But this is the thing, colonisation has created personal issues in my family that we hold back.

“There is this one thing in the archives … one of the things written about my paternal ancestor, he lived on Country on the MacArthur estate. It was his Country, but they took it over as a farm. He worked on that Country, he managed to stay on Country. Elizabeth MacCarthy states, he was a ‘quiet warrior’.

“I find that really interesting, isn’t that self-preservation? We don’t make too much noise because we will get in trouble. And that is something women experience particularly.

“When we are working respectfully in cultural situations, we want to make sure we keep our ego in check. We have respect for each other and staying humble … is really important. But working in the western world, you have to do it their way otherwise they walk on top of you.

“How do you do that? How do you find that balance? Even in the academic world I’m in, it’s so important to keep that balance, always doing things on Country with mob, making sure I’m connected.

“Having time out from the rat race, that gives you more strength because you have mob behind you. That gives me strength, knowing my people surround me and support me.”

Terra inFirma will also showcase the work of Aboriginal artist, Judy Watson. Watson’s work is a mix of video and painted art that reflects and remembers atrocities and perpetrators of massacres from colonial Australian history.

The exhibition is on show now until May 23. For more information on Terra inFirma, visit: www.blacktownarts.com.au.

By Rachael Knowles