Indigenous artist Wayde Clarke weaves stories of culture, bugs and landscapes into new artwork

By NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust posted 14-11-2023 15:17


When Newcastle-based artist Wayde Clarke looks at a blank canvas, he’s seeing an opportunity to bring people together.  

As a Wiradjuri/Birpai man living on Awabakal land, the stories his paintings tell and the many ways they can be interpreted are what brings meaning to his art.

"A lot of my works are about joy and coming together. The most important part is keeping people together," he says.

"I add lots of layers because life is layered and complex and when you come back to it you see something new."

His artwork for the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust pulls together these complex layers of cultural knowledge and experience from the coast, across the ranges and deep into the desert country of the far west. It uses a colour palette that speaks to a diversity of kin, habitats, and species."

"The colour scheme is great: there's bright oranges and pinks and magentas, purples and blues also, which will help bring together coastal NSW and inner NSW because if you think of NSW as a whole, it's quite large and it goes from coastal green and blue areas right out to red dirt like at Broken Hill."

"I am adding kangaroos, journey lines, memory lines and song lines because ancestors have walked this whole state and I'm excited to add all that into it and add the stories and the respect NSW deserves."

Important to the story of the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust, and its work to protect habitats and species with local landholders, Wayde’s art depicts insects which are used as cultural indicators of the small and often unseen signs of a healthy country.  

Some insects pop from the kaleidoscope of colour and images, while others take time to emerge and can only be seen to those who look carefully, with intent.

For NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust Chief Executive Officer Erin Giuliani, the artwork reflects the relationships the organisation and its people hold both with, and as, custodians of the land.

"Like our first people, we look closely to insects to learn how healthy a landscape is."

"From sea country to inland river country, through wildflowers and among native grasses, insects are busy as they thrive and drive biodiversity. They pollinate and create food and nutrition, and, above all, tell us if our country is healthy and diverse."

The role of Aboriginal people in protecting and managing biodiversity with traditional ecological knowledge and cultural land management techniques has been brought vividly to life in Wayde’s art, she says.

"Memories, storylines, ceremonies, language and ways of knowing and doing all contribute to our understanding of cultural heritage and caring for Country, and that’s all here."

Wayde agrees with the link between his work and the people who care for Country.

"My kind of thought process when creating a new artwork is to link it to human experience. It's the best way I can get people to relate to indigenous artwork."

"It comes from a feeling or experience; I never have a set idea before I draw anything up."

"Feelings of artworks come from a respected space of love, hope or grief, of pinpointing a discussion about the current moment, or a movement in the world and how I might feel in that moment."


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