2022 Solo Exhibition, Awakening Wadawurrung Dja (Country) held at the National Wool Museum, Djilang – Geelong, Australia.

Artist statement
Through Deanne Gilson’s new exhibition titled Awakening Wadawurrung Dja (Country) Deanne has captured the changes throughout the six Wadawurrung seasons by painting her Country, people, plants and animals. The exhibition is a celebration of new life as each season brings about subtle changes of birds nesting in the cool season, flowers blooming with life and the deep cultural knowledge embedded within the trees.

Deanne states that “my colours are sourced from the colours of Wadawurrung country. Daily walks are so precious to me, gathering indigenous plants, flowers, ochre and multiple different types of tress saps to use as mediums to bind the ochres. Through gathering ochre from Wadawurrung country, I only take what I need at the time and each time I form new connections to country that extends my ancestors ways of being and doing. The black charcoal is from my fire pit at home, sometimes I use my mum’s charcoal and that from important family gatherings for its importance. Everything is imbued with its own spirit, all have deep meaning to me. The fire is connected to smoking and healing ceremonies, from this charcoal is created.

The colours of country are highly personal and reclaim back my culture that was missing from my early life, each colour links to the act of ceremony, in particular the use of white ochre. White ochre is used in ceremonies as body paint, it connects to the spirit of my ancestors through their use of it in ceremony, the lived experience of contemporary culture and art today including the tree knowledge in my paintings. Each tree is depicted using white ceremonial ochre, each tree is a spirit, referencing ghosts of the past that are still standing today.

I feel connected to my ancestors when I mix colours and feel their presence, as if in a personal ceremony of reclamation and building back my strength. I love the sky blue and the blue waterways, I use pink ochre to reference my skin colour and the body. Red ochre is the life force, blood and strength, like the saps that drip from the trees, it shows life. The yellow ochre is the colour of the sun and the yellow flowers of the banksia, the manna gum blossom, billy buttons, kangaroo paw, paper daisies and the murnong daisy. The browns are the earth, all are real and living.

The birds and animals all come from our Wadawurrung Creation Story, they all once existed as spirits until Karringalabil the creator spirit, turned himself into a man, then went about creating the plants, animals, sky, waterways, mountains, people and Wadawurrung lore. He then turned himself into an eagle-hawk and flew high up in the sky with his two wives Kunuwarra the black swan sisters. Bundjil is said to watch over us today, he is the brightest star in the sky and connects to the sky knowledge with the cosmos forming links to us below and the under country, all existing as one and one time and all of us that live on country today are all connected”.