A Closer Look: Reko Rennie – Welcome to Redfern, 2013
By Emma Saunders
A Victorian terrace sits to the side of The Block in Redfern on 36 Caroline Street. Reko Rennie’s Welcome to Redfern mural overtakes the building with bold and bright stripes of red, yellow, and black, and portraits of historical figures and members of the local community. With one bright mural, a corner of Redfern is filled with vibrancy, local history, and a sense of the pride and creativity of the suburb’s local indigenous community.
The work was completed as a part of the City of Sydney Eora Journey project. The Eora Journey project will consist of seven pieces, all commissioned by the City of Sydney, in areas of strong significant to the people of the Eora nation on which the local council stands. The first, Reko Rennie’s piece, was curated by Hetti Perkins and was unveiled in March 2013.
Based, and raised, in Melbourne, Reko Rennie is an internationally recognised artist. His work is frequently comprised of strong geometric shapes and patterning, reflecting his heritage and connection to the Kamilaroi people of northern New South Wales. Rennie began as a graffiti artist and then worked as a journalist. He left his job at The Age in 2009 and turned to the arts scene, believing it to be a more powerful and effective mode of communicating his ideas relating to Indigenous Australia.
Murals have become a large part of his art practice and he has completed them across Australia and internationally. Welcome to Redfern, 2013, consists of a four-wall mural covering the run-down remains of a Victorian terrace. One side uses lettering both cursive and starkly bold to spell out ‘Welcome to Redfern’, and on another it says ‘The Block’, positioning the work more specifically within the suburb. Three sides are covered in Rennie’s distinctive stripes and portraits of people of historical significance, and of the local community. On one side is Pemulwuy, the indigenous local who came to represent Aboriginal resistance to colonial rule. The other two sides are decorated with images from the present –eight young, local indigenous artists who worked alongside Rennie to produce the piece.
The mural sits to the side of Redfern’s infamous The Block. The site, now empty, was given to the local Indigenous community in 1972 as a space for Aboriginal-run housing. In 2004 The Block saw the Redfern riots, and in 2010 the last of the houses on the site was demolished. At the end of The Block sits the Elouera-Tony Mundine Gym, cloaked proudly in a large Indigenous flag. To the left, near Rennie’s mural, is the Redfern Community Centre, with one side displaying a mural by local artist Adam Hill. The Block is a site of strong significance and symbolism to the indigenous community and represents the path towards reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia.
Redfern is a suburb of filled with murals – the more you look, the more you will find – yet it is Reko Rennie’s symbolic and literal welcome to the suburb is perhaps it’s most strikingly contemporary and memorable.