Born 1979, Casino, New South Wales. Lives and works Ilford, New South Wales. Wiradjuri, Southern Riverine region
Amala Groom is a Wiradjuri conceptual artist whose practice, as the performance of her cultural sovereignty, is informed and driven by First Nations epistemologies, ontologies and methodologies. Her work, a form of passionate activism, presents acute and incisive commentary on contemporary socio-political issues. Articulated across diverse media, Groom’s work often subverts and unsettles western iconographies in order to enunciate Aboriginal stories, experiences and histories, and to interrogate and undermine the legacy of colonialism. Informed by extensive archival, legislative and first-person research, Groom’s work is socially engaged, speaking truth to take a stand against hypocrisy, prejudice, violence and injustice.
Photograph: Dale Collier
by Coby Edgar
Committing to the actions of cultural and spiritual self-care is the psychological and physical practice of internal awareness, with the ultimate goal of being able to regulate and distribute one’s energies with control and purpose. Cultures all over the world achieve this through meditation, prayer and other practices, enabling an individual to connect with their inner worlds, to listen, and to harness and direct energy. Buddhist religion understands consciousness as having nine stages. The last is the ‘Amala’ consciousness, the final stage, free from the impurities of karma and trauma. It is pure consciousness. (1)
To follow an internal dialogue without the external societal pressures of conforming to a particular way of being requires isolation. Through practise we can liberate and form a bond with the inner-self, allowing self-awareness of our impact on others, both positive and negative. To reach such awareness, one must listen and wait. Dadirri is a concept from the Daly River people that means to listen deeply, in quiet stillness, similar to the western concept of contemplation. (2)
The Union (2019) is a performative piece by Amala Groom that embodies her commitment to the Aboriginal ontologies and methodologies that enable Amala to reach ‘Amala’. The commitment to internal worlds is to work through trauma and suffering, and serves as a benefit to all living entities that come in contact with the artist by minimising uncontrolled energetic output.
Groom’s video work appropriates the cultural symbolism of the ultimate union; ‘marriage’, as performed in (heteronormative) western traditions. Through the act of performing, Groom relives and remembers periods of commitment to herself. Isolated in a newly flourishing forest of ghost gums, regrown after a fire, she listens. On the lands of her Wiradjuri people, she connects with the sovereign land of her Aboriginal Ancestors, as it rebuilds itself after the trauma of colonisation. Groom wears a wedding dress to symbolise the union between her physical and astral body as the ultimate relationship. The act of listening intently connects Groom to her DNA, which holds the trauma of colonisation and the teachings of her Ancestors. Human suffering is invisible on this scale; scientists are still studying the effects of trauma and how it alters our epigenetics through generations. (3)
Twisting and heaving, Groom works through a tangle of red twine in her forest of ghosts. Enveloping her body and coming from the land, from Mother Earth, the twine acts both as an umbilical cord and a reminder to stay connected to the past, present and future. The Chinese legend about the red string of fate tells the story of the old lunar matchmaker god who ties an invisible red string to the pinky finger of two souls destined to be together. Red string is also important in Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian beliefs, often associated with good luck and protection.
Groom’s journey is not a peaceful one. It is one entered with commitment to finding peace in the purity of consciousness by allowing trauma and karma to run its due course; in turn, forming her epistemologies of spiritual self and wellbeing through the act of embarking on the journey itself. Groom’s vessel is the product of colonisation and her performance is her surrendering to its trauma, allowing her to find pure consciousness, her ‘Amala’.
(1) Michael Radich, ‘The doctrine of Amalavijñāna in Paramārtha (499–569), and later authors to approximately 800 C.E.’, ZINBUN, no.41, 2008, pp.45–174, retrieved 2 October 2018, https://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/134689/1/41_45.pdf.
(2) Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr, ‘Dadirri: inner deep listening and quiet still awareness’, Miriam Rose Foundation, retrieved 2 October 2018, http://www.miriamrosefoundation.org.au/about-dadirri.
(3) Azam Moosavi & Ali Motevalizadeh Ardekani, ‘Role of epigenetics in biology and human diseases’, Iranian Biomedical Journal, vol.20, no.5, pp.246–258, retrieved 2 October 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075137/.