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Opera House launches new Badu Gili sails projection exploring celestial navigation

[by Izzy Murison]


Gail Mabo with her work Tagai, Tarnanthi 2021, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Image: Sia Duff



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Sydney – Thursday 23 November, 2023. The Sydney Opera House today announced it will launch a new chapter of its free, nightly First Nations sails lighting, Badu Gili, on December 15 with a dynamic projection displaying the works of two celebrated First Nations artists, Gail Mabo and Nikau Hindin. Badu Gili: Celestial will appear on the Opera House’s Eastern Bennelong sails each night at sunset, 9pm, 9:30pm, 10pm and 10:30pm.


This vibrant new projection of powerful First Nations storytelling has been created by the Opera House, in partnership with the Biennale of Sydney and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, with animation by Yarnology and soundscape by Nigel Westlake, Te Kahureremoa Taumata and Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes. The new six-minute projection will feature the work of Meriam artist, Gail Mabo from Mer Island in the Torres Strait, and international First Nations artist Nikau Hindin, a Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi woman from Aotearoa/New Zealand.


Using Mabo’s star maps constructed out of bamboo and cotton, and Hindin’s Māori aute (bark cloth), the digital animation explores the ancient practices of celestial navigation across two cultures, with vibrant symbols and sounds bringing to life the stories of our skies and waterways.


Gail Mabo (Mer Island) said: "The sky is for everybody, the stories which connect people are different everywhere, but the stars remain. At a time when people forget to look up I hope my work brings the sky and the best of the world closer for us to see."


Nikau Hindin (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) said: "It is an immense privilege as a manuhiri (guest) to this land, to adorn this space with Māori patterns that emerge from our creation stories and enduring textile practices of tukutuku and tāniko. As a bark cloth maker with a revivalists agenda and obligation to continue the geneology of toi Māori (Māori art forms), I hope my tūpuna would be proud of this new way of experiencing our patterns, sounds and worldview. Toi Māori is the materialisation of our ways of thinking and it is potent in the maintenance of our knowledge systems. These ways of knowing and being are essential to the healing of our land and seas and we are in solidarity with our older First Nation brothers and sisters here."


Sydney Opera House Chief Customer Officer Jade McKellar said: “We’re thrilled to be launching a new chapter of our nightly celebration of First Nations culture, Badu Gili, in collaboration with the Biennale of Sydney and the Fondation Cartier. Since its launch in 2017, Badu Gili has been an essential Sydney cultural experience for both visitors and Sydneysiders, with over 600,000 people having enjoyed the projection on site, and almost two million views online. We are honoured to be highlighting the work of two artists who come from different parts of the world, but whose bodies of work reveal intimate understandings of place that has been passed through the generations.”


Biennale of Sydney CEO Barbara Moore said: “Representing generations of First Nations storytellers, knowledge holders, and artists, Gail Mabo and Nikau Hindin have invited us to learn from and be inspired by traditional technologies and histories. Their seamless interweaving of invaluable cultural stories with contemporary practices creates a powerful connection between worlds. The Biennale of Sydney is thrilled to be part of this collaboration with the artists, the Sydney Opera House and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. Badu Gilli: Celestial stands as a testament to the enduring power of art to connect, educate, and celebrate.”


Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain First Nations Curatorial Fellow Tony Albert said: "Through the support of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and the Biennale of Sydney, this year’s Badu Gili presented by the Sydney Opera House engages deeply within both national and international Indigenous Art. Gail Mabo (Piadram, Mer (Murray Island)), Torres Strait, and Nikau Hindin (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) share the rich history of Australian and Pacific navigation through generations of ancestral knowledge. Both cultures have a long history of sea bearing people who used the night sky and the stars as a navigation tool. These pathways interweave in cross cultural navigation and knowledge to reflect on tradition Indigenous technologies. Both these important artists look at the past to understand and connect with the future."


Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain Artistic Managing Director Hervé Chandès said: “This partnership with the Sydney Opera House and the Biennale of Sydney reflects our belief in empowering First Nations communities to share their truths and underscores the crucial role of listening to their voices as we navigate the challenges of our planet. First Nations artists bring their rich cultural heritage and unique artistic traditions to the contemporary art scene. Their innovative approaches, and storytelling techniques can enrich the artistic landscape and challenge conventional norms in the art world. For forty years, through art and creativity, we aim to promote public awareness of, and foster a deep appreciation for, contemporary art from all over the world.”


NSW Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, the Hon. John Graham MLC said: “The Sydney Opera House stands on the land of Tubowgule, an important gathering place for storytelling, ceremony, and culture. Over the past six years, Badu Gili has provided an important opportunity to share storytelling and culture with hundreds of thousands of visitors. This year’s collaboration of two of Australia’s and New Zealand’s leading artists, Gail Mabo and Nikau Hindin, is a special next iteration of the series.


The premiere of Badu Gili: Celestial will take place on Friday 15 December at sunset. Members of the public can find out more information here.

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