When it came to finding her life’s comfort, Wadawurrung woman Dr. Deanne Gilson had to endure much pain.
“I knew at an early age that I wanted to create,” the artist proclaims.
“I was an artist at age four and preferred to stay inside, paint and not socialise with others at kindergarten. This was partially due to having a problem with my eye. I got teased by everyone from an early age and was called terrible names.
At age five, I had major eye surgery. I felt quite alone and isolated by this experience and preferred to stay away and spend time alone drawing.
I felt my path was given to me. Out of so much pain, I found personal comfort.”
It is often said that profound art is forged out of pain and suffering. Creativity is used as a medium to heal and find solace for many. The same can be said for Deanne and her work.
“Contemporary art is a material thing and cultural integrity is deeply personal. I use it to uncover trauma, especially based around my childhood, and to tell cultural stories,” she says.
“I have however made a conscious decision to bring my love of native plants into my future artworks and the beauty in everything around me. I think I have had too much darkness and want to see myself in a brighter, happier light now and let go of some of the traumatic artworks.”
As a painter and a creator of three-dimensional installations, much of Deanne’s work tells stories of cultural significance that not only raise awareness about Indigenous stories but which bring her a sense of happiness and fulfilment.
“At my age, my goals have come and gone, some realised and others now are more projected towards my own personal happiness as opposed to what I can conquer,” she says.
As an Aboriginal woman with a PhD in Aboriginal Women’s Business, Deanne still feels she is not provided adequate opportunities to educate and inform, particularly through her art.
“There is a growing trend towards a deeper appreciation for Victorian First Nations art and stories, however it is still very much guided by what white people want and not by what we need to have happen.
There needs to be more focus on the actual history from a First Nations perspective and not by books written by white men.”
Be that as it may, she has been grateful to exhibit and showcase her works in and around Country – particularly at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
In 2019, Deanne created the outdoor public sculpture Murrup Laarr (Ancestral Stones) in a bid to put Wadawurrung voices back onto Country.
A space to reflect and connect to the stone stories of a bygone age, Murrup Laarr looks and connects towards an original corroboree site across Lake Wendouree.
“The stones tell the stories of how my ancestors practiced ceremony amongst the stones at different times throughout the seasonal year,” she says.
“They are holders of our memory code and living entities. They are an extension of our cultural practices and a link to the past. They work in a similar way to early stone circles across the world and there seems to be a similarity and feeling in the spiritual and ceremonial practices that early man believed in.”
Murrup Laarr mark the cosmos and seasons, the summer and winter solstice, as well as
important dates for planting and harvesting.
Embodying much more than meets the eye, Deanne says the stones are not to be recognised simply for their aesthetic or practicality, but are a metaphysical gift to her own children and to all those who believe in the spirit within. Most of all, they are a gift to
her grandson Arlo.
“Our stones take in the sky knowledge and, under Country, they are alive and breath and I’ve told my boys my spirit will always be there,” Deanne says.
“I love the stones and love the peace the circle has created, the feeling is at one with nature.
I am very proud of this and these stories are Arlo’s to have for his future. They are my gift to my children and to anyone else who believes in the spirit within, not just an artwork for its materiality.”