Cairns Performing Art Centre

Girringun artists showcase extraordinary sculptural Bagu installation

Nine Girringun artists have completed an extraordinary outdoor installation of five sculptural Bagu, as part of a commission from the Cairns Performing Art Centre. Artists Clarence Kinjun, Emily and Debra Murray, Nephi and Philip Denham, Sally and John Murray and Eileen Tep and Melanie Muriata worked over a number of months to complete the works. They were privileged to work with local fabricator and master form maker Leon Ruedin during this process. Based on the ‘match sticks’ of the rainforest, the traditional fire-making tools of the Girringun region, these enormous Bagu have designs which reference traditional patterns and colours. Patterns such as these, were a form of signature, a way to identify the maker and their cultural connections. Very strict protocols were and still are relevant to who can use the traditional patterns and the associated storylines.

Fire was a very important part of daily life for the old people and these objects, the Bagu, were imbued with other significances beyond the use value of the tool to make fire. Fire, in the wettest place of Australia, was key to survival, central to social interaction, belief systems, hunting, food preparation, tool making, warmth, safety and for ceremony. By taking these figures back from the anthropological gaze and placing them into a contemporary and public space, the artists are re-claiming what has always been theirs, investing new stories and meaning to objects which have a continuum of tens of thousands of years.


The Artist

John Murray

John Murray is a Girramay man. He is based in the Murray Upper region, North-West of Cardwell, Queensland. John is an accomplished Bagu and Bigin Bowl ceramicist. He is also a fine painter, first picking up his paintbrush in 2008. He uses art as a creative outlet of expression and communication; connecting with others beyond his disabilities. His gift for colour transforms traditional and personal stories with energy and vitality. John’s work reflects the pleasure he takes in fishing, camping, and sports. It provides a glimpse of life in the rainforest. His first solo show, John’s Stories, was featured at the Kick Arts Contemporary Art Centre, coinciding with the 2010 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. The show toured Queensland in 2012 and 2014. John’s work has been featured in private and institutional collections, including the State Library of Queensland, Queensland Art Gallery, and Arts Queensland.

The Artist

Philip Denham

Philip Denham is a Girramay man. He is based in the Murray Upper region, North-West of Cardwell, Queensland.

Philip creates work that reflects his cultural ties to country. He is known for his exquisite, earthy-toned Bigin shields, Bagu sculptures, Birrbu-birrbu cross boomerangs and paintings. Philip’s paintings, featuring weather patterns, landscapes and animals - are bold and compelling.

Philip is an outstanding creator of traditional tools, with extensive knowledge of the environment and its resources. He is also a Girramay native language speaker. This knowledge was passed on by his parents, Andy and Daisy Denham, respected elders of the area. A now award winning artist, Philip has received The Cairns Airport Innovation Award (Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, CIAF 2019) and the IACA Lucille Osborne Emerging Artist Award, presented at the Kick Arts Gallery Cairns.

The Artist

Nephi Denham

Nephi Denham is a Girramay Traditional Owner of the North Murray Area. He is a speaker of language and currently lives at Jumbun, north-west of Cardwell. Nephi is one of the youngest artists working at Girringun and has quickly displayed his creative talents.
Nephi has always loved to work with his hands. A piece of Nephi’s work was acquired by the Gallery of Modern Art, Qld Art Gallery earlier this year and another piece is included in a Girringun installation which has been shortlisted for the 2010 Telstra Indigenous Art Awards.
Nephi’s work reflects his Aboriginal heritage, traditional storie,s and the environment in which he lives.

The Artist

Debra Murray

Debra Murray is a Girramay woman. She is based in the Jumbun Aboriginal Community of the Murray Upper area, North-West of Cardwell, Queensland.
Specialising in ceramics, Debra’s portfolio consists of Bigin bowls, pots, and Bagu sculptures. All one-of-a-kind pieces, Debra’s work is intricate and eye-catching.
Debra is also a talented painter and printmaker. She is noted for her use of form, varied designs, and penchant for a traditional colour palette.
Debra showcases her strong connection to country and tradition through her lively works. Recognised for her talents, she has been a notable recipient of The Strand of Emphemera (Townsville Artistic Excellence Award).

The Artist

Emily Murray

Emily Nigandy Murray is a Girramay and Jirrbal Traditional Owner of the Davidson Creek area. She is based in the Murray Upper area, North-West of Cardwell, Queensland. Emily works across a number of mediums including weaving, painting and ceramics. As an expert weaver of traditional Mindi baskets, Emily has been a tutor and demonstrator of weaving practises at schools, exhibitions and art centres across Eastern Australia. Emily has a very strong connection to place and heritage. Her art draws from traditional stories, calendar events, plants, animals and her homelands.
Her work is represented in a number of private and institutional collections in Australia. This includes the Queensland Art Gallery, British Museum, Lady Cilento Mater Children's Hospital and National Museum of Australia. She has been included in major sculptural installations for the Museum of Oceanography Monaco 2015 (6 months), Cairns Performing Arts Centre 2018 (permanent) and The Townsville Strand Ephemera 2012.

The Artist

Clarence Kinjun

Clarence Kinjun is a Gulngay Traditional Owner of the Tully River area, one of the endangered Aboriginal communities with fewer than 25 people. He is an artist, a language speaker, a storyteller, and a well-known and respected maker of traditional objects such as shields, boomerangs, swords, and so on; objects which were traditionally made and painted by men. He is a holder of cultural knowledge and has a close connection to country. Clarence's grandfather was the last initiated man of the Tully River area. Clarence has been producing traditional objects for many years and they have been acquired by countless collectors over that time.

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