Ghost-weaving and Truth-telling: Paola Balla Goes to Work

Standing in Paola Balla’s office, I am reminded of my Nanna’s lounge room. Balla’s office doubles as a work and gathering space for the Aboriginal community at Victoria University in Melbourne’s west. The Wemba- Wemba and Gunditjmara artist gifts me one of her ‘eco’ bush-dyed tea towels. I take it out of its calico bag and unfold it. The smells of the dyed cloth act as an immediate memory trigger, transporting me to the banks of the Birrarung (Yarra) River. The varied scents are also elusive, multi-layered and beyond description. What is remarkable about the tea towel, an otherwise ubiquitous domestic object, is that both the smells and physical appearance of the cloth conjure endless layers of storytelling: narratives that speak of both love and violence, dispossession and rejuvenation, and, most of all, the courage of the Aboriginal women Balla celebrates and commemorates through the intense labour of her art practice.

 

 

Title image:

Paola Balla
Sovereign Goddess Going to Eat You Up
from the Mok Mok series, 2016
Digital pigment print on 188 gsm photo rag, 71 Å~ 96 cm
Exhibited in Disrupting Artistic Terra Nullius:
The Ways That First Nations Women in Art and
Community Speak Blak to the Colony and Patriarchy,
Footscray Community Arts Centre, 2019
Image courtesy of Paola Balla

Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short-story collections, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People. In 2017, he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature.