Artist’s inspiration stems from Wellington

A Wellington-born artist’s exhibition uncovering the history of 12 Aboriginal people with a lived experience and connection to the Cooks River has been put on show in Sydney.

The Cooks River? exhibition is the third Aboriginal oral histories project undertaken by Asher Milgate.

The exhibition - showing at the Bankstown Arts Centre until November 29 - pairs photographic portraits and oral histories together with a video compiled with abstract images and natural soundscapes of the Cooks River. 

The project focuses on the changes to the river, the history, the custodianship that developed and continues today, the issue around its name and the reasons for migration. 

Asher said he is inspired by Australia’s natural landscapes and understanding the experiences and perspectives of these lands by traditional custodians.

“Having grown up in Wellington NSW alongside Aboriginal people I was lucky enough to have Aboriginal friends and hear different perspectives,” Asher said.

When I left Wellington I realised you don’t hear those perspectives, ever.

Asher Milgate

“When I left Wellington I realised you don’t hear those perspectives, ever.

“What inspires me and what I really love to do is to hear Aboriginal perspectives of Australia, whether it’s the landscape or the politics or family - all those things that are contrasting to European culture.

“In her oral history, Nardi Simpson talks about the old places revealing themselves to her.

“And personally, the more time I spent on that river – photographing it, filming it, recording sound - that river really started to speak to me and I gained a whole new appreciation.”

Asher made note of the connection he makes with people through his work, particularly that of The SURVIVORS work he produced in Wellington during 2015 with 18 of the town’s Elders.

“If those Elders did not allow me into their hearts, into their homes, into their lives and memories of the mission and the common, the current The Cooks River? work would not have been created in this way,” Asher said. 

“It is a humbling experience to connect with and to work with people, highlighting their lives. I am forever grateful to those Elders, their families and to Wellington for giving me the ability to do what I do.” 

Nathan Moran, CEO Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, said the surviving evidence of Aboriginal culture and heritage is a great tribute to the Old People.

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