Parramatta by Foot brings public art onto the streets of Western Sydney

You can exercise and be inspired at one and the same time

Stephen A Russell
Nadia Odlum working on her maze mural ‘I’ll meet you here again’
Photograph: SuppliedNadia Odlum working on her maze mural ‘I’ll meet you here again’

While we’re all out and about, you can take in a city stroll and get your art fix all in one go thanks to a new outdoor show curated by Parramatta Artists’ Studios. Parramatta by Foot assembles some of Western Sydney’s best emerging artists and challenges them to create footpath reflecting the rich diversity of the local community.

An initiative of the City of Parramatta Council, some art is already in place. You can check out Nadia Odlum’s winding labyrinth work ‘I’ll Meet You Here Again’ in the Wentworth Point Community Centre and Library forecourt. Inspired by the historic maze at Chartres Cathedral in France, the cross-country reference is a nod to the multi-cultural community in Western Sydney, and the outdoor art aspect relates to the socially distant times we find ourselves navigating.

“I’m really excited to have the chance to make art that connects directly with people, particularly after feeling so isolated for much of this year,” Odlum told Time Out. “While I was painting my work, kids kept coming up to me and asking what I was doing, and I could see they were really keen to engage and to play. Connecting positively with strangers feels like a really special thing in these times.”

While there’s some anxiety about life as we know it at the moment, Odlum says outdoor art is a great way to work around that challenge. “It gives us a chance to find joy and safe connection with others. It helps us to come together, and to feel less alone.”

Penelope Cain’s ‘Gondwana Forest Footfall’ explores the strong connection between Australia and India by depicting fossil images from the Permian period on the pavement outside Harris Park Shops on Wigram Street. “Wigram Street has a fabulous streetscape of historic suburban houses and amazing Indian, Nepalese and other restaurants  a real mix of cultures, and the most fabulous smell of cooking that emanates just before lunchtime,” she says. “The site presented a great opportunity to respond to history and culture. India and Australia were once joined in the single continent of Gondwana some 250 million years ago, so this is a sort of deep-time decoration of the footpath that the two cultures share.”

Penelope Cain installing ‘Gondwana forest footfall’
Penelope Cain installing ‘Gondwana forest footfall’ Photograph: Supplied

If people want to know more about the fossil images, there’s a QR code you can scan on the path, taking intrigued observers to a website with more background about fossils and the project. “At these times when so much has been turned upside down, the footpath is still there, inviting us to walk along, to clear our minds and exercise our bodies, even if it may not be possible to do many other things,” Cain adds. “It presents a canvas for some interesting and unanticipated encounters with art, to take us away from our concerns, to invite questions, present a light-hearted distraction, or to see the world from another perspective.”

Kalanjay Dhir’s ‘Immersion: Granville Patch’ taking shape on Bridge Street near Granville Train Station, due to be completed by August 3, will depict a swimmer splashing t hrough the pavement. It also has street directions that will encourage viewers to play a game inspired by spirituality. “It’s exciting to be involved in Parramatta by Foot because it’s given me a new project to develop through these quarantine days and, more importantly, a way to communicate with my neighbours,” Dhir says. “I live down the road from Granville Station, so to be given an opportunity to install there was both fun and also challenging. I normally work with video and sculpture, so to translate my work from the digital or exhibition space to the public footpath was difficult but rewarding.”

A detail of Kalanjay Dhir’s artwork ‘Immersion: Granville Patch’
A detail of Kalanjay Dhir’s artwork ‘Immersion: Granville Patch’ Photograph: Supplied

He says it reminded him who he makes art for. “Public art has such a large reach and potential that I’m excited to continue thinking about. We’re so reliant on gathering that it has become confronting when we can’t. Accessible public art provides an opportunity for us to still connect and share ideas even during these socially distant times.”

They’ll be joined by First Nations artists Leanne Tobin (Darug) and Jason Wing (Biripi) and their collaborative painting ‘Magari – to fish’ on the Parramatta River bike path near Eric Primrose Reserve. It combines stencilled and freehand painting to depict local aquatic wildlife and Indigenous fishing technologies, accompanied by text in both Darug and English. It will be completed on August 3, and all four works will be on show until September 20.

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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