The Georges river flows through much of New South Wales and includes the Liverpool area. The river has served as a place of customs, traditions and rituals for many communities over time.
This led artist Jiva Parthipan to conceive The River Project – A walk along the Georges River, Casula, with performance, video, installation, sound and tree planting.
The project involved collaboration between Indian and Indigenous artists with an immersive experience across the customs and rituals of many communities who want to pass on an unbroken link of traditions reimagining the Georges river. This one-of-a-kind project was a transformative event for the Australian Art landscape involving multiple communities sharing their lived traditions.
In 2020, when Jiva’s brother-in-law passed away, as per Hindu tradition, he looked for a place to immerse his ashes symbolically. At that time he came across Satyam Ghat, a council-approved space for this purpose along the Georges River.
This got Jiva thinking of the river’s ‘function’, and how we ascribe our personal, political, environmental and cultural histories to landscapes. Jiva’s late brother-in-law came to Australia to undertake his PhD on water pollution, so he was very attached to rivers in Australia.
Jiva says that as a river of sustenance in contemporary Australia, the Georges River has multiple living and concurrent histories. This includes ceremony, ritual and leisure, as ascribed to it by various communities who live near it.
“From Indigenous usage and histories, to the baptisms of the Mandaeans, a pre-Christian ethno religious group from Iraq, through Anglo Australians who use it for leisure and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs who use it for the immersion of cremated ashes.”
Artist Jiva says that the river flows, taking our DNA along with it.
“Connection to land and its waterways has been important to the Dharug people over millennia, in addition to it being a source of sustenance and ritual. In recent history many have etched their own meanings onto this river to find meaning and sense of place which at times has been heavily contested, including massacres and other dark histories.”
Jiva adds: “The Mandaeans in Sydney see it as a reimagining of Yardena, after the River Jordan, whilst for Hindus, it is the River Ganga (Ganges) in India, it has various significances. Georges River is the name given to it by British colonisers after King George III.”
One of the attendees, Sam Thabiplliai who visited The River Project said that this was an outstanding collaboration and he really enjoyed the ability to learn more about the river and the way in which diverse communities interact with the theme of water, natural environments and how these traditions have been adapted to Australia and the Georges River in particular.
“There were many artful touches that fused the different elements of the performances together and Jiva did a great job in anchoring the performance with the wider meta narrative of the Ganges and the Hindu rites of passage. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Mandaeans, the Indigenous traditions and the modern water skiing element was a lovely contemporary surprise too.”
Indian-origin classical dancer Hamsa Venkat was a part of this collaboration. She told The Australia Today that it was a great experience and an absolute privilege to work with the First Nations dancers.
“Presenting dance in a setting that is unconventional, as in an outdoor space was especially a big learning curve for us as dancers and it helped us explore possibilities which we would have never considered in a traditional stage string indoors. Hence, it was a great experience of creative exploration”.
“Working with the First Nations dancers, the Jannawi dance clan and Auntie Julie was an absolute privilege which we cherished and the positivity with which the groups encouraged each other and interacted was testimony to the passion that we all shared for our art and for the project.”
Ms Venkat added that the event was curated with a lot of clarity and sensitivity. This made it easy for many segments of the walk from different genres of dancing, sport, sculpture, and varied communities to flow seamlessly.