When Vivid returns to Sydney's CBD on May 27 after a two-year hiatus, its homecoming will see the works of Indigenous artists showcased more prominently and exuberantly than ever before.
"There is no doubt that the 2022 program puts First Nations artwork front-and-centre," said Vivid festival director Gill Minervini.
For her inaugural program, Minervini's theme "The Soul of the City" will see Vivid's most prominent canvases, the Sydney Opera House sails and Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons, lit up with projections by Indigenous artists.
"The program includes a rich lineup of First Nations artists who all have such incredible stories to tell. It is such an important part of our culture and the essence of Sydney's soul," Minervini said.
Leading the line-up is First Light, a "Welcome to Country" launch ceremony and performance, celebrating the Gadigal People of the Eora nation. However, the program aims to celebrate a diverse cross section of Indigenous nations (there are about 500 spanning the continent).
"The sails of the Sydney Opera House will be illuminated with Yarrkalpa by the Martumili artists, and as part of First Light, Indigenous photographer Wayne Quilliam will have his work projected onto the Harbour Bridge pylons," said Minervini.
The Barangaroo waterfront will also be transformed with more than 90 artworks by Indigenous youths.
"We're so excited to bring The Gallery by Mandylights, in partnership with Crown Sydney, to Wulugal Walk in Barangaroo," said Minervini. "The walk becomes an animated gallery bringing to life the works of First Nations students from Blacktown and Redfern."
Beyond Vivid's flagship light spectacles, First Nations culture will permeate the program in hip-hop and music performances, panels with Indigenous filmmakers, and comedic live debates that touch on issues of race and reconciliation.
It's a showcase more than two years in the making, according to First Light creative advisor Rhoda Roberts AO. The festival was notably cancelled in 2020 and 2021 amid COVID-19 outbreaks.
This year's Yarrkalpa Opera House artists, made up of eight female Martu women, are "world class", Roberts said.
"These are our masters. These are our van Goghs," said Roberts. "Australia has something so unique that's not just painting. When you break down the story of the artwork, it shows you astronomy, it shows you science."
Roberts has observed a shift in the way Australians view Indigenous culture. She recalls a "surprising" moment in 2016 when Vivid's Opera House sails spectacle, an all-Indigenous 15-minute showcase called Songlines, broke a Facebook live feed record.
"I had featured seven artists from around the country because I really wanted to show the diverse art styles, from rarrk [cross-hatching] in Arnhem Land to the Wanjina style in the Kimberley," said Roberts, who was curator at the time.
In the first 10 minutes of streaming, it received about 8000 comments from viewers across the world.
"We were getting messages from people in Italy who were Australian, going 'oh my god, it's about time, this is what Australia is'," Roberts said.
Coda Ridley, one of the feature artists in this year's Wulugal Walk installation, said she hopes festival-goers actually read the story behind the artworks.
"What I'd love to do is create a book that showcase the Dreamtime stories from my mob, Goreng Goreng," said the 18-year-old student.
"Aboriginal Dreamtime stories help educate people more on Aboriginal culture because a lot of it has been lost. These books would be family books that anyone can read and learn about Aboriginal culture."
The appetite for Indigenous culture, more broadly, is growing in the tourism space; in 2019, 1.4 million international visitors participated in an Indigenous tourism experience.
In New South Wales, Aboriginal tourism experiences have grown from five products to 36 since 2013, according to NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres.
"In the 12 months to September 2021, a total of 158,800 domestic overnight visitors participated in an Aboriginal cultural tourism experience in NSW. These visitors stayed 398,600 nights and contributed $155 million in visitor expenditure to the state," Ayres said.
Roberts believes Australians have finally realised what they have on their doorstep.
"I think Australians have realised that they hosted the oldest living, adapting culture on the planet, which is something we should be celebrating," said Roberts.
"We have seen a groundswell over several decades of work, but now we're seeing the importance of the Indigenous narrative – the inclusion of the voice, the music, the dance, the song, the story that goes with the artwork. We're starting to see this holistic view in Vivid, which is really exciting."
Vivid Sydney: Light, Music and Ideas runs from May 27 to June 18, 2022. See vividsydney.com
BEST HOTELS WITH A VIEW OF VIVID
For a hotel with a view of Vivid, Park Hyatt Sydney is hard to beat.
When the Vivid lights flick on, Barangaroo's curvy glass tower is a luxe choice for uninterrupted 360-degree views. Take to the promenade for the immersive Wulugul Walk, or look up to marvel at Crown's sky-high 36-beam spectacle. See crownsydney.com.au
Park Hyatt Sydney
No need to leave your room for a front-row seat of Vivid's main attractions, with floor-to-ceiling windows framing Sydney's iconic sails. See hyatt.com
Ovolo Woolloomooloo are offering luxury hotel and cruise packages from $899, that includes accommodation, Vivid cocktails and a 90-minute jaunt aboard the iconic Suellen, sailing past the harbour's most Instagrammable Vivid attractions. See ovolohotels.com
Crowne Plaza Sydney Darling Harbour
What better spot to soak in Darling Harbour's kaleidoscopic Vivid splendour than Crowne Plaza's breathtaking rooftop heated pool or sun deck? See ihg.com
This beautiful heritage property is spoiled for Vivid views, and there's no better time to stay following the completion of phase one of a stylish multi-million-dollar revamp. See sydney.intercontinental.com
Sydney Harbour Marriott
This supremely located stay is getting into the Vivid spirit with a Vivid Laneway Dinner event by chef Raphael Szurek (Silvester's Restaurant) from $129. Vivid packages also available between May 27 and June 18. See marriott.com
BEST BARS WITH A VIEW OF VIVID
Teahouse, Crown Sydney, has launched a selection of luminous Vivid cocktails.
This harbourside dining institution is spoiled for prime Vivid vantage points. Don't leave without catching the jaw-dropping animated Ken Done installation projected on the Customs House façade. See cafesydney.com/home
Teahouse, Crown Sydney
Sydney's favourite open-air "bar with a view" has teamed up with Bombay Sapphire for a turquoise-tinged Vivid menu. Oh, and did we mention there's a waterside photobooth, to make the most of that iconic backdrop? See operabar.com.au/vivid-blue
Harbour View Hotel
The historic Rocks hotel is launching a pop-up glow bar for Vivid with a selection of photogenic sips. Stay for a drink or pick up a fully-kitted Smirnoff Seltzer picnic pack to go, from $95. See harbourview.com.au
Perched serenely above the Vivid throng, be immersed in the festival spirit with libations as colourful as the views and floor-to-ceiling windows framing our iconic coat hanger. See hydehaciendasydney.com