Underneath The Fig Tree
Solo exhibition by Michelle Genders
4th to 14th November 2015
I previously lived on Denison Street, Newtown for many years. It is an approximately 5 minute walk from this gallery. I often return to visit the area which has a special place in my heart. When I jump off the bus on Parramatta Road, or walk up Enmore Road and through The Hub, it still feels like coming home. But I view the area differently after moving away. Its infamous graffiti used to occupy my vision. But now, when I reflect on it, the most prominent image in my mind’s eye is that of a large fig tree. I propose to create an exhibition about this metaphysical fig tree. I remember riding my bike past its thick, protruding roots. Lying underneath its green, shady limbs. Looking up at chattering rainbow lorikeets in its branches.
I visited Camperdown to investigate this vision. And realised that, rather than remembrance of one particular tree, my vision was made up of a number of large fig trees:
Five Morton bay fig trees in Camperdown park
One Morton bay fig tree in Camperdown memorial rest area
A corridor of Port Jackson fig trees on Northwood Street
One Port Jackson fig in O’Dea reserve
The location of these trees is shown on the map below:
Research revealed that these two species of fig tree are native to the area, and that these particular trees were planted during the first development of the area, circa 1850. A short walk from my previous home, these trees used to be such a part of everyday life that I didn’t notice them consciously. Now they sit at the forefront of my mind.
It’s been one year since I began contemplating the fig trees. I’ve visited them quite a few times. I’ve researched the history of the area. I’ve considered my own personal experiences during the time I lived there. Like any urban area, Camperdown has been the site of different incarnations. Some notable moments in time were:
* In the mid to late 1800’s Camperdown memorial rest was a cemetery. It was the main burial area for Anglicans residing in Sydney and an estimated 18,0000 people were buried there.
* In the 20th century the large, bustling Bonds factory spread across a large part of the suburb and many of the factory workers lived nearby.
(A more detailed and factually correct history of the area can be found at Newtown library.)
I also noticed, again for the first time consciously, that there are many of large fig trees in Sydney. For example, there is a path Moreton Bay figs at Sydney University and a cluster of Port Jackson figs at the College of Fine Arts. Fig trees are like the pigeons – everywhere! They are very much integrated into Sydney’s urban environment. Even though they can be a bit worse for wear, when you look that them twice their forms reveal a certain quality of beauty.