She pulls things from the earth
with bare hands, clipped fingernails crusted,
compact with the black.
Roll the stem, between this finger and that,
then ease; out of that musty damp
the bulk of root, to straggling tip.
Japanese radish, long as thumbs, lobster pink with
peppered, brittle flesh;
beet that bleed into scored wood
stain fingertips in violent ink –
she shakes all this life in her hands,
sieves the clotted soil and breadcrumbs dirt.
Plucking at broad beans, freeing
full fat pods from strained seams,
peering at pale bright flesh, their bitter caps
she’ll not look up.
‘There’s something pressing in my head.’
She pulls things from the earth.
Katie Hourigan | from Ten Poems of the Soil, published by Candlestick Press, candlestickpress.co.uk
Illustration for Jenny by Owen Gent.
An act of cultural generosity
By Becky Blench
Without story, what is the land – a pretty backdrop, a leisure location, a resource to be used? Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters catapults you into a different world view, where ancient creation sagas course through contemporary culture.
A pathway for handing on Australian indigenous knowledge to the next generation, Songlines are a network of stories that ‘map’ the continent by linking narratives to geographical features and significant sites. A profound deep dive into the ‘Seven Sisters Dreaming’ narrative, this immersive exhibition of more than 300 artworks made by indigenous artists from the central and western deserts of Australia guides you across its vast landscape.
Huge canvases tacked to the wall or laid flat are vast complexes of intensely coloured acrylic paint dots, which dazzle like a constellation of neon stars and feel as big as the night sky. Representations of survival resources, such as where to find food, water or shelter, cross over with where a mythical being was born; merging in a dizzying way that is conceptually very different to the western view of time and place.
Wild woven sculptures by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers that loom over you in the space illustrate the fluid way in which Songlines continue to be reinterpreted today, as mulgawood and emu feathers mix with wire and bright acrylic wool. Intertwined are song, dance, and story, shared via a state-of-the-art film dome, touch screen interactives, projections and an audio journey, giving people new ways to connect.
This show holds out its hands and invites you to learn, an act of cultural generosity even more profound given our horrific legacy of colonialism, which began with Cook setting sail from Plymouth, where The Box Gallery is sited.
The Box actively addressed this history, and has pioneered a new collaborative approach through hosting the first exhibition of its kind that isn’t just about First Nations Australians: they speak using their own voice and hold the space on their own terms.
Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters was in Plymouth until the end of February. It is now on tour in Berlin until September 2022, and Paris until July 2023, Visit www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/songlines to experience some of the interactive show content for yourself.