Interview: Aroha Groves

We recently had the pleasure of working with renowned indigenous artist Aroha Groves. Aroha's art is deeply entrenched in indigenous history, and she uses multiple mediums to communicate a message of inclusivity and acceptance between all Australian communities. As a long standing member of Boomalli Indigenous Arts Cooperative and the Curator of Blacktown Arts Centre, Aroha is a significant voice in the Sydney art scene. Her multi-medium works include ceramics, found objects, natural materials and the digital, and co-inhabit the ancient world of her indigenous ancestry and technological-cultural melting pot in which we live in today. She is an accomplished and truly fascinating women, and we felt privileged to invite her to Parramatta Park last month to complete a public art piece for our ongoing Welcome Walls Project. Check out the interview below.

What’s the purpose of your mural?

Firstly I’d like to acknowledge the people of this land, that’s the Dharug people, and I’d like to acknowledge past, present and our future leaders as well. I’m Wailwan and Worimi from the north of the state and I’m also Dharug from the Sydney area too. Today, I’m here representing Boomalli, I’m a Boomalli artist and I also work as a curator at the Blacktown Artist Centre.

With this mural I’m trying to create a community engaged work, which I’ve done by layering hand prints. What I’m trying to talk about is those plants that I remember as a kid that have now become very much endangered which makes me really sad because I’m not yet 50. I’m trying to show people these plants so that they can recognise them, maybe then they will be inspired to grow them in their own gardens and that encourages native birds and insects, frogs and that’s the sign of a healthy country. Because in the end we really can all coexist.

Tell us a little more about Boomalli.

Boomalli is an Aboriginal art cooperative, it’s actually turning 40 this year. I’ve been involved for 15 years and they are all about NSW artists. The founder Bronwyn Bancroft makes the comment about the NSW aboriginal people that we are the “first people colonised, last people recognised.” So the idea of Boomalli is to really promote our contemporary NSW artists. But we’ve now tended to branch into the east coast, we’ve got friends in Queenland and Victoria too. We’ve got a great show coming up for Mardi Gras called ‘Good Looking’ opening on Feburary 8th.

What inspires you as an artist?

I tend to talk to the things I see around me, I use art as a voice. My practice is varied so I do whatever I feel like doing. My main practice is working digitally with gaming actions but I’ve worked with ceramics, found object shows, natural object shows, projections and installations. I like the 3D form.

Are there common themes that run through the pieces that you produce?

I tend to talk to what I think is important at the time so my work does have a political bent to it. I think art is a great medium for expressing those things. It’s using the gloved fist approach. You can talk in a soft way about some pretty important issues. So for me, I’ll talk about current federal state politics, and in this case I’m talking about plants - which we use! It’s sad to see them going. And I can’t reiterate enough, respecting the these plants and the environment makes a healthy country for all of us, it’s not just an indigenous issue. Even when I’m talking very politically - when aboriginal people have our rights in this country everybody else does, it’s just a natural flow on. That’s for everybody its not a closed shop thing.

This work is very much about incorporating the community into the creative process. How important is this collaborative element in art?

As an artist who has facilitated a lot of workshops, particularly with young people, I think community engagement is particularly important because it involves those people who don’t think of themselves as involved in the arts or particularly interested in the arts and it brings out that creative side in them. And people just love it! They love being involved. And what we’ve done with this art work here is we’ve taken down every participant’s name, and they’ve been acknowledged as artists in this work because they have contributed to it. And that’s one of the great things about the arts, we recognise everybody.

What is your personal message of welcome from this artwork?

I think that by talking about our plants from this area here, from the Cumberland Plain, it’s a way of saying welcome to this country, enjoy this country, love what it has to offer. First place is from the mother through the earth. So Welcome Walls is a great means for talking about welcoming people to this country so that people can understand this country that we are all living in. And when people understand this country they will treat it better. So welcome is about welcoming and understanding where we live, and then we can all live here very well.

Is there something you hope the community here could gain from your artwork?

There have been many people working with us today, especially little people. What I hope everybody gets out of this is just the idea of sharing. Sharing a common experience. I’d like people to look at these lovely plants and flowers and think well maybe I should pop them in my yard, or maybe recognise them when they’re out bush somewhere. If nothing else, we have a common and shared experience, if people learn a little bit about who we are and learn that we’re not scary people Aboriginal people, we’re living on Aboriginal land, this is Dharug land here, there are still Dharug people here. And we can all feel proud for that, for the heritage in this country and for our first nations people. There’s a lot to be proud of in this country.