I felt like sobbing when I heard Aboriginal artist, Sandra Hill, speaking on the ABCRN Arts Show yesterday.
This particular segment, where she is talking about her “Home-maker Series” (specifically “The Cake-maker”) brought tears to my eyes:
“It’s a personal thing about an older white woman and a young girl making a cake.
“An Aboriginal woman is sitting at the bench looking at the white woman and girls, but looking back at the viewer and not allowed to participate.
“That took me back to my childhood when my foster mother would never let me and my sister help to make the cake and I used to wonder about it because my white cousins, her nieces, could make the cake and they were there licking the bowl and whisking the eggs and I’d be sitting at the bench watching this happen.
“Years later I went to see my foster mother and asked her:
“Mum do you remember when we were kids, you never let us help make the cake? Why did you never let us help or touch it?”
“And she had tears in her eyes – she was really embarrassed and quite humiliated and she said:
“I don’t really want to talk about that.”
“But I need to know, Mum. Please tell me.”
“Sandra, I feel so ashamed. I didn’t want you and Barbara making the cake because you had dark skin and your skin always looked dirty, too grubby to help make the cake.”
“And I was gobsmacked.
“Even in adulthood, I remember the stinging indignity and humiliation.
“It still upsets me. But you know me Mum,” I said.
“I’m one of the most hygienic, cleanest people, you taught me that Mum.
“Wash your hands before you touch food.
“I always washed my hands, now I understand why she always said wash your hand because for some reason she thought that the black was grubby, but there was nothing dirty about us.
“We were always clean girls.”
“I know Sandra,” she said. “I know, but it was just the way I thought back then. I’m sorry, so sorry.”
“It still sits with me. I had to move towards some sort of healing, and that helped me a bit, but it still hurts talking about it.
“So I decided to do a Cake-maker painting – and that helped me a bit, it sort of immunised me – the white girls making the cake, the Aboriginal woman sitting back.
“My foster mum was so hurt by having to tell me because she had carried that embarrassment with her all those decades, since we were kids.
“It hurts me now to realise how hurt she was to have to tell me – she was such an angel, such a beautiful woman.”
A recent exhibition of Sandra Hill’s work, Mia Kurrum Maun (Far from Home), was held in Perth at the John Curtin Gallery. The promotional material spoke of her commitment to the revival and survival of her people:
“A proud Wadandi/Pibelmun woman, Sandra Hill is fiercely passionate about her culture and about Indigenous art of the South West. She has worked tirelessly within the community for over 26 years, visually telling the stories of the injustices suffered by her people in the very recent past. Through her art practice and cultural work, Hill is an effective and respected Elder and mentor. She continues to work at preserving and promoting not only the ongoing strength and resilience of her people but also, the revival and survival into the future, of the Bibbulmun culture of the South West.”