Still Here
Neon collaboration project with Chelsea Watego

475cm x 68cm
Neon, transformers, aluminium install frame

Ngulli yahnbai gulli bahn!
[We are still here now!]

But what does it mean to be here? Now?

Indigenist health humanities scholar, writer, and public intellectual Chelsea Watego – a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman born and raised on Yuggera country, collaborates with Australian born, Los Angeles based artist Donna Gough, revealing the power of what it means to be here, now.

Activating words from Watego's 'Dear Ancestor' essay through neon light, the installation is a reflective space for truth-telling, disrupting the dominant narrative that has been told throughout colonial histories and the continuing colonial process of violence and dispossession.

Watego explains: ‘There really is an underestimation of the violence of living in a world that wishes you dead, who in your living, refuses to see you, and even in your excellence, renders you invisible or undeserving. We occupy a social world that refuses to see our humanity and not because it has yet to discover it, but precisely because its very existence is founded upon our violent erasure. It has no other way of knowing itself.

On any given day, in any given place in encountering the settlers you can be guaranteed that most if not all would have no idea whose land they are walking on, working on or talking on. And, the thing is, they really need not know for them to exist in this place.

‘Still Here’, is a refusal to subscribe to the myth of our demise, a reminder to the colonisers that they did not succeed; never have and never will. We remain and continue to claim a being, derived through our embodied relation to our land and culture. It is in this presence that we are reminded that we are ‘still here’ despite their insistence that we only exist in a land far, far away, in a far away time. We do not speak of being there, but of being here. Because their notion of there, is a nowhere place.

The latest living Ancestor, here, now, carries a responsibility not just of living, but to think deeply about what legacy will be left in that living. Throughout Watego’s life, her Aboriginal ancestry was known through her Ancestors, their stories, their experiences and their connections to place. But they are gone. She is still here, now.

Gough’s approach to installation and neon aesthetics is often focused on conceptual wordplay, exploring the relationship between art and the duality of language through the complexity of the human experience. She is interested in the effect light has on our psychology and spatial perception, with its inherent ability to confront the eye and mind
of the viewer.

The artists respectfully acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners of Tallawoladah, the land on which this work sat for the duration of the Vivid Festival. The statement is written in Chelsea Watego’s language, from the Yugambeh Language Group of South-East Queensland.

All images, text and artwork © Donna Gough 2024