What is Hidden—

Dominique Chen

Dominique Chen is a Gamilaroi woman, and interdisciplinary artist and researcher, living on Jinibara Country in South East Queensland. She lectures within the Batchelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art, Griffith University, and is undertaking PhD research at the University of Technology Sydney, in the area of relational creative practice and urban-based Aboriginal food and medicine growing. 

Dom is mother, artist, writer, maker and avid gardener, and is passionate about the role of creative practice in making positive contributions to community, culture and Country. She is a co-founder of Aboriginal-run not-for-profit, Yuruwan, which supports learning opportunities for culturally-centred, urban-based food and medicine growing, by and for Aboriginal people. 

She is currently working on a collaborative performance/installation work, The Blak Laundry, with Nugi Quandamooka artist Libby Harward for the 2023 Horizon Festival, on Kabi Kabi Country. 

The cool autumn winds up on Yinibara Country have been swift and cutting. Inviting you to close-up the windows and draw inside. A shock to the body, swiftly adapting through the processes of seasonal sniffles and hot drinks that seem to go cold too quick. A reminder that changes are in motion. For me, a Gamilaroi yinarr/woman living up on the range – the so called ‘Great Dividing Range’– the cool change brings some big and unfamiliar feelings. Like a force of gravity. A reflex. An urge to pull inwards and towards a slow, internal contemplation, just as the doors of the house get closed-up to the wind.  

Yinibara Country is a relatively new home for my family and I, a new community, made up of mobs from all over. But my relationship to Country here is all but settled, felt even more in those quieter moments. Getting to know Country, Country getting to know me, is certainly a process. The winds going straight to the bone. The past few months have been full of learnings from jumping ants, leeches and swollen tick bites, the growth of plants, the presence of birds and animals, the movement and energy of people, and the community of Elders that are always present and watching. Country is always teaching and showing, and it takes time, understanding, and respect, to learn how to properly listen and respond. 

Back home, the changes in warrumbul, or the Milky Way, tell us that it’s the time when dhinawan/emu are beginning their breeding cycle, when male and females are finding their mating pairs. The low and guttural sounds of their courtship, pulse and vibrate with purpose and intent through the air. Around this time too, the mugga iron bark and yaaraan/red river gums are flowering. Other flowers are fading. Country in continual patterns of response, moving into new cycles and phases, as it always has, and always will. The rainy season beginning to dry up. The rivers readying for the cold winter months to come, and the start of the fishing season for guduu/Murray Cod.  

Sitting here all rugged up, quiet, internal, on Yinibara Country, I’m thinking about my Country, my family, my circle. And in that moment an overwhelming sense of self, that feels both ‘me’ and ‘us’ simultaneously. I/we, my/our, blood and guts. Gii/heart and dhuwi/spirit. Grounded and full of love. I am because of us – nothing more and nothing less. An unending connection and belonging to Country, and to each other. In the next moment I get a message from a Gamilaroi baawaa/sister, asking if an Uncle was going okay – she was thinking about him on a recent walk through the Border Ranges National Park, Githabul Country. A few minutes later, a message from that same Uncle saying ‘love ya my baby’. Everything in the timing. Reluctantly leaving the warmth of the house, I go to my local workspace that I’ve been absent from for months, and as I walk in the door, a Gamilaroi yinarr who I’ve met only once, stops in for a cuppa before I can even put down my bags. As she leaves, a phone call from another Countryperson, colleague and friend (and the cousin of the yinarr who just left), and we talk in ways that feel like an extension of the previous yarn. A continuation of Country and spirit, talking and moving through us, and all of its creative expressions. Through seasonal shifts and changes. A big reminder today that connections run deep, and that isolation isn’t ever really such a thing. 

As blakfullas we know that what is hidden is just as important as what you can see. That the slow and quiet times are still active and full of life and potential, waiting for the right moment. This is reflected in Country, in creation, in creative processes of gestating and submerging, readying and growing the foundations and conditions to one day emerge. In Gamilaraay we have a word for the spaces in between, and in all aspects of our culture, the relational space between two points, between maal/one and bulaarr/two, is as important as the points/objects/subjects themselves. Energetic, liminal, transformative, and uncertain, ready to become form. I feel this strongly in our yarns and collaborations, with people and with Country. I feel this aliveness, this unseen activity, and trust that it will find its time and place, when it’s ready. In Gamilaraay, guuma-li means to hide/conceal, but also to plant/sow, and to gather, in relation to both people and plants. I think about this when we are all together, and the implication of what that time and connection will grow.  

Together, ngiyani/we are always more than the sum of our parts, and by holding the right spaces and processes – that are connected, respectful, listening, responding, allowing, grounded (in people and Country) and from the heart – we can manifest and be coherent with something more than ourselves. This is proper creative and collaborative work, that is often minimised or disregarded within mainstream spaces that place all of the emphasis and value on the outcome or product. Effectively drawing us ‘out’, when it’s time to go ‘in’. Never in time. But when we embody our processes –our ways of knowing, being and doing, rather than what gets done in the end, we are nurturing spirit – nurturing whatever outcome or story is willing, or needing, to be told. 

So today I am sitting willingly in the internal spaces, knowing that something is moving and stirring. Something is dying and something is reforming. Hiding and readying itself to be seen. Readying itself to be born. In my stillness, I feel deeply, all of the people and places that hold me, and whose knowledges and connections I embody and share. Together stories running their course. And in this moment, windy and uncertain, I trust in whatever is yet to come. In the ebbs and flows, summers and winters, wet and dry seasons of process, and in the whole connected landscape that informs me, and guides my words, thoughts and hands. From Gamilaraay to Yinibara, new and old connections forming. In this internal time of cold, is a generous growing, yet to be seen.  

Originally commissioned for ngaratya (together, us group, all in it together). 
Explore the full exhibition at ngaratya.com.au