Artist Michael Jalaru Torres mural, Sydney Law School

New Indigenous artwork tells story of Sydney

13 April 2022
Indigenous artist transforms Sydney Law School facade with public art

Sydney Law School has commissioned an Indigenous art installation created by artist, Michael Jalaru Torres. The public artwork is a significant landmark on the University’s campus that shares Sydney’s story.

The University continues to strengthen its connections to Indigenous cultures and the First Nations Peoples which have lived, learned and care for the Gadigal lands of the Eora Nation since ‘time immemorial’.

The opportunity to reimagine the façade of this architecturally iconic building arose from the need to replace existing cladding in line with new fire safety regulations. This remediation work offered a unique opportunity for the University to transform the Eastern Avenue thoroughfare.

With this unveiling, staff, students and visitors will encounter Indigenous placemaking in the heart of the campus, consistent with the vision of University’s One Sydney, Many People strategy 2021-2024.

Dean and Head of Sydney Law School, Professor Simon Bronitt, saw the space as the perfect canvas on which to acknowledge the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, and to recognise and celebrate our connection to Country.

Once the concept was realised, Michael Jalaru Torres, an established Western Australian artist with connections to Gadigal country, was invited to realise the vision and create the façade’s public artwork.

The hope is that this striking artwork will cause passers-by to stop, reflect upon the history of our nation, and connect with Indigenous culture.

In line with the University’s sustainability strategy, the original cladding will be recycled, with panels broken down and separated into aluminium and polyethylene to be repurposed into new products in Australia. 

This art installation is an acknowledgement of the long history of the Indigenous people who first inhabited this place and the local Gadigal people with whom we share and care for this land today. Our aspiration is to promote understanding and recognition of the importance of place to the students, staff, residents, and members of the public who work, study, walk and live here.
Dean and Head of Sydney Law School, Professor Simon Bronitt

About the artwork

The story of the artwork by artist, Michael Jalaru Torres

The Echoing of Knowledge from Confrontation 2022

"From fire comes rebirth, the colonial event has seen a rebirth of knowledge sharing between two worlds of old and new law, the gadi tree as seen as a culturally important symbol and with the rebirth of new life after the fire with the embers floating from the hills down to the river.

From flying embers shifting to the river where the eel migrates and shares the knowledge beyond country from freshwater to sea and back in a constant loop, the knowledge is preserved.

The hill where this new law is held is a special place where the kangaroo roamed as they weaved the landscape looking over country. In the background is the seven sister’s constellation that floats in the Milky Way seen mapped by the diamond design extending the knowledge of the Gadigal.

Knowledge grows from seeds of a thought; these thoughts are taught from past experiences and passed on to those eager minds that grow over time to become their own mentors and continue the infinite loop of knowledge. The confrontation of ideas echoes the debates and reviews that take place here. Students and the kangaroo grounds together weave a tapestry of tracks over time."

Commissioned 2021

Michael Jalaru Torres

born 1976 Broome, Western Australia

Djugun and Yawuru peoples with tribal connections to Jabirr Jabirr and Gooniyandi peoples

My artwork is based on the constant and infinite loop of knowledge of old laws of First Nation peoples, elders sharing knowledge down to young people and those becoming knowledge holders themselves in the future.
Michael Jalaru Torres

Sydney's story

Central to the design brief for the public artwork was an intention to highlight certain themes and local motifs that encapsulate Sydney’s story. This included representing the waterways that once flowed freely through the campus (over which the New Law Building was constructed), the eels that were fished using traditional traps, and the kangaroo hunting grounds.

Prominent on the façade is the artist’s reimagining of the Gadi Tree fern, from which the local First Nations People take their name, Gadi-gal meaning the people of the Gadi. The tree’s unique design is showcased through in the artwork, as well as Kangaroo Tracks.

The installation of this artwork sends a strong statement of the University’s and the Sydney Law School’s commitment to the One Sydney, Many People Strategy. It speaks to Pemulian – creating an environment and sense of place for us all. It permits us to have a conversation about place that is guided by the country and its story. It also speaks to the history of the land on which we gather, learn, and share knowledge. Something that has been occurring on Gadigal Land for tens of thousands of years.
Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Services, National Centre for Cultural Competence

The artist

Artist, Michael Jalaru Torres

For Michael Jalaru Torres, life, history and survival inspire his art.

A Djugun and Yawuru man with connections to Jabirr Jabirr and Gooniyandi people, Michael was born and raised in Broome, Western Australia.

Michael has quickly established himself as a multimedia artist and he has a growing profile in the public art space. Soon bystanders on the University’s Eastern Avenue will be able to experience Michael’s art for themselves.

We spoke to Michael about this latest artwork and the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presence in the public art space.

I weaved in my own thoughts of higher learning into the work, as well as linking back to the First Nations way of learning and passing it onto the next generation. This is what is all merged in the artwork and what will be on display for years to come.
Michael Jalaru Torres

I was approached to do a beautiful large canvas work at Sydney Uni and although it was a short, timeline, I accepted the challenge and was really inspired to create this artwork.  It’s something that I really wanted to do to showcase my conceptual thinking into public art.

I weaved in my own thoughts of higher learning into the work, as well as linking back to the First Nations way of learning and passing it onto the next generation. This is what is all merged in the artwork and what will be on display for years to come.

I had a lot of emotions creating this artwork, firstly and most importantly, because I was creating a work that is on Gadigal Land. Secondly, when something starts off so small, but ends up being a large-scale work, there is a lot of pride in that. Especially because I am also on the other side of the country, and with border restrictions I wasn’t even sure when I would see it in person.

But now I get those butterfly feelings when I see pictures, and I know that feeling will still be there when I see it firsthand. There is nothing like seeing your own work hung somewhere. I’m really looking forward to it.

Hopefully everyone on campus there will accept the artwork and embrace it themselves, like I have done.

I hope they feel excited, and it inspires them to learn more about me as an artist, but also more about Indigenous art and artists. And I hope they connect to it.

It's important to allow spaces in these institutes to show public art, and public art that is designed by First Nations people. Not only for the First Nations viewers but for everyone in the mainstream, because it allows us to create a sense of place.

For First Nations people, it shows a pride that you know their art, and that their story has been heard or shown in larger spaces.

This artwork is the beginning of a lot for me personally and professionally. This artwork will cement my legacy as a public artist.

I've had a long journey to get to where I am now. I have survived cancer and trauma, so getting to this level, where my work is not only nationally recognized, but hopefully internationally as well, it'll kick start my career more into the public art side of things.

It's brought me to this place where I can bring those emotions in that learned experience into my work because it gives me a type of discipline where I know I need to leave a legacy.

You know, it allows me to leave a legacy not only for my children, but also for First Nations people everywhere to inspire them to hopefully follow those same foot footprints. 

I wanted to show that these lands have always been a gathering place, a place to come together and connect, but to learn and teach as well, and incorporate the infinity loop. My concept is that learning is a loop, but with the infinity loop there is a junction, a conflict and with this conflict comes a learning point.

Whenever you want to learn, you must get all the information and then put it into your own thoughts, and then you move forward.

This is where higher learning and students come in.

They learn what they need to learn and then they become the lecturers or teachers in life and incorporating that loop with the pathway of the eel swimming kind of lined up perfectly and really connected in the concept that I wanted to bring forward.

Hopefully everyone on campus will accept the artwork and embrace it themselves, like I have done.

I'm a fine art photographer, as well as a sculptor and graphic design artist, so I work across all different types of media, but all my work is light-inspired storytelling and my inspiration to create stems from many ways.

Firstly, as a First Nations artist, I gravitate towards stories that portray our stories both in the past and then into modern day.

We have a lot of dark history that I like to illuminate. I like to shine a light on what those stories are about and usually through my photography I do that. I also do a lot of work that is graphic design and now I'm transferring that into public art.

My advice that I can give to young artists is to never give up.

The journey can take a long time and you are forever learning but take time to enjoy the journey and make sure you tell stories that are true to yourself. The importance of being an artist is being true to yourself and with your storytelling. There are many ways to tell a story and just like myself, I've had a long history of media.

But it took many years to have that courage to go out on my own and to create my own stories, but when you do, it's a really fulfilling feeling to finally do your own stuff and the validation of seeing you work is amazing. It fills me with pride that I’m leaving a legacy and hopefully emerging artists can get to that level as well, and hopefully this inspires them to do that now.

Indigenous art is more than just a few different dots and lines, it can be expanded and broadened to another level, and I encourage people to mix mediums and get to that next level.

I want people to stop and really look when they walk past and really look at the elements in the design. Hopefully it will plant a seed for them to learn more about the Gadigal people of the lands that they stand on, and to learn about the past histories of all Indigenous people on this country.
Michael Jalaru Torres

This public artwork has been the culmination of a close partnership between the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) and Sydney Law School, supported by University Infrastructure, and the Art in the Public Realm Committee. This artwork forms part of Sydney Law School's Reimagining strategic plan and The University of Sydney’s One Sydney, Many People strategy.

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