Opening speech by Sandra Ross

I recently got permission from my opening speaker, Fellow Toastmaster Sandra Ross, to publish the beautiful words of the opening speech which she wrote and delivered to open my exhibition. You can read it below:

Through Emerald Eyes

Sandra delivers the opening speech at Gympie Regional Gallery

Emerald is a crystal, green in colour because of the Chromium contained in it. It was formed deep within the subterranean layers of the earth millions of years ago.

Emerald is also a shade of green, which often symbolises nature, growth, health, youth, vitality and money.

In Zela’s case the term green refers to concepts such as sentient Earth, Mother Goddess, Gaia theory and the Tree of Life. So, when we are looking at her artwork we are looking at these things through her eyes.

Zela has had a long association with the fusion of art, environment and education.

This exhibition had it’s beginnings with ideas she encountered while studying for her Masters of Environmental Education. She reflected on her teaching and noticed that the times when children were engaged in earth friendly activities of saving seeds and growing herbs for a scent garden or learning about the Mary River and endangered species, they shared real-life emotive bonds to the natural world.

This in turn began to frame her own personal practice and the concept of looking through emerald eyes sprang from the debates amongst environmental theorists, with the most radical theories portrayed as the deepest green.

With a wealth of knowledge of sculpting, casting and moulding from her background as a clay artist, Zela has used paper, threads, felt and drawing. Her substance is the weeds and fibers produced from her own seasonal garden abundance, mixed with air and water, rather than fire she spends long hours cooking and pounding to create the material and the texture that form the basis of her work. For Zela using textiles, fibers and threads has re connected her with the feminine. It is a synthesis of theory and emotion, fine art, craft, patient artistry, natural resource management and literature, resulting in objects of rustic, thought provoking beauty.

Place and practice go hand in hand as Zela fuses her wealth of knowledge of education, having spent years teaching on an Aboriginal community. This has given Zela a depth of understanding of the importance of connection with place.

In 2003 Zela experienced the Bathing with Mary installation at Federal Hall on the outskirts of Gympie, and encountered the artists’ intense creative responses to the uniqueness of that place.

She recalls that she sat at a little desk by the stream and wrote a letter to the Mary”. “In that few minutes, she realised that her whole life had been bound by this body of water, from her birth in Maryborough, holidays in Hervey Bay to her present life in Gympie.”

I first met Zela when I lived on a property on the outskirts of Gympie. I later learnt that she had also lived in the same area many years before, living close to nature. She inspired me to look closely at what I was doing in my own little way.

Zela is also concerned with transformative educational models that dare to dream of another path which might deliver us from our clear and present climate danger and lead us to new way of thinking and living.

She aspires through her own living and teaching towards a vision of humanity living, (in the words of Aldo Leopold), not as a conqueror, but as a “plain member of the biotic community”.

I thank Zela for reminding us, through her artwork, about our fragile earth and the need to connect and reconnect to the simple things, like making our gardens productive and our sharing with our immediate community. And I also thank her for reminding us about the big picture and how we can tread lightly to make a difference.

Through Emerald Eyes is a sensitive celebration of the natural world, of traditions of bioregional identity, and reflects and explores the conceptual journey that Zela has embarked upon through educational study and practice.

Thank you Zela

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Susan Zela Bissett (Zela) is an educator, writer and artist with a lifetime involvement in environmental education and advocacy. Zela was born on Butchulla Country in Maryborough and has worked as an artist, educator, permaculture gardener, studio potter and consultant. She is passionate about sustainable lifestyles, maintaining habitat for wildlife and about unleashing the creativity in all of us.

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