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Welcome from Exhibition Curator

On behalf of the exhibition team and all of the many artists and collaborators who worked on the show, welcome to Emu Sky. Held at the Old Quad, on the University of Melbourne Parkville campus, on the lands of the Wurundjeri-Woiwurrung people, Emu Sky opens in November 2021. This exhibition will stretch across almost a year, running in parallel with public programs that will illuminate many of the stories featured, as well as an innovative education program presented and conceived by a team of young Aboriginal community members in collaboration with Science Gallery Melbourne and the STEM Centre for Excellence. There will be many opportunities for multiple forms of engagement and we have built the show in a way that we hope will appeal to all ages and to people from all walks of life.

The world within which Emu Sky was first conceived was markedly different to the one we find ourselves in today. Like all challenges, there have been many unexpected positives to the recalibrations we have endured throughout the realisation of this project.
What began as an almost impossibly fast-running eight-month lead time morphed into a timeframe more reminiscent of treacle, offering exciting openings and pathways only possible through the circumstance of expanded time. While first seen only through the prism of inconvenience, repeated lockdowns enabled room to pause, to think, to yarn more, and to dream bigger.

While there is great diversity in the 350+ Indigenous language groups in Australia, kinship sits at the heart of all of our interactions as Indigenous peoples. Everything you see in this exhibition comes as a result of the foregrounding of relationships above all else. We strived to do the work from a culturally specific standpoint that empowered and respected this principle, fundamentally making room for all of our collaborators to share from their heart, to tell us their story, in their voice, in their way.

This is an exhibition that seeks to open conversations and to bolster audiences on their learning journeys. Importantly, the project aims to help us all to work together and to apply knowledge that empowers Country and Indigenous peoples: our aspirations, communities and ways of knowing.

Emu Sky telegraphs many stories generously shared by Aboriginal community members from across south-eastern Australia, the geographical area from which the bulk of our collaborators arrive. Together, we tell you about things that are important to us, now. Through art works, storytelling, detailed research and writings, we simultaneously explore our past, our present and our future, as part of concepts that are deeply enmeshed in our ways of being and knowing. We invite the audience to join with us in manifesting a more respectful, empowered and reciprocal way forward in our shared responsibility to care for Country.

This show would not have been possible without the respect, love and support of my Aboriginal family and community. While I am far from the Barkandji Country of my Ancestors, I am safely held here, and I am eternally grateful for the kindness and generosity shown to me, most especially by beautiful Wurundjeri mob, on whose lands I live and work. Special thanks to Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, who is not only a featured artist in the show but has been so generous in sharing her wisdom, guidance and support throughout. I would like to thank all of the many Aboriginal collaborators in the show – artists, thinkers, writers, culture warriors – who have given so much more than they were asked. Thank you for the work that you do in honouring our Old People through the stories you carry.

The Emu Sky team have been a delight to share time with, and all of the core team must be given credit for many of the foundational ideas and concepts that make this show sing. To everyone who worked hard to make this happen with such integrity and care I say thank you with all of my heart. Special thanks must be extended to the Emu Sky curatorium; Jaxsun Plumley, Brad Rusbridge, Madeline Critchley, Maddison Miller, Genevieve Grieves (who also generously mentored me) and Ryan Jefferies. I hope we will work together again soon, but if not, rejoice that one of the very best parts of being an adult is the true friends you find on your journeys through work. Thank you for always going above and beyond, I will never be able to repay you properly for what you have put into this show, but I hope you at least feel really, really proud.

Lastly, I wish to dedicate the physical manifestation of Emu Sky to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members of the University of Melbourne and beyond. Always Was, Always Will Be.

During the making of this show we lost a very special young person who has left a gaping hole, putting despair into the realm of the ever promising and joyous place that holds our children. I dedicate the hope that sits at the core of Emu Sky to the memory and living legacies of Leif Indigo Justham – a young man who knew that we must be active in fighting for Country, that we must never, ever give up.

Zena Cumpston

Welcome from Exhibition Curator

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