Sofie Dieu Shares Her Art and Her Remarkable East Gippsland Story

In 2017, the Great Alpine Gallery invited me to take part in their art residency program.  Isolated in the heart of the Tambo Valley in East Gippsland, the gallery is the beating heart of a 300 inhabitants town called Swift Creek. What I thought would be a quiet and meditative time during which I would get inspired by the bush, turned instead into one of the most social time I ever had.

While teaching ink painting at the local school and in various community groups, I was struck by how much the drought was affecting local residents. Their was a true concern for the lack of water and a deep  fear of bush fires. Until then, I had never ‘met’ eco-anxiety on such deep level. I decided to come back in 2018 with a project named Calling for Rain. I was determined to investigate further the  impact of eco-anxiety in this remote part of Gippsland.

With the residents and local schools, I ran several felt workshops. My intention was to give them tools and artistic support to create offerings to nature and ask in exchange for protection. These shared creative moments were the opportunity for people to tell their story. For the first time, an outsider was interested to listen to them and what they had gone through.

Turning pain into something creative and beautiful, in a group setting, was highly cathartic. Alongside portraits of local residents and painting I did about bushfire, people’s artworks were exhibited in March that year at the East Gippsland Art Gallery in Bairnsdale. On the night of the opening, the reception of the show exceeded all my expectations.

As I thought my mission was completed, 2019 summer bushfires devastated South East Gippsland. With the support of Creative Gippsland and Latrobe Gallery, I ran a community poetry workshop at Moe Library. I stayed at the library for a week as a resident and created an artwork that would catalyse people’s suffering.

The response to my work Destroyer, Resurrector was overwhelmingly positive and deep. Some people, visibly shaken by it, cried at the opening and could not let go of me as they had finally found someone to talk to. They were still traumatised by the violence of what they had witnessed, not just during the recent bushfires, but also the previous ones.  As the president of the Great Alpine Gallery told me, it keeps building on. I wished I would have had more time to show  ways to heal oneself through  meditation and creativity.

Reflecting on this, I truly understood how a sustained poetic and cathartic art practice could lead to more healing outcomes. 2020 horrific summer fires only reinforced this conviction.  I also realised that by myself, I can only do so much. However, what if I showed other artists and creatives from these drought and bush fire affected areas how to bring stillness in their creative process? At work? In their family? In their community? Imagine the benefits such sharing could ignite!

This time, I decided to intervene differently with the aim to cover all aspects of healing, wellbeing and creativity. Supported by an amazing group of health and art experts, including an art therapist, artists and  researchers, a naturopath, a yoga teacher and a botanist, I have developed a challenging educative art program.

Stillness Through Art is born and will be delivered live, online, as a series of 7 workshops from June to October 2020. Each workshop will last an hour and a half and I will be accompanied by one of the experts. Support material will be provided on my learning platform In between workshops, the conversation will keep going on this website’s forum. Creatives of all trade are strongly encouraged to take part in these workshops and for East Gippsland creatives it will be offered at no cost.

Note from AHNNA: I’m sure you’ll agree Sofie’s work is inspiring and we would love to know about any other arts projects happening and healing in the many communities devastated by fires, floods, drought and now COVID -19. Please let us know what might be happening in your region and we’ll post it to inspire and connect with others.
Posted by Linden Wilkinson