New mural depicts obscured faces from Australia’s past

Artist Fintan Magee has created Lost Figures on the wall of a Darlington building.

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Commissioned for our Art & About program, Lost Figures depicts Patyegarang, a young Aboriginal woman living in the Sydney region when the British invaded in 1788, and Lieutenant William Dawes.

Lost Figures depicts Patyegarang alongside Lieutenant William Dawes on two adjacent buildings

Dawes’ diaries, following conversations between them both, have become central to the preservation of Aboriginal language in Sydney.

The mural features the figures painted as if behind bevelled glass, presenting them as obscured and therefore forgotten or distant.

Fintan Magee was inspired by the story of Dawes and Patyegarang, who worked to preserve and document Indigenous language and culture.

Artist Fintan Magee chose to highlight the story of Patyegarang and Lieutenant Dawes.

“The work came about during the pandemic,” Magee said.

“I looked into some colonial figures that are honoured in public art and thought, ‘Are there other people or other figures that aren't talked about as much and aren’t being represented in public art?’

“I came across the story of William Dawes and Patyegarang in my research.

“For me, it's just a perfect story because so many figures in the early colonial period were associated with destruction of culture, compared to people that worked to preserve language and preserve culture. “I wanted to honour those figures, the people that actually work to preserve, not just destroy. So that's where the inspiration came from. I just wanted to challenge traditional colonial narratives and honour figures that may have been forgotten through time.

The mural stretches 4 storeys high on the side of an apartment building and terrace house in Darlington.

“I painted in the kind of abstracted Art Deco glass pattern because it's a kind of allegory. The figures become broken down and blurred over time and these stories get lost and reimagined.”

Supported by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, the mural will be in place until at least the end of this year.

"This is a great way to honour Patyegarang, one of the most significant contributors to Australian culture. Patyegarang played a hugely important role in the preservation of Sydney's original local language," Nathan Moran, CEO Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council said.

Dawes and Patyegarang are depicted as being behind bevelled glass, their stories blurred and obscured over time.

A permanent artwork to recognise Patyegarang is also planned for Ta-Ra (Dawes Point) as part of the Eora Journey program’s Yananurala, a curated 9km harbour foreshore walk that highlights historically significant Aboriginal stories, people and places.

You’ll find Lost Figures at 510 Wilson Street in Darlington.

That won't wash out.

Art & About commissions artists to imagine the city as a canvas and a stage, to encourage workers, residents and visitors see our city through different lenses and discover hidden meaning on our streets.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Fintan Magee's important work complements the City of Sydney's Eora Journey, which celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, culture and heritage through public art projects.

"The City of Sydney is committed to re-balancing the work of successive Australian governments, at all levels, which has focused on memorialising colonial history and largely ignores First Nations history," Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore said.

"Guided by curator Hetti Perkins we are delivering wonderful, expressive, thought-provoking works.

"Tony Albert’s YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall in Hyde Park is an emotive acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who served in the military. Judy Watson’s recently unveiled bara, our monument to the Eora, sits in pride of place above Dubbagullee (Bennelong Point). We’ve also started work on Yananurala, a new 9-kilometre Harbour walk featuring artworks at important sites along the foreshore.

"Yananurala will feature a permanent public art project at Ta-ra (Dawes Point) to highlight the site where Patyegarang gifted the language of her people to William Dawes. I am excited to see what curator Emily McDaniel and her team come up with for this major contribution."

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