ABORIGINAL artist Lena Nyadbi’s new installation, “Dayiwul Lirlmim” (Barramundi Scales), will cover more than 700sqm of the rooftop of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris from June.
The work will be visible from the top of the Eiffel Tower and, some say, from the moon.
Lena Nyadbi is a senior Gija women and much of her work, including this piece, is inspired by the Dayiwul Lirlmim Ngarrangarni (Barramundi Scales Dreaming).
In this story, three sisters chase a barramundi into shallow water where they try to catch him in their trap made of spinifex. The fish is smarter than they are and he escapes by leaping over their trap and through a gap in the mountain range. When the fish lands, his scales are scattered all over the ground where they turn into diamonds.
The narrow passage between the mountains through which the barramundi escaped the sisters is now a large open-cut mine, the biggest diamond mine in the world, Argyle Diamonds.
Nyadbi has said: “He looks just like a diamond himself, you can see him shiny shiny… my old people bin reckon that bush stone [diamond] was nothing but a good sharp one for making spear. They never bin know he’s a diamond.”
So how does an old woman from the Kimberly find her art being rendered in monumental proportions on the rooftop of a Paris museum?
Philanthropist Harold Mitchell puts his money where his mouth is. At the Australian launch at the National Gallery, he told us of meeting Stéphane Martin, the Musée du quai Branly’s president, who was visiting Melbourne. The two were previously acquainted through a project involving the inclusion of art by Nyadbi and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in the museum’s original design.
Martin spoke of having a maintenance budget to paint the roof and bemoaned the fact that his options were “Paris Grey” or “Dark Paris Grey”.
Mitchell said something along these lines: “So, as we do in Australia, I put on a lunch. I took him to my log cabin at the foot of Mt Buller, the weather was bad so we flew in by helicopter. I had the original Man from Snowy River gallop four horses up the slope. I gave him [Martin] a hat, a stockwhip and a bottle of Grange and the deal was done.”
What does this all mean? I don’t know, but I feel that reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility and that these stories show how everyone can play a part.
This is an edited version of a story to be published during the Belconnen Community Service’s Reconciliation Week program. The author is a board member of CAPO.