Artists of Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre
Artists of Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre | Cardwell area QLD | Bagu and Jiman (Firestick figures and firesticks) 2009 | Purchased 2010 with funds from Xstrata Community Partnership Program Queensland through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
Contributing Artists: Betty Andy, Daniel Beeron, Maureen Beeron, Nancy Beeron, Theresa Beeron, Nancy Cowan, Nephi Denham, Doris Kinjun, Allison Murray, Emily Murray, John Murray, Ninney Murray, Sally Murray
For Aboriginal people in the far north Queensland rainforest, fire was vital to daily life. It provided a focal point for social interaction and was used for cooking, warmth, making weapons, preserving food and in ceremonies. Wooden bagu (firestick figures) and jiman (firesticks) were carried from site to site as people moved camp seasonally, and the designated keeper was under immense pressure to maintain the flame, especially in wet weather, when dry tinder was scarce.
In a contemporary interpretation of these objects, a group of Aboriginal artists working together at Girringun have used fired clay with ochre patterning, guava wood and string to make a group of firestick figures. These experimental clay versions were first exhibited at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in 2009.
In a very successful move into clay, the Girringun artists have forged a new and exciting direction. Thirteen of these artists have made these contemporary bagu. The use of clay for bagu bodies was influenced by the scarcity of suitable wood; previously accessible land is now privately owned or protected as national park. In this recent development, the Girringun artists have quickly developed recognisable styles, influenced partly by their cultural background and also reflecting their personal aesthetic choices. The figures’ eyeholes, which release smoke from the smouldering sticks, create an eerie effect inspiring both respect and fear. These new bagu remind us of the early fire-making equipment, and have also encouraged a revival of narratives about the character of the bagu, said to represent a spirit man, the chikka-bunnah.
These works are included in the display 'Spirited: Works from the Gallery’s Indigenous Australian Art Collection', Gallery of Modern Art, 29 May – 8 August 2010.