In her exhibition Munduhii (meaning ‘shoes’ in Gamilaraay), Kerry Toomey engages in the stories that wrap themselves around the feet, an essential part of each and everyone. For Toomey they represent her strong connection to Country and culture. They are inspired by stories of her family who grew up on the outskirts of Pilliga and incorporate emu feathers, echidna quills and snakeskin that have been passed down to her.
In 2020, DSMG contributed to sponsorship of the first Casula Powerhouse Aboriginal Scholarship Award. The winner of that prize was announced in November (you can see a video of the launch event at https://youtu.be/25rnuwOKBUg - see the prize announcement at the 20-minute mark).
The winner, Kerry Toomey, a Gamilaroi woman from Pilliga, was supported to prepare a solo exhibition titled Manduhii, which was launched at CPAC on May 15.
DSMG Director Emeritus Professor Richie Howitt spoke at the launch. This is the text of his talk:
Thank you Aunty Lyn Martin for your welcome to Cabrogal Country.
I would like to begin by acknowledging. I acknowledge that we meet today on the Cabrogal Nura. The Cabrogal Clan along with the other clans of the Dharug Nation and their neighbours have faced calamity with the transformation of Nura into the city that was named after a colonial politician whose knowledge of the Country whose colonisation he advocated was non-existent.
I acknowledge that stewardship of Cabrogal Country as for all Dharug Nura, has never been ceded and we are all guests whose treatment of Nura and Yura marks a continuing dark story in the long, long history of this place that we all call home.
I also acknowledge the Country and People of the Gamilaroi Nation, who have nurtured Kerry Toomey, the woman whose work we are here to celebrate today.
So much begins with acknowledging. Where refusal and denial of acknowledgement narrates absence, silence and closure, acknowledging opens possibilities. Acknowledging invites relationships, engagement and connection. It challenges difference and invites conversation – and listening. I look forward to the conversations that Kerry’s work will catalyse as you engage with it.
I am Richie Howitt, a non-Indigenous director of the Dharug Strategic Management Group – a not-for-profit charity created in early-2018 to hold title to the first Dharug Nura returned to Dharug care since colonial times. The NSW Government returned the site of the Blacktown Native Institute – one of the key places implicated in the creation of the Stolen Generations policies that have so blighted First Nations across the southern continent and the history of the nation.
In choosing to sponsor the first Casula Powerhouse Aboriginal Scholarship Award, DSMG acknowledges the power of art in expressing First Nation experience, and its importance in opening new conversations that would connect the 60,000 plus years of wisdom and experience embedded in First Nations knowledges to just and sustainable futures.
Kerry’s work focuses on her beloved Manduhii – the footwear that both connects and protects, that promotes flamboyant display or modest practicality – and many things in between.
When I first saw Kerry’s work, I was deeply impressed both by the beauty of its execution and the power of the ideas it embodies. The image of a map of Country embracing the sole of the wearer’s foot in that initial work, was a startling reminder of the remarkable strength of First Nations women who have survived, nurtured and resisted over generations – always standing strong on Country even when separated from it. I am really humbled to be asked to speak at the opening of the solo exhibition a year later.
Congratulations to Kerry on the body of work she has prepared for this exhibition, and to our colleagues here at the Casula Powerhouse for their support in mounting the exhibition. The transformation of this building into a place that so powerfully nurtures expression, diversity and conversation is a great example of the importance of art in transforming the darkest moments of our stories into opportunities to shine.
So I welcome you all to step out together in whatever Manduhii you are wearing and to join me in acknowledging a wonderful exhibition by a wonderful artist whose vision of walking together is challenging, inspiring and quite simply beautiful.