New city centre artwork illuminates hidden laneway

City of Sydney

Ten brightly coloured light boxes featuring historical figures and phrases in both the Sydney Aboriginal Language and English will bring our city’s Aboriginal, European, political and sporting histories to life as part of the City of Sydney’s latest laneway artwork.

The Lord Mayor tonight unveiled a new permanent public artwork, Patchwork of Light, installed high on a building at the Pitt Street end of Reiby Place in central Sydney. The artwork was commissioned as part of the City of Sydney’s public art program, City Art.

“Dutch-American artist Lara Schnitger chose Reiby Place because she was fascinated by the relatively unknown history of its suffragist namesake, Mary Reibey,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“The artist worked with Wiradjuri/Yuin elder and member of the City of Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel Aunty Bronwyn Penrith to ensure that the artwork celebrates Aboriginal people’s vital connection with Warrane (Sydney Cove) through the figures of Eora fisherwomen.

“This new art project is part of our long-term plan to revitalise our laneways and integrate public art into the city centre and across the local government area.

“Patchwork of Light is best experienced at night and I encourage Sydneysiders and visitors alike to swing by Reiby Place next time they are enjoying Sydney’s nightlife in neighbouring Bulletin Place or Circular Quay.”

Dutch-American artist Lara Schnitger was commissioned to install a network of 10 light boxes emblazoned with slogans and images, from Eora fisherwomen to Australia’s first female Olympians, as well as highlighting milestones in the nation’s suffragette movement.

One light box charts four separate years significant in the advancement of women in Australian politics and civic life. In 1884, Henrietta Dugdale formed in Victoria the first women’s suffrage society in the Australian colonies. In 1902, white women were granted enfranchisement to vote in federal elections. In 1962, Aboriginal people were finally granted the same right to vote. And in 2010, Julia Gillard became the first female prime minister of Australia.

Another light box depicts Olympic swimmers Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie on the podium with crossed bodies and arms to suggest unity and defiance. Public fundraising enabled these swimmers to travel to the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, the first time women’s swimming events were included. They won gold and silver medals.

The artwork acknowledges the women of Sydney Harbour, and embraces Australia’s Aboriginal past and present. Working in collaboration with Wiradjuri/Yuin elder Aunty Bronwyn Penrith, Ms Schnitger developed the figure of the Eora fisherwoman as a central element to the artwork.

The location of the artwork, Reiby Place, commemorates Mary Reibey, the legendary businesswoman of colonial Sydney and now the face of the Australian $20 note.

“I took inspiration from Mary Reibey’s life and decided to amplify her legacy as a smart, tough and successful businesswoman,” Ms Schnitger said.

“In keeping with that spirit, the light boxes along Reiby Place would be similar to those found in the bustling streets of Tokyo. But instead of signifying restaurants and shops, the slogans and images along Reiby Place will illuminate messages of female empowerment, civil rights and political protest.

“The idea for Patchwork of Light grew out of my work creating quilts with stencils and bleach. In considering a work for Sydney, I asked myself how a delicate quilt could be adapted to life for the longer term in the city.

“Like a quilt made of light, my art will suffuse Reiby Place with brilliant light, and images and phrases of empowerment. With imagery and words that reflect the aspirations and diversity of Sydney’s people, I hope it will become an artwork for all.”

As part of the launch, Schnitger and a group of women performed a live procession from Circular Quay to Reiby Place. Each member of the group carried feminist banner artworks created by Schnitger, as part her Suffragette City series which has been performed around the world.

Lara Schnitger’s concept for the artwork was selected from 125 local, national and international proposals. Schnitger was born in 1969 in The Netherlands. Based in Los Angeles, she has exhibited extensively in the US, UK and Europe. Earlier this year, she was honoured with an artwork commission for the High Line in New York.

The new artwork is part of the City’s city centre public art plan developed by curator Barbara Flynn with the City of Sydney City Design team.

/Public Release.