Visions from the Centre to light up the Sydney Opera House


p2541 Badu Gili 2018_Mervyn 660
Two Central Australian Aboriginal artists are among six whose art work will light up the Sydney Opera House every night for the coming year.
They are Western Arrernte watercolourist Mervyn Rubuntja and Central Arrernte/ Mudburra painter, lecturer and traditional healer Patricia Ansell Dodds.
Rubuntja learned to paint while living at Hermannsburg as a child, watching his uncles Maurice, Oscar and Keith Namatjira. His father, the late Wenten Rubuntja, a senior law man, was also an important role model, painting in both the Hermannsburg and ‘dotting’ styles (he called the latter ‘landrights’ paintings). He became the first Aboriginal member of the Australia Council for the Arts.
In Badu Gili Mervyn Rubuntja’s work (above)  depicts the way he sees the landscape in unpolluted light, using his signature strong clear colour to render the seasonal changes of the MacDonnell Ranges and the colour changes during the setting of the sun.
The recent artistic practice of Patricia Ansell Dodds, a member of the Stolen Generation, documents her initiation back into her community. Her work (below) depicts women, wild bush foods, ceremonies and the use of symbols. She currently leads walking tours in and around Alice Springs, sharing stories of the various locations visited.
This is the second iteration of the Badu Gili light installation at the Opera House, curated by their head of First Nations programming, Rhoda Roberts AO. Readers may remember that Roberts curated Parrtjima – A Festival in Light in Alice Springs last year. She will return to curate this year’s event with the theme ‘Cultural Freedom’.
Both Rubuntja and Ansell-Dodds were featured artists in last year’s Parrtjima. For Badu Gili they join the incomparable Djambawa Marawili AM, Yolngu leader (Madarrpa clan) of North East Arnhem Land; Mabel Juli from Giga, in the East Kimberly region, known for her moon and stars creation stories; ceramicist Penny Evans of Gomeroi / Gamilaraay descent; and emerging printmaker Aiona Tala Gaidan from Badu Island. The installation’s original soundscape is by Damian Robinson.
Badu Gili means ‘water light’ in Gadigal, the language of the first people of the Sydney area. It celebrates the ancient stories and rich contemporary culture of Australia’s First Nations in a seven-minute animation, brought to life in collaboration with creative agency Yakkazoo and projected onto the Opera House’s eastern Bennelong sail year-round – twice each night, at sunset and 7pm, or 9pm during daylight saving.
Says Roberts: “Badu Gili 2018 once again re-imagines the diverse markings, sand ceremonies and symbols that guide us in the lore of country, sea and sky. Today’s technologies give new relevance and visibility to our ancient culture, allowing the world to understand and witness its power.”
Says Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM: “Bennelong Point, or Tubowgule as it was known to the local Gadigal people, has a long history as a special place of gathering, ceremony and storytelling, and we strive to carry on that legacy today. Badu Gili demonstrates the Opera House’s commitment to fostering and celebrating a shared sense of belonging for all Australians.”
The work will premiere on Tuesday 24 July at 6pm.
Meanwhile, Parrtjima this year will run from 28 September to 7 October, but next year will move to an earlier schedule in April, which will apparently “increase the potential for interstate and overseas visitation”.
The 2018 Festival will be the largest yet, including six light installations and projections onto the ranges, this year designed to reflect the cyclical patterns of the sun and the moon. It may also expand into the Alice Springs CBD.
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SOURCES: Media releases by Sydney Opera House and NT Minister for Tourism and Culture.
IMAGES: Supplied.


  1. How wonderful is this! The Opera House has become such an amazing canvas for all sorts of causes.
    I do hope that the space is used for inclusive and not divisive causes of City of Sydney Council and NSW Government.

  2. Beautiful, uplifting! Do we really need an art gallery in Alice? A cultural centre definitively yes, but we must hurry before someone steals it from us.


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