Indigenous rainforest art in glass

by Judith Bohm-Parr

Paul & Jude day 1 discussing plans

Paul & Jude day 1 discussing plans

In 2017 I mentored & collaborated with long time Indigenous artist & friend, Paul Bong & his lovely wife Elizabeth, to assist Paul in advancing his career to a new level. He is already well acknowledged in FNQ and further afield for his prints, etchings & amazing lithographs depicting stories of his Rainforest culture in the Cairns area.

His idea was to be able to use the medium of glass to more perceptively portray the Indiji stories. These are Paul’s thoughts on his search for identity & recognition of his traditional culture:

Courtesy of Bindur Bullin (Paul Bong)
“Paul Bong (aka Bindur Bullin), is a descendant of the Yindinji tribe who occupied the fertile rainforest lands from Cairns in the north to Babinda in the south and west into the Atherton Tablelands as far as Kairi. His ancestral history is rooted in this region. Bong's great-grandparents were both tribal elders, when all the lands were Yindinji. His father, George, also knew the traditional ways of living. He spoke the Yindinji language (Yidiny), though he wasn’t allowed to speak it when he went to school. George was forced to reject the traditional ways and to assimilate into white society. This broke the continuity of Bong's culture, language and heritage from being passed down through the generations.

Bong grew up around the Yattee area near Wright Creek in Far North Queensland. He is driven to regain the stories and culture that was lost to European settlement and to share what was lost through his work. His grandmother, who spoke Yidiny, taught Bong stories and legends about the rainforest – its bush food, animals, young warriors and special places such as Babinda Boulders and the Gordonvale Pyramid. These stories are the inspiration for many of his works. Bong incorporates traditional designs with modern techniques with each design having its own spiritual meaning.”

Rainforest traditional art
From the time of W.E Roth's findings in 1897 to 2016 it has been 119 years of acknowledging our Rainforest Art Culture and its history, my great grandmother had always spoken of her traditional ways. I was only little at the time and couldn't quite understand her silent memories on what she spoke of. People from all walks of life want to know about those silent memories of who could of lived here who were the tribes, what are their totems, etc. In 2016, those very same silent memories are now being unearthed through my art. Her silent love is now my expressed love and passion for my place, my land, my ancestral history. I hope you will love it too and enjoy the art and its history.

Hence, we were successful in our 2017 application to Cairns Regional Council RADF fund to commence investigating this concept. Beyond the obvious aim of transforming his art into glass, we also wanted to place the artworks into a revisited historical context, by extrapolating a different insight into current subjective European & Indigenous first contact.

Over a 10-month period the experimental art pieces were developed mainly from the Indiji shield traditionally created from wood, but re interpreted initially by Paul in print form then transformed into three-dimension glass by the second artist, Judith Bohm-Parr. In the future we hope to also include other traditional artifacts used by the Rainforest peoples- fish traps, implements, toys, weapons & items such as breastplates presented by colonial people to the Indinji.

The time spent in Studio 8 Glass in Childers was very productive & we hold high hopes for future developments. Paul & I worked over 5 intensive days in August to combine our 50 years of experience into the new concept. Hopefully, the images will give a little insight into our labours. Liz was busy documenting, photographing & compiling presentations of our progress. It is a wonderful experience to be able to just concentrate on the art side exclusively instead of having to don several hats & also do what Liz did.

With promising results from our first foray in this new direction we are planning to progress to stage 2- the compilation of major works to be included in a series of exhibitions in regional Qld areas & hopefully one city venue. To this end I am at present working on new grants to facilitate this end.

It’s not often nowadays, after 35 years as a practising artist, that I get excited about a project, but this one seems to have been deemed to happen. It won’t happen overnight & its beginnings were 20 years ago; but all the factors seem to be in alignment. I will keep you posted on progress.

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