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Cessnock Regional Art Gallery | Ngani Barray (This Country)

Ngani Barray (This Country), is the first major solo exhibition by award-winning Wanaruah artist Lesley Salem. This exhibition, presented by Cessnock Regional Art Gallery to celebrate NAIDOC Week, showcases the artist’s map paintings. These multi-layered works, glowing with colour and richly inscribed with Aboriginal symbolism, combine the Western model of aerial map-making with an Indigenous representation of country. Salem’s paintings merge images of satellite maps that prioritise roads as pathways to destinations, with a traditional Aboriginal approach to map-making that highlights topography and seasonal flora and fauna as a guide to traversing country.
The Ngani Barray Series of paintings charts the journeys Salem undertakes in her work as a rural and remote nurse in regional communities in NSW. “The distances travelled can be vast and at rest stops I take the time to record the colours and seasonal imagery of the topography that surrounds me. As source material for creating the paintings I use my notebooks that record the landscape as seen from the ground, and for accuracy of the maps as well as additional inspiration for colour, I use Google Maps and Google Earth. Portraying the grandeur of the landscape, from an aerial perspective, captures the expanse and allows me to depict the topography of the land in all its vivid colours. Through the addition of symbolism and language I am able to embed further information into the map paintings,” Salem explained.
Salem was predominantly trained by her father, the late Wanaruah elder and artist Les Elvin, whose passion and priority was to keep the language of Aboriginal symbolism alive. Elvin’s knowledge of Wanaruah and east coast Aboriginal symbolism and language was transferred to Salem and is integral to her visual arts practice. Included in the exhibition is a series of works depicting Wanaruah and east coast iconography that act as a glossary for audiences to guide them in discovering the embedded information in her map paintings.
To accompany the exhibition, the artist has created a beautifully illustrated book exploring Aboriginal symbolism. These are available for children attending the Gallery’s school holiday workshop program where participants learn how to read Aboriginal symbols and use these to create their own artworks and for visitors to the gallery to purchase.
The exhibition runs from 4 July to 13th August, 2017, with the opening on Saturday 8 July at 5pm for NAIDOC Week. A free artist’s talk by Salem, discussing Aboriginal symbolism and language, will be held at the Gallery on Thursday 13th July at 5.30pm.
For all enquiries and school holiday workshop bookings contact Cessnock Regional Art Gallery on (02) 4991 6619, or visit the website.