15 June, 2020
A reproduction artwork from the successful Back to Burra Bee Dee exhibition now has a permanent home at the Gunnedah Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery thanks to a donation by the artist.
Gunnedah Gomeroi artist Warwick Keen has donated a digital photographic print on archival rag paper to the Gunnedah Community Collection.
Mr Keen worked at The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Art & Design campus during 2014 to create the body of work Back to Burra Bee Dee - a collection of 17 digitally manipulated photographic prints.
Back to Burra Bee Dee was on exhibition at the Gunnedah Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery in 2015, but has also been on exhibition at Coonabarabran, Armidale, Goulburn and Tamworth, as well at NSW Parliament House.
Warwick Keen was the winner of the 2013 COFA Aboriginal Arts Residency Award in the Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize.
Back to Burra Bee Dee was inspired by Mr Keen’s great-great-grandmother , Mary Jane Cain. In the 1890s, Mary wrote to Queen Victoria’s representative in Australia, the Governor of NSW, asking for a parcel of land to be given back to the Aboriginal people of the Coonabarabran area. Mary’s persistence in advocating for the rights of her people caused the Governor to bequeath a total of 600 acres to Mary Jane with the proviso that it be shared and utilised for the good of the entire Aboriginal community.
This Aboriginal land was probably the first such example of freehold title being granted to an Aboriginal community under British law.
Gunnedah Cultural Precinct Team Leader Lauren Mackley said Mary Jane was a land rights activist who had the tenacity to stand up for her people in the name of creating a more just and equitable lifestyle for the entire Indigenous community.
“This artwork is of significant cultural and community significance to Gunnedah,” Ms Mackley said.
“Warwick grew up within the Gunnedah Shire and his 40-year arts career saw him teach at the Gunnedah TAFE for a number of years inspiring and empowering many of our community’s artists and individuals.
“Warwick’s own formidable contribution to the Indigenous community and to the community of Gunnedah is now a living memory in the Gunnedah Community Collection through this artwork, but there is also one of his murals in D Block at the Gunnedah TAFE Campus.”
Mr Keen’s artworks are in collections across Australia, including the Mosman Art Gallery, the Australian Institute for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra, Wollongong City Art Gallery and the Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre & Keeping Place.
Gunnedah Shire Councillor Owen Hasler welcomed the addition to the Gunnedah Community Collection.
“I had the privilege of witnessing Back to Burra Bee Dee when it was hung in Coonabarabran in 2014, and was very excited to be able to open the exhibition when it exhibited in Gunnedah in 2015,” Cr Hasler said. “It represented a significant piece of Aboriginal history for this area and the Gomeroi peoples, and is a wonderful collection of artwork combining old photos with modern artwork to create 17 stunning pieces.
“I also attended the presentation of the NSW Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art awards in 2015 where Warwick’s artwork featured, and I attended the Mosman Gallery where his Scarred Tree artwork stands at the entrance to the gallery. It is a stunning recognition of his skills and the importance of such cultural items for Aboriginal communities.
“It is a great honour to have this artwork featured at our gallery next to the Rainbow Serpent Water Feature (soon to be opened) and Namoi River Mural in the Mooki Room, all of which acknowledge and recognise the importance of Aboriginal culture within our community. It is a very generous donation by Warwick for our residents.”
The Gunnedah Community Collection has more than 100 artworks that have been acquired and donated to the Gunnedah community over the past 20 years. The collection is currently housed at the Gunnedah Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery and includes work by Anne Knight, Pat Tobin, Maree Kelly and the late Pat Rowley and Jean Isherwood.
Media contact: Eliza Gallen (02) 6740 2100.
Caption: Artist Warwick Keen, Lauren Mackley and Cr Owen Hasler with the donated artwork.