Kirli Saunders

Meet Kirli

About the Artist

Kirli Saunders (OAM)

Kirli Saunders (OAM) is a proud Gunai woman, with ties to the Biripi, Gundungurra, Yuin and Dharawal peoples of the east coast of Australia. She’s a multi-award-winning writer, artist and consultant who has partnered with government and global organizations, including  Denver Zoo, Google, Vogue, Fender, The Sydney Opera House, Qantas, and Aesop, to create and cultivate change. As a visual artist, Kirli has created large drone and digital installations, sculptural, murals, clothing designs and fibre works, which have been commissioned and exhibited in renowned galleries throughout Australia. Her celebrated books are available around the world in many languages and among others, include The Incredible Freedom Machines, Bindi, Afloat and Returning.

Kirli was commissioned by Denver Zoo to reimagine the Down Under Exhibit, engaging with First Nations Traditional Owners and knowledge holders to integrate a cross-cultural exploration of connection to, and care for, Country. 

A Gadhungal Marring (salt water person), Kirli says simply - Country is who we are and where we come from. For First Nations people on what is now known as the Australian Continent, Country is an inseparable part of identity. 

Kirli’s understanding of Country was taught to her by her Elders. She says Country includes the land, seas, skies, waterways, all of the river systems, as well as every living thing in all of those beautiful spaces - all the plants and the animals, and the people, including the invisible and tiny, the insects, mycelium, and spirits. 

Core to caring for Country is the understanding that a relationality exists between all elements. 
This means there is a responsibility to care for Country, and to do so is to care for your Community. Likewise, to share and protect culture and language (which stem from Country) is to care for the land and the inherent Ancestral knowledge attached to that place. 

The series of digital collages for this exhibit incorporate a combination of watercolor, pencil, eucalyptus plant dye, and digital painting. A wash of colour, these bright works replicate the paletes from the Australian landscape, emphasizing the vibrancy of the rainforest, plains and heath. 

Subtle layering of endemic and culturally significant species like the wallaby and cassowary, with native plants and bush medicines, emphasizes the relationality of these animals with Country and community who rely on them for cultural teaching, for food, skins, or to ensure the future of the forest by spreading seeds. 

Organic symbolism throughout reinforces this reciprocity. Herein, eggs sprout forests, and forests become feathers. Feathers become journey tracks, maps, and footprints, moving us respectfully across the land, and always leading us back to Country.   

Kirli hopes that this work encourages visitors to the Down Under Exhibit to understand the importance of respecting the First Nations lands and communities, and the inherent wisdom of First Peoples, who’ve cared for Country for all times. She hopes it will encourage meaningful stewardship, led by and with First Nations peoples, to honor First Nations lands, the world over.