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A newly opened art gallery in Ballarat is offering an outlet for Indigenous artists who have been able to reconnect with their culture and elders through their work.
- Thirty-five artists have registered to be a part of the new First Nations gallery
- There has not been a dedicated First Nations gallery in Ballarat for more than 10 years
- The gallery was established by the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative
Thomas Marks is a Gunaikurnai Wotjobaluk man and a member of the Stolen Generations, who is working on a piece of artwork to be displayed in the new gallery.
He said art has allowed him to reconnect with his family history and culture.
“I was taken from Lake Tyers Mission down in East Gippsland at the age of four. Me and my older siblings, we were all separated,” Mr Marks said.
“I didn’t get to grow up with my family or my culture. In a way, I struggled a lot in life to find out who I was and where I was from.
“Art has been a big part in my life to reconnect with my Aboriginality, my identity, my culture and even my family.
“I find when I sit down to do a piece of artwork, it takes me away from everything that has been troubling in my life and I enjoy it very much.”
Revealing ‘hidden talents’
Mr Marks is one of 35 First Nations artists who have registered to have their work displayed in the new gallery, established by the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative.
Shu Brown is manager of the cooperative’s cultural and therapeutic support team and said the artists were “hidden talents”.
“They haven’t had the space to put their work in a culturally safe space in a gallery of their own,” he said.
“For them to have that opportunity has been really groundbreaking for them in changing their perception of themselves, their artwork and their creativity.
“They have found value and purpose in the work they have done when they haven’t always been proud to show it.”
A number of pieces sold during the busy official opening on Friday made an immediate difference to First Nations artists like Kullilli woman Rynelle Walker.
“I have been back to my elders to get their permission to paint,” she said.
“I didn’t have much to do with my dad so it was a whole learning experience going back to my elders in Queensland and also to the Northern Territory.
“It feels amazing to have the space that someone can come and have a look at what’s in my mind. It is amazing and a beautiful opportunity to be part of the whole exhibition.”
Mr Marks said there was benefit for the broader community too.
“I am happy now Aboriginal artists have somewhere in Ballarat to put their art on display,” he said.
“And it is for everyone, not just for Indigenous people. That brings everyone together so we can be one.”