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Artist on national stage

Local Gordon Indigenous artist, Aunty Marlene Gilson has ten works in Sydney Biennale with another currently on show at the National Gallery of Victoria (Ian Potter Centre). Photo – Jane Gardner

By Jane Gardner

Wadawurrung Elder and Gordon resident, Aunty Marlene Gilson is certainly making a name for herself as an artist. After a number of successful exhibitions over the years, both locally and interstate, Marlene was invited to exhibit no less than ten of her works in the Sydney Biennale.
The Biennale, currently on show at seven venues around Sydney, including the Sydney Opera House and the Art Gallery of NSW, is considered to be one of the leading international contemporary art events of our time, and Marlene is excited and proud to be a part of it.
For the most part, Marlene’s art tells stories of historical events, particularly those involving Aboriginal people. Several works in Marlene’s Biennale exhibition have a connection to our local landscape, including events in and around Ballarat. She has painted the once popular race meeting at Lal Lal Falls, the Eureka Stockade uprising, old Ballarat town, through to Captain Cook and the arrival of the First Fleet.
“I know a few people who have travelled to the Biennale from Ballarat and some from as far as Warrnambool, where I was born,” says Marlene. “It’s great to see people embracing the Biennale like that; it’s good for our district,” she said.
As well as exhibiting in the Sydney Biennale, Marlene has also had a significant work purchased by the City of Melbourne. The painting, on show at the National Gallery of Victoria (Ian Potter Centre) until 15 July, depicts the first men hanged in Melbourne in 1842; Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner.
Images of Marlene’s work have also been used to illustrate various art guides as well as the cover of a recently released book entitled, ‘Conflict, adaptation, transformation: Richard Broome and the practice of Aboriginal history.’
Marlene and her husband Barry travelled to Sydney in March for the opening of the Biennale.
“I felt a bit like a celebrity,” Marlene said, describing the constant requests for newspaper, radio and television interviews.
“People were stopping me in the street to tell me how much they love my paintings. I’ve even been interviewed for an art magazine in Japan.”
Marlene describes how she’s finding it hard to keep up with the growing demand for her work. Having put three of her paintings up for sale at the Biennale, a businessman from San Francisco surprised Marlene by purchasing all three, with plans to donate them to the Contemporary Art Museum in San Francisco.
This year, the Sydney Biennale welcomes some pretty big names in the art world, some of whom have been described as ‘art superstars’. It’s conceivable Marlene Gilson is deserving of the same title.
The Sydney Biennale is on until 11 June.