First Nations art will make an unrivalled statement in the Gold Coast’s Bleach Festival with a powerful program that includes a 100 square metre, hand-woven “mosaic masterpiece” by a group of Indigenous women drawn from across south-east Queensland that will blanket the Burleigh beachfront.
Bleach Festival CEO and Artistic Director Rosie Dennis said audience demand and response to COVID-19 meant the festival had been reimagined, with the event from 12 to 22 November on Queensland’s Gold Coast delivering one of the most significant focuses on Indigenous arts in a mainstream festival.
One of the changes included “going deeper” into local storytelling and local connections, she said.
“We haven’t branded it as a First Nations program. It’s just great work,” Dennis said.
“It’s come from visitors and people in the state wanting to have more connection with Indigenous culture and wanting to find out more.
“I thought this is already something that is happening in this state, there’s going to be an audience for it, so let’s see.”
Dennis said over 11 days of Bleach, the Gold Coast’s beaches, parks, gardens and abandoned buildings would become the backdrop for cutting-edge art and music by 204 artists.
Bleach will be staged across three hubs of Burleigh, the Gold Coast Botanic Gardens and Chevron Island. First Nations storytelling, traditional dance, large-scale installations and music from rap to opera will dominate the Burleigh hub.
Dennis said the first event to sell out was the special sunrise performance on the shores of Burleigh beach called First Light Last Light by cultural leader Luther Cora.
“I’m really pleased with how the program is being received, I thought the audience is up for this. It feels exciting, there’s a really great vibe,” she said.
Cora’s sunrise performance will be followed by Yugambeh dancers and the Yugambeh Youth choir. Intimate dusk concerts featuring opera singer Myora Kruger followed by Chris Williams on trumpet and didgeridoo will mark sunsets each weekend.
The Burleigh Hub centrepiece is a one day only ‘Block Party.’ Over five hours and five super acts, it is a celebration of the local music scene and First Nations musicians headlined by powerhouse female rapper Jesswar and includes WildHeart, Kinship Collective, Kelsey Iris, Siala and Robbie Miller in the electric line-up.
Burleigh will also host major arts installations, including Sky Weave created over the past three months by a team of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from the region.
Designer Lisa Sorbie Martin said the collaboration was one of the largest and most complicated installations of hand-woven First Nations art that would float over 100 square metres and had been engineered to sit six metres in the air, with special lighting effects at night.
It represented sky stories, ancestral navigation and constellations blended with cultural stories and language of the women who were all drawn from the local area, she said.
“It’s going to be a mosaic masterpiece. It’s a very complicated, very eclectic work. All the beautiful women bringing their stories in are like that, it’s all very colourful and a unique installation…the girls have just gone crazy.”
Sorbie Martin said adherence to protocols for the artists to present the woven artworks added to the complexity of the compilation of stories.
Each of the 14 artists was responsible for responsible seeking permissions for the story line from their country through their elders, she said.
“I’m not sure if there’s ever been something done of this scale and complexity with handwoven work,” she said.
“It’s been a beautiful collaboration and I think this is going to be something for the Gold Coast to really get things moving in this space of public art and connecting it with our First Nations weavers and artists. There’s a lot that happens in other areas, but now it’s Gold Coast’s time.”
Sorbie Martin said the work, while traditional, would also have a definite feel of place.
“I think our work will resonate Gold Coast too because it’s bright and colourful and a bit out there.
“And we’re a bit naughty, like we’ve added acrylic which is not natural fibre. I think we like to flip things a bit on its end, to get people thinking outside of the box.
“I think it’s just so beautiful we’ve brought such a big group of girls together and we can make this thing work with all of our stories. It might be a bit eclectic, but that’s part of us.”