Wadawurrung artist Tammy Gilson honours ancestral fishing traditions in first solo exhibition ‘Beenyak’

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Wadawurrung artist Tammy Gilson honours ancestral fishing traditions in first solo exhibition ‘Beenyak’

Image: Tammy Gilson. Photo by Ben Cox.

Gilson is an award-winning weaver and member of the Koorie Heritage Trust Blak Design project, whose lineage is linked to basket weavers through both her Wadawurrung and English heritage.

Tammy Gilson, a celebrated Wadawurrung (Ballarat) artist, is exhibiting her first solo showcase at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Running from 29 June to 13 September, the exhibition, titled Beenyak, meaning basket, is a captivating display of her profound connection to her ancestors and their sustainable way of life.

Gilson refers to her homeland as ‘Nan’s Country’ and feels a deep spiritual connection to her ancestors and their land. Gilson uses locally sourced materials and traditional cultural practices to highlight the sustainability of her ancestor’s way of life. Her weaving represents a sense of belonging, empowerment, and eternity while incorporating the Wadawurrung ways of seeing, doing, and being. Her art is a demonstration of the connections between the past, present, and future.

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At the heart of the Beenyak exhibition is a trio of traditional and contemporary eel traps gracefully hanging and suspended over a case adorned with crafted embellishments. Surrounding them are striking wall hangings that intricately map the ancient fishing systems at Burrmbeet.

Gilson’s artistic process involves gathering an array of natural materials and dyes, including reeds, flax, lomandra, feathers, seedpods, ochre, and blackwood, sourced from various local sites throughout the region. Gilson’s mastery as an award-winning weaver takes centre stage in this exhibition where she showcases her progression from utilitarian vessels to captivating contemporary forms. Her eel traps, baskets, and adornments are an expression of her exploration of the natural world and a testament to the enduring connection she shares with her ancestors, their traditions, and their reliance on local sources of fibre and food.

The exhibition pays tribute to the fish trap systems still present at Lake Burumbeet.

Tammy Gilson’s exceptional talent as a weaver has garnered her recognition as a Blak Designer, establishing meaningful connections to her Wadawurrung and English ancestry of basket weavers. Her mother, the esteemed painter and local Elder, Marlene Gilson, is a significant influence on her artistic journey. As a Wadawurrung ba-gurrk (woman), Gilson’s artworks are not only influenced by her ancestry but also by her passion for nature. Her role as a Cultural Fire Officer, Wiyn Murrup for the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (WTOAC) and her previous position as an Aboriginal Inclusion Coordinator for the Grampians region, working for the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP), has provided her with invaluable opportunities to explore Country and delve deeper into the cultural practices that have allowed her ancestors to live harmoniously with the land for millennia.

Beenyak is a captivating exhibition that beautifully combines tradition and contemporary artistry, providing viewers with an immersive experience that celebrates the sustainable practices of Gilson’s ancestors. The exhibition will be open to the public from Thursday 29 June to Sunday 13 August at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

For bookings and more information, head here