Dr Shane Smithers is a Darug man of the Burraberongal clan. His traditional country extends along the Hawkesbury River to the top of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Shane is an artist, writer and academic and has a PhD in Philosophy focussing on the nature of ideas and ideologies in human and non-human systems.
The patterns and figures used throughout his art are traditional to NSW and more specifically to Darug culture. In his hands, ancient Darug symbols are used in a contemporary way to tell both ancient and modern stories. The most significant and profound of these are associated with Wiari, Mother of All or Mother Earth, and Biari, Father of All or Father Sky, and how they came together to produce all life. The exhibition, Big Dreams, showcases a number of aspects of that seminal creation story.
Seemingly abstract, each element in Shane’s paintings has a specific meaning to the artist and his clan. Vertical lines suggest the sky and their connection to the Sky Father. Horizontal lines represent Mother Earth. These are found in cave art and petroglyphs throughout the rock outcrops and escarpments west of Sydney. The hatch pattern, therefore, represents Darug country imbued with its spiritual essence. Central to Darug beliefs and in fact all indigenous cultures is the extension of this philosophy to fertility, the role of women and their ability to create new life.
Darug stories are allegorical. The Dreaming has mythological, religious and temporal associations. Ceremonial songs endow Wiari with human qualities. In Shane’s ‘red’ paintings for instance, meandering red lines create the illusion of a female figure to express the anthropomorphic nature of Mother Earth. Unlike the fecund deities of the ancient world, the figure here is lithe, long and lean. She is sensual, beautiful and just a little bit cheeky. In her character and strength, she understands her power and allure.
The Darug believe that Dreaming trees have allegorical significance. They represent the union of the sky and the earth. The tree’s roots extend into and are nourished by the earth. They rise up to become the trunk, the bows, branches and leaves that reach into the sky. The embodiment of the Dreaming tree therefore represents the connection between male and female, Wiari and Biari, mother and father.
The Women’s Dreaming Tree is a Fig. It is significant to women and women’s lore. Shane Smithers was given permission to paint it, but not to talk about some of the mysteries that it holds. Its leaves, are like little diamonds with rounded edges. They symbolise stories of survival and culture shared between women, their children and their families. The Men’s Dreaming Tree has a similar function amongst the men. These trees are typically taller with larger diamond shaped leaves.
In his exhibition, Big Dreams, Shane Smithers pays homage to his ancestors and his country. The lines, symbols and patterns are traditional to the Sydney basin and extend into greater NSW. They represent a dynamic, vivid and unique contemporary expression of Darug culture.