Skip to main content

Whispers by Quandamooka artist Megan Cope

27 September – 26 November 2023

On Tubowgule, now called Bennelong Point, Quandamooka artist Megan Cope introduces Whispers, a melding of First Nations history and environmental consciousness. With more than 85,000 oyster shells positioned across the Sydney Opera House precinct, the artist evokes the ancestral midden sites that were used on this site for Aboriginal celebrations and gatherings for thousands of years.

A Monumental Public Artwork

With oyster shells, Cope has reimagined the architectural framework of the Opera House itself. Two hundred timber Kinyingarra Guwinyanba poles - the phrase means “a place of oysters” in the Jandai language of the Quandamooka people - have transformed the Northern Broadwalk into a landscape of cultural history and community. These poles, covered with oysters, stand as symbols of ecological rebirth and ancestral homage, echoing the call of collective memory and Indigenous resilience. They connect to a 14m wall of shells that frame the western side of the building and emerge through the upper podium. 

A singular artistic statement, Whispers beats with the spirit of community. Over the past year, more than 3000 volunteers have taken part in over 100 workshops in three key sites - the Opera House Forecourt, Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville and the artist’s studio in Brisbane - where they  worked together to clean, polish, drill and thread thousands of shells by hand. Together, these volunteers  created a rich tapestry of shared narratives and kinships, elevating the humble oyster shell into a symbol of a community, heritage and Country.

NSW Government

This program is proudly supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW’s Blockbusters Funding initiative

Making Whispers

Watch the documentary

By Walbanga and Wadi Wadi woman and award-winning producer Alison Page and director Nik Lachajczak.

From the artist

“For the 50-year anniversary of the Sydney Opera House, I have created a series of propositional sculptures that connect to deep layers of time and the cultural history of this site to evoke discussion for potential futures for local Saltwater ways around Gadigal Country. These immersive sculptures will rest in three prominent locations that connect magnificent building with an expanded narrative that creates space to see Land, Sky and Sea Country through a First Nations lens. 

All the works are informed by and trace six years of research into the history of and cultural relationships to Kinyingarra, from the vast reef constructions made by our Indigenous ancestors to the early lime-burning industries to the potential extinction of oyster reefs and impact of climate change. In the process they ask questions about how art and culture can heal Saltwater Country as well as our current relationship with the environment.

In archaeological terms, a midden is a mound or deposit containing shells, animal bones and other refuse that indicates human settlement. In other words, it contains the site of Indigenous family feasts and gatherings built up across thousands of years.

The removal of these Aboriginal architectural forms, and the continued mining operations and excavation of sacred sites, renders a landscape void of Indigenous culture and markers once used by our ancestors to navigate through Country. 

This work provides a space to learn local histories and see Country through an Indigenous lens, It has also provided an opportunity for the community of Sydney to participate in the project through the evolution of the sculptures themselves.”

- Megan Cope

Meet the team

Other information

Checking availability